By: Liam Berti
Two years of hard work, extracurricular commitment and extreme dedication will finally materialize when Team Ontario unveils their model house entry at the United States Department of Energy Solar Decathlon on Oct. 3 in Irvine, Calif.
The 10-day competition marks the first time Algonquin has participated in the event after teaming up with students from Carleton and Queen’s University.
The goal: design, build and create a net-zero solar-powered home that produces as much or more energy than it consumes.
“The team mentality at the moment is to just get it there and set up,” said Jacob Morgan, the team’s construction manager and recent Algonquin graduate. “Placing is so far out of our minds right now.
“If we can pull off getting the house there, assembled and then taken apart without a hitch, we’ll be as happy as we can be. It’s about bringing a house that we’re happy with to California, not winning the contest.”
Team Ontario’s masterpiece, appropriately named ECHO, is now complete and reassembled after surviving the 4,500 km trip across the continent. The only thing left to do is open the doors to the 100 sq. ft. home and let the judges assess their creation.
“To see this project go from the proposal phase, where we didn’t know if we’d be accepted, to the point where we’re shipping a house down to California for the competition is pretty amazing,” said Chris Baldwin, Team Ontario’s Ottawa project manager.
“Just seeing everyone come together and get the house complete has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the project.”
The teams will be evaluated and given an overall score based on their home’s overall architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment and energy balance.
With only 20 teams selected to compete in the prestigious competition, Algonquin students and Team Ontario will go up against squads from Austria, the Czech Republic and all across North America, including Middlebury College who placed fourth in the 2011 decathlon.
But despite the stiff competition, Team Ontario believes their creation will stand out thanks to the unique requirements that they had to cater their project to, such as building a house that could handle the Ontario snow load as well as the seismic activity in California.
“Part of the reason we think our project will stand out is because our house is designed for Ottawa’s climate,” said Morgan. “Our wall-thermal value is twice that of what the code is and we have an integrated mechanical system which is the first of its kind.”
The integrated system provides space heating, cooling, dehumidification and domestic hot water through one single system.
“It’s been a concept on paper, but it’s never been implemented into house design before,” said Morgan.
With so many disciplines being assessed, it is easy to understand why the diversity of expertise at Algonquin was used in the two-year process.
Most notably, the team credits the advanced housing program based out of Algonquin’s Perth campus for playing a pivotal role in making the state of the art design plans materialize. Part of their program’s curriculum required them to complete a major construction project in their second year, so their involvement was only natural.
With the college’s green architecture, interior design, architectural technology, sheet metal worker and the information and communication technology programs also getting involved, Algonquin has had an immense impact on the completion of the project.
“To have the expertise in design, technology and construction all under one roof is a real testament to Algonquin’s student talent and versatility,” said Richard Briginshaw, Team Ontario’s faculty advisor and the green architecture program coordinator at Algonquin.
After being rejected for the previous decathlon in 2011, Queen’s and Carleton joined up with Algonquin to begin working on the proposal for 2013.
What began as a written proposal in November 2011 quickly gained momentum and turned into a full-time commitment from students from the three post-secondary schools. Then, after being notified in January 2012 that their proposal was one of the 20 accepted out of over 100, the team quickly began developing the home design, which was to begin construction in fall of last year.
In total, the team claims they recruited the help of over 100 students over the two-year process, some working 12-16 hour days during certain phases and committing extracurricular time and effort after school and on weekends.
“We spoke to some other teams that had competed in previous competitions before and they told us, basically, that solar decathlon becomes your life for the next two years,” said Karl Kadwell, project manager of ECHO. “You live, eat, sleep and breathe solar decathlon, so we knew what we were getting into, but it has definitely been a rewarding project.”
Some would think that after two years of painstaking effort and creation the team would focus entirely on winning. Instead, they insist that the reward goes far beyond the prospect of placing among the top houses in the decathlon.
“Regardless of how we do, we’ve delivered an attractive and efficient home that is able to show the public that energy efficiency doesn’t mean you have to compromise in a home,” said Kadwell.
“We’ve already accomplished so much, so anything after that is just gravy.”