Show-Me Solar Team receives grant to aid house project

Thursday, July 2, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:16 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 22, 2009
A rendering of team "Show-Me Solar's" solar house interior.

COLUMBIA — The Show-Me Solar House Team is gearing up for the Solar Decathlon in October and getting a little help from the Missouri Department of National Resources.

The team received a $5,000 grant from the Department of Natural Resources on June 30 to assist in buying materials for its solar decathlon house project, specifically louvers that go on the side of the house and help with heating and cooling.


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Faculty sponsor Barbara Buffaloe solicited the grant by writing a letter to Mark Templeton, Department of Natural Resources director. The letter led to a proposal, which then led to the grant money.

The Solar Decathlon is an international competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The two-year competition entails designing, building and operating a solar-powered house that is marketable.

About 15 undergraduate and graduate MU students, paired with another 15 students from Missouri University of Science and Technology, make up the team.

“One of the key things that I learned while working on the Solar House Team is working with other people,” Heather Benson, a senior architectural studies and interior design student at MU, said. “And not just with people within my own field of work but with people that aren’t.”

Students with majors in architecture, interior design, electrical engineering and marketing, among others, are all needed to design and construct the solar house.

“The whole point of the competition is for the health and longevity of our society,” Buffaloe said. “We are expanding the horizons of the student team members and of the community with what is available in solar power design.”

The house, which is 800 square feet, costs more than $300,000. In addition to the costs to build the house, the students and the house must be moved to Washington, D.C., in October for the competition.

The house will include a Chameleon Automation System, which calculates the peak hours to run appliances, and can help the homeowner save power by shutting blinds in the summer afternoons and opening windows to let cool air inside. The system can also water houseplants that improve the indoor air quality.

The one-bedroom house is small, but “smaller is greener,” Buffaloe said. All the items were placed in the house with this in mind.

The house will have a radiant floor heating system: tubes under the hardwood floors with hot water running through them.

“If your feet are hot, the thermostat stays lower and energy is saved,” Buffaloe said.

Other efficiency measures are used, such as placing all the high-energy appliances on the north wall. In the winter the cooler northern wind balances the heat put off by the appliances and keeps the temperature regulated.

The house works on a grid-tied system, just as many of the houses in Columbia do; electricity flows into the house from the city. But the solar house only uses the city’s energy if the solar panels are not making enough energy to fuel the house. If the solar panels make more energy than necessary, the excess energy can be sold to the city.

The house is behind schedule in the building process, but once money and materials are donated, the progress will continue. The team still needs about $82,000, much of which includes travel expenses in Washington, D.C.

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