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Student-faculty team begins competitive solar house construction

by Judy Hughes, communications and marketing; photos by Kari Donahue, Speed School of Engineering last modified Apr 10, 2013 03:05 PM

Phoenix House — a combined Kentucky-Indiana effort to build the best solar-powered house in the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2013 Solar Decathlon — is rising on the University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus.

Student-faculty team begins competitive solar house construction

Team Kentuckiana starts construction of its solar house.

The student-faculty Team Kentuckiana that includes UofL, Ball State University and University of Kentucky is among 20 that qualified internationally to design, build and exhibit solar-powered houses at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif., Oct. 3–13.

BSU and UofL students started construction after an April 9 ceremony with team members and university officials. They will build the house mostly at UofL in the yet-to-be-redeveloped area south of J.B. Speed School of Engineering. In early fall, they will disassemble it and ship it to California.

“Isn’t it appropriate that the very first building at Belknap Research Park is going to be one that’s designed and built by our students?” said Speed School Dean Neville Pinto during the ceremony.

The energy-efficient, wood-and-metal Phoenix House is a prototype two-bedroom residence for disaster relief; the team chose the design partially in response to last spring’s damaging tornadoes in Kentucky and Indiana.

When first considering designs, the team “wanted to come up with something more,” said Kelsey King, the Louisville mechanical engineering graduate student who has spearheaded the project since an inspiring visit to an earlier Solar Decathlon. “Let’s make a house that somebody could remake into a home…that would help in a disaster situation, when the grid is down and we don’t have power.”

“As Team Kentuckiana’s design, Phoenix House is intended to function as a permanent housing solution for reconstruction after natural disasters, specifically in tornado-prone areas. It will produce more energy than it uses and is designed to be very durable and affordable,” said Mark McGinley, UofL endowed chair in infrastructure research and the project’s faculty leader.

The houses are to highlight renewable energy systems and energy-efficient technologies, products and appliances already available to homeowners. The competition includes 10 categories: architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment and energy balance.

UofL’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering; Ball State’s College of Architecture, Interior Design and Construction Management programs; UofL’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research; UofL’s College of Business; UofL’s College of Arts and Sciences (communication and English departments); and UK’s School of Engineering have supported the team’s effort for more than a year. There even will be a student contest to create the home’s artwork.

“It is truly an integrative design experience for all of these students,” McGinley said.

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