SARUP Previews 2009 Solar Decathlon Project at WI Renewable Energy Summit

by: Eric Litsheim of Front Page Milwaukee

The School of Architecture and Urban Planning is previewing one of UWM’s newest green projects at this year’s Wisconsin Renewable Energy Summit - .a solar powered home the department is building for 2009 Solar Decathlon taking place in Washington DC.

The U.S. Department of Energy selected a proposal submitted by SURAP to compete in the event. Assistant Professor Gregory Thomson and colleagues will lead a team of the department’s students in building an 800-square foot energy efficient home.

The fourth annual Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon will take place this October on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Only 20 teams are selected for this competition. This year, the teams hail from the US, Canada, and Germany. UWM is the only school attending from Wisconsin.

The goal of the competition is to build a home powered entirely by the sun that is easy to live in while still conserving energy. Other aspects, such as weatherization of the home, will also play a role in making the house more energy efficient. To build the homes, the Department of Energy will provide each team with $100,000.

This project coincides with others that are in the works at UWM as the school is making an effort to implement renewable energy sources and more efficient techniques into its campus. One of these being the recently completed “green roof” project that was built upon Sandburg hall to help deter harmful runoff from entering Lake Michigan.

When asked about other current and future green projects, Chancellor Santiago said, “We hired the first sustainability coordinator that the university has ever had whose responsibility is to keep an eye on those projects, so I think were proud of our efforts. There’s more to be done but I think we’re very proud of how it’s moving.”

Grad Student Eric Harmon talked about some of the house’s technical details, saying, “We’re using rain screens on the elevations, a highly insulated roof, solar-panels on the roof, solar hot water systems. A lot of adaptability within the house so that eight hundred square feet can feel like 1,200 square feet.”

The homes will be judged in 10 different areas:

* Architecture
* Market Viability
* Engineering
* Lighting Design
* Communications
* Comfort Zone
* Hot Water
* Comfort Zone
* Appliances
* Home Entertainment
* Net Metering

UWM Chancellor Carlos Santiago gave his thoughts about the decathlon and SARUP, saying, “We’re fortunate to have a school of architecture that is really taking a lead in all of those initiatives and we’re hoping they’ll prevail in Washington. Hopefully a lot of construction will occur on the campus in the next six years and we really want the faculty and staff of the school of architecture to participate.”

Building the homes

In addition to the $100,000 provided by the Department of Energy, SARUP has received additional funding from various incentives as well as sponsors including Wick homes and Focus on Energy.

The over-all cost to build the house is still unknown, but Harmon says estimates are around $250,000. Considering the size of the house, these energy efficient methods could seem pricey but team member and grad student Joe Rice says they’re actually cost efficient and worth the investment, “If you just think about you solar-panels and other sustainable details as an investment that will be paid back over time, essentially you’re paying for all of your energy costs up front.”

Most of the planning stages for building the home are already complete. Now all they have to do is build it.

Materials will be sent to UWM this summer where the team will build the 40-foot long house. Harmon says the home should be built by September in order to work out any kinks before it is shipped section by section to the decathlon in October.

In the past some of the houses have been sold to people to actually live in after the competition was over. Others have been put on display at the University where they were built.

2009 Wisconsin Renewable Energy Summit and UWM

The summit began on Wednesday at the Midwest Airlines Center and runs through tomorrow, when it moves to the MATC Oak Creek campus for workshops. Hundreds of speakers fill the center’s rooms and halls with panels, and presentations. The exhibit’s hall is set up like a never-ending science fair. With so much to see and hear at the summit, many attendees find themselves cutting their time short at one session to get to another.

UWM is a main sponsor of this year’s summit. As Chancellor Santiago introduces keynote speaker US Representative David Obey, Rice and Harmon are on hand at the Summit with an exhibit previewing SARUP’s proposal and answering questions.

The team members went into great detail when explaining how the home was designed and how it will be built. The model itself looks like a cross between a log cabin and the Jetsons’ sky high home. One requirement that homes needed to meet in order to compete was that they be attractive.

For more information on SURAP’s decathlon project contact Greg Thomson by phone at (414) 229-6445 or by email

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