Solar's Soldiers; Students out to Prove Sun's Power Practical for Home Use

Article excerpt

Byline: Bethany Sackett, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The heat is on at the Mall this week as 20 teams from around the world, including one from the University of Maryland, compete in the Solar Decathlon, a competition that challenges participants to design, build and operate an attractive solar and energy-efficient home.

Jake Zager, the University of Maryland's architecture team student leader, said his team's entry is modeled on a leaf. "It is viewed as nature's best solar collector," he said. Maryland's structure is called the LEAFhouse, for "Leading Everyone to an Abundant Future."

The house features an inviting wraparound deck, yellow marigolds and patio furniture.

Upon entering the front door, the eyes are drawn upward to the ridge of the ceiling with its visible steel supports that expand out from a wooden base with a large piece of glass that allows as much natural light as possible into the home, an architectural reminder of the team's inspiration.

"We have as much natural light as we can eliminating the artificial light," said Mr. Zager.

The 800-square-foot house has 34 solar panels that capture the sun's energy and store it in battery form. The battery then powers the home from the energy it has stored from the solar panels.

"The entire house has been designed to be situated in the Chesapeake Bay watershed," said John Kucia, construction manager and architecture student.

With the south-facing exterior wall covered in plants, there is no need for gutters. The "green wall" captures the water from the roof and slows the time it takes the water to hit the ground, which eliminates a swampy environment said Mr. Kucia.

"Unlike multiple amounts of houses using gutter systems, which have water rushing into the Bay at 80 mph, the house does a very good job of filtering the waterfall into reusable water that can irrigate the lawn," said Mr. Kucia.

An innovative engineering feature includes the indoor waterfall, a liquid wall system that isn't just for looks. "The waterfall controls humidity. It sucks moisture out of the air and there are fans that help the waterfall do its job. The fans are pumping the air and cycles it throughout the house in about 10 minutes," said Mr. Kucia, "The moisture and heat gets dumped back outside," he said.

The team, a joint effort by the School of Architecture and the School of Engineering, built the house on their campus and transported it to the Mall last week, adding finishing touches before the competition began. It took two years - from design to delivery. …