Going green

Cal Poly students put the finishing touches on solar abode


While most Cal Poly students are returning from a summer away from school, a small number of students are preparing to leave for three weeks. This summer a small group of Cal Poly students have been quickly erecting a house for a national sustainable-building competition. The house is completely powered by solar energy and is constructed with environmentally friendly building materials. Since New Times first covered the student project ("It's easy being green" May 26-June 2), there has been serious progress. What was once a flat metal frame has mushroomed into a modernist-style house.

The Solar Decathlon, which is held on the national lawn in Washington, D.C., is now only weeks away and the Cal Poly team has less then a week to finish the house, put it on a trailer, and ship it to D.C.

"I'm so excited, we've got a lot of work cut out for us," said Nicholas Holmes, a fifth-year architecture student who was busy working on the house's deck last week.

‘I'm proud of what we're doing. We're making a big statement about solar energy.'

Nicholas Holmes, Solar Cal Poly student

A little frantic but under control, the students are now finishing the construction. Robert Peña, faculty adviser for the project, said most of the remaining work is aesthetic. Before the house is shipped on a trailer to D.C., a six-day journey, the team must partially deconstruct parts of the house. The team will take the solar panels off of the roof; and the deck, which is equal to the house in square footage, will be stacked and shipped unattached to the home.

Once they get to Washington, D.C. in early October, the team will reassemble the house and spend three weeks showing the house for the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy-sponsored event. The team will compete against 17 other teams in 10 sepa rate events. The categories include efficient use of lighting, hot water, and architecture design, among others. According to the Department of Energy web site, "the teams have to design and build attractive, high-performance houses that integrate solar and energy-efficiency technologies seamlessly into the homes' designs." The team that gets the most points in the ten categories wins.

Even if the Cal Poly team doesn't win the competition, Peña says it will be a success. The house will return to Cal Poly to hopefully be used as a center for sustainable education and design, said Peña. And the students involved have gained valuable experience in sustainable design and construction.

"I'm proud of what we're doing," said Holmes. "We're making a big statement about solar energy."

Staff Writer John Peabody can be reached at


Timeline of Solar Decathlon

Sept. 21: Cal Poly house leaves on a truck to D.C.

Sept 26: 3000+ miles later, house arrives in D.C.

Sept. 29- Oct. 6: Teams assemble their houses.

Oct. 6-1: Solar Power 2005

Oct. 7-11:Houses open to the public.

Oct. 12: Houses closed to public for judging.

Oct. 13-16: Houses open again to public

Oct. 17-19: Teams dissemble solar village.

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