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Reprinted from the Colorado Daily

CU Team Puts House in Order
By Fred Baerkircher
June, 2002

It’s hard to turn an energy-efficient house into an energy-efficient home. That’s what a group of students discovered in the process of preparing CU’s entry in a national "Solar Decathlon" contest. On Saturday, the team unveiled a revised version of its design, changed to make it more adaptable to various building sites, construction budgets and homeowner needs.

Fourteen teams from across the country are each working to build a house that can generate enough energy, while maximizing efficiency, to meet daily household power needs without using outside sources.

"The idea of the competition is to design, build and operate a small, home-office building powered only by the solar energy that falls on it," Michael Brandemuehl, a CU architectural engineering professor and a faculty advisor for the project, told the Colorado in December.

Saturday’s presentation represented a turning point for the students involved. "The design that we had in December was a mess," said Mike Wassmer, an engineering graduate student working on the project. "We didn’t believe in the purpose of it." He explained that in January, the engineering students and the architecture students revisited the design and listened to one another’s concerns. Whereas the early design suffered from a lack of communication between the two groups, the new design has both satisfied.

"Everybody in the two groups is happy with it," Wassmer said of the new design "The building is a lot simpler, but it also speaks a lot clearer to what we’re trying to achieve here."

Julee Herdt, an assistant professor of architecture at CU, agreed that the new design is better. She said the students felt the original design was too specific to the competition to effectively convey the message that energy-efficient design is viable. She said the new design represents a house that is compatible with a mainstream budge and lifestyle. Besides that, Herdt said, "it looks really good."

Wassmer said the competition will award point to each team in a variety of categories. He noted that CU made the decision in early January to design a building that emulated the ultimate goal of showing the public such designs are possible rather than simply trying to defeat the other teams.

"Our priority is not to win the competition. It’s more to make a statement, " Wassmer said. If they were simply trying to wind, he added, "there’s a million ways to fudge the rules."

Glenn Cashmore, a CU architecture student, said the new design was completed with the intent that the house will be brought back to Boulder following the Washington, D.C. competition in September, to serve an educational function.

Cashmore noted that engineering and architecture students have worked closely together to include in the project ideas and environmentally friendly materials already commercially available, such as sheep’s wool insulation and recycled plastic. "It’s not fantasy technology," Cashmore said.

Wassmer said the team will conduct a test run of the construction in Superior’s Home Depot parking lot. In addition to providing an opportunity to raise the funds needed to transport the team to Washington, that work will allow the team to test its construction techniques, he explained. "Hopefully we can iron out all the construction bugs in our dry run," Wassmer said.

Herdt said the house will be constructed in four sections that can quickly be put together in Washington. She noted that the team will have only a few days between their arrival and the start of the completion. She said the cooperation between the architecture and engineering students has been a vital element of the project. Cashmore agreed. "We’re much closer now than ever," he said.