By Liam Berti
Building a house on an airport runway isn’t exactly the ideal location to set up a brand new solar-powered home.
But for the month of October, Team Ontario called the sun-drenched airfield home as they competed against 18 other teams in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Irvine, Calif.
If finishing sixth overall in the competition wasn’t an achievement in itself, then placing first in the prestigious engineering contest made over two years of hard work and sacrifice all worth it for the team.
After spending almost a month in California, Team Ontario, made up of students from Algonquin, Carleton University and Queen’s University, came out of the international competition as the top Canadian team.
“We’re extremely happy,” said the team’s construction manager and recent advanced housing graduate Jacob Morgan. “The overall placing really wasn’t important to us, but taking home the first place in engineering really is the best thing that could’ve happened to us.”
“The whole concept of the decathlon is to come and show off your innovation and engineering and, other than the overall award, the engineering award is the most prestigious award you could win at this event.”
Although the team was quick to downplay their accolades and achievements, beating out the likes of Ivy League schools and the overall competition winners in the engineering category was no small feat.
“Team Ontario revealed a complete understanding of building science, a very good building envelope for the target climate, and excellent integration of passive and active strategies,” said engineering contest juror Kent W. Peterson on the decathlon website. “We believe this team best demonstrated design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.”
The people who were able to tour the house expressed the same sense of satisfaction in the home.
“Every single person that came through the house told us that our house was either their favourite or it was the only house they could see themselves living in,” said Morgan. “That meant more to us than any award did.”
Ten days of public tours, media attention and exhaustive judges evaluations saw Team Ontario’s ECHO project play host to approximately 25,000 people that walked through the house.
“Everybody that walked through basically loved the house and how open and spacious it was,” said Brandon Austin, team member and graduate of the advanced housing program at Algonquin. “People loved how everything came together and made the home seem more livable.”
The project began when Team Ontario submitted an application for the decathlon in November 2011. After almost two years of recruiting expert individuals, members of Team Ontario finally got to reap the rewards of their hard work with the whole roster all in the same place at the same time.
“The students have all done an amazing job and should be proud of their accomplishment,” said Richard Briginshaw, Team Ontario’s faculty advisor and the green architecture program coordinator at Algonquin.
“At any given time we had up to 20 students of various backgrounds working side by side – college and university alike.”
The team members echoed this sense of teamwork and camaraderie as well.
“It was really good to bond as an entire team in California, helping each other out and giving each other some insight,” said Austin. “If you’re up for all of the hard work and crazy stuff that happens during it, it’s definitely an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience to take part in.”
Algonquin President Kent MacDonald toured the house and had the chance to sit down for dinner with the team while they were in California. MacDonald said he was impressed by the final product and expressed how proud he was of the Algonquin team members.
“To be number one in engineering was a great feat, but it shows a level of maturity from our graduates and it shows that we are providing them the skills and knowledge to make a contribution in a variety of ways,” said MacDonald.
The team is now in the midst of deconstructing the house and shipping its parts back to Algonquin where it will remain in storage until the team finds a final place for the house or a buyer comes along.