first_imgIt would be understandable if participants in the Solar Decathlon feel the pressure of rising expectations – pressure to outdo the work of previous teams of faculty and students who have already put enormous energy and analysis into the 800-sq.-ft. net-zero-energy dwellings that became their Decathlon entries.The Santa Clara University undergraduates who make up one of the 20 teams competing in the 2009 Solar Decathlon, for example, might even feel a little extra pressure to measure up to SCU’s performance in the 2007 Decathlon, where the team entered the competition as an underdog but ended up winning third place overall.The good news is that, competitive as it is, the Decathlon also is an excellent teaching tool whose past entries can be analyzed, and improved upon, by current contestants.To that end, SCU, located in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Santa Clara, has been developing its entry for the 2009 Decathlon in collaboration with design, art, and architecture students at the nearby California College of the Arts.The SCU/CCA team aims to produce a “bold and luxurious home that demonstrates green living does not require a compromise in lifestyle,” the team says in its mission statement about the project.Called Refract House, the project derives it name from the notion that the SCU/CCA team is attempting to alter the path of net-zero-energy home design for the better, an idea that’s represented visually by the building’s bent-tube layout and technically by the way its layout controls the entry of light into the home as it wraps around a central courtyard.Ramping up for OctoberConstruction of the house is well underway, and the team has been busy not only overseeing the process but escorting visitors on tours of the building site, which is on the SCU campus. (Tour hours are noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 3 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays; call (845) 323-8029 for information.)Of course, the Refract House’s big moment will be at the Solar Decathlon, scheduled for October 8 through 18 in Washington, D.C., where the home will be reconstructed on the National Mall, along with 19 other fully operational contest entries, for viewing by visitors and judges.Each Solar Decathlon team competes in 10 areas: architecture (for a maximum of 100 points), market viability (100 points), engineering (100 points), lighting design (75 points), communications (75 points), comfort zone (100 points), hot water (100 points), appliances (100 points), home entertainment (100 points), and the newest category, net metering (150 points).The 2009 field of competitors includes 16 teams from schools in the U.S., two from Canadian universities, and two from European universities.A biennial event sponsored by the Department of Energy, the Decathlon attracted a record 200,000 visitors in 2007. The house built for that contest by SCU, which doesn’t have an architecture school, did not do well in the architecture category. But it did land perfect scores in the hot water and energy balance categories, and ended up with a total of 979.959 points out of a possible 1,200 (the first-place winner, the team representing Technische Universität Darmstadt, scored 1,024.855 points).Decathlon teams play with their hearts as well as their heads. The DOE’s Decathlon website points out that SCU’s 2007 entry almost didn’t make it to the National Mall when the truck transporting the house broke an axle on its way to Washington. The house’s arrival was delayed by three days, but the SCU persevered.last_img

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