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Solar Decathlon Team Battens Down the Hatches and Weathers the Storm

The team of Old Dominion University and Hampton University students constructing a net-zero energy solar-powered home for the U.S. Department of Energy's 2011 Solar Decathlon learned a new skill-set in the final moments of their home construction.

Hurricane preparedness.

Members of Team Tidewater, as the ODU engineering students and Hampton architecture students are known, spent Thursday and Friday taking down the experimental home's space-age solar panels, tying down every loose piece of the house and construction material on the lot, and throwing tarps over any exterior sections where water could get in.

Monday morning, a handful of team members surveyed their home, known as Unit 6 Unplugged. Limbs from trees surrounding the home were littered around the construction site, but the house itself sustained zero damage from Hurricane Irene.

"This was designed to be an outdoor dwelling," said John Whitelaw, Team Tidewater project manager and a doctoral student in environmental engineering at ODU. "Everything came through just fine, it appears. We still have a ton of work to do, however."

David Peronnet, assistant professor of architecture at Hampton University and one of the Team Tidewater faculty advisers, said it took a huge effort by everyone to make Unit 6 Unplugged hurricane-proof.

"The team worked feverishly to both build what they could and secure Unit 6 before Hurricane Irene arrived," he said. "We did a great job fitting plywood curtains, securing loose lumber, strapping the house and vexing the storm. There is no visual damage, and the way we secured the house, it could have made it to the moon.

"Now, to the finish line."

Team members have been constructing the home on a site across 48th Street from ODU's Student Recreation Center since the spring. On Sept. 8, team members will begin the process of disassembling the modular home and loading it onto flatbed trucks, to take it to Washington, D.C., site of the Solar Decathlon finals.

The student teams that entered the 2011 Solar Decathlon were challenged to design, build and operate the most affordable, attractive, effective and energy-efficient solar-powered house. Team Tidewater is one of 20 finalists in the competition, among a group that includes teams from China, New Zealand, Belgium, Canada and across the United States.

During the weeklong event (Sept. 23 to Oct. 2), thousands of tourists, architects and engineers are expected to visit Unit 6 Unplugged, along with a panel of experts who will judge all of the homes in 10 categories (hence the name "Solar Decathlon").

Unit 6 Unplugged is envisioned as part of a six-unit, multifamily infill building for a central-city site, with energy efficiency features such as a deep, shaded balcony that incorporates operable windows so it can be converted into a sun space in cold weather; super-tight insulation; and solar thermal and electric power collection systems.

This article was posted on: August 27, 2011

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