Solar Decathlon team readies for competition

MIDDLEBURY — After two years of hard work, the Middlebury College Solar Decathlon team recently showed off their completed solar-powered house to fellow students and the community.
On Aug. 9 the lights and stereo system in the airy, 1,000-square-foot house were already being powered by solar electricity, and the bookshelves and walls were filled with homey details: board games, children’s books and artwork on loan from local artists Elizabeth Billing of Tinmouth and Nancy Taplin of Warren.
But the students involved — who, over the course of the project, have totaled 85, from 25 different majors — were already turning their sights to the last building details they’d have to complete before they dismantle the entire house on Aug. 22.
From there, the house will travel to Washington, D.C., along with a group of students who will rebuild the house on the National Mall in September. The house will compete head-to-head with houses from 19 other teams from around the world. The structures will be judged on design, marketing appeal, home entertainment and energy production and use.
Following 10 days on the National Mall, students will again deconstruct the house and bring it back to Middlebury, where it will become a student residence.
Middlebury College’s presence in the competition is unusual, since most who make it to the final round of the biennial competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, are universities with full architecture programs.
While the competition is stiff, Middlebury architecture professor Andrea Murray, one of the project’s advisors, is optimistic about the local team’s chances in D.C.
“What we don’t know has been our greatest advantage,” she said. “(The students involved) have questioned everything conventional.”
Those questions have ranged from basic architectural details to questions about the best and most ecological insulation, which led to the house’s very thick, insulation-filled walls and to the use of local sheep wool around the windows instead of the typical foam.
The finished house boasts a spacious patio, a combined kitchen, dining room and living room, a bathroom and two bedrooms. Addison Godine, who spearheaded the project more than two years ago, was surveying the finished product at the open house.
“There’s still a lot to do,” he said. “The biggest challenge lies ahead — disassembling it, moving it, having it up for 10 days, then moving it again.”
But he echoed Murray’s optimism about the process.
“I think we’re in good shape,” he said. “It feels great.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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