Published February 17, 2014
Led by the School of Architecture and Planning in partnership with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of Management, UB students and professors will build a 1,400-square-foot solar-powered home as finalists in the U.S. Department of Energy’s elite Solar Decathlon competition.
Playfully called the GRoW House, the UB project is designed to appeal to Buffalo’s urban gardening contingent. The dwelling will have space where residents can Garden, Relax or Work (GRoW). Features include a generous greenhouse and kitchen for growing, processing, cooking and storing food.
The Solar Decathlon is a national, two-year contest that challenges collegiate teams to design, construct and operate cost-effective solar dwellings.
The Department of Energy announced on Thursday afternoon that UB was one of 20 schools selected to participate.
“This invitation is a clear demonstration of the strength of our faculty leadership and the talent of the student body," said Robert Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. “Together, they have gotten us this far in a highly competitive, hands-on project focused on collaboration in design, construction, commercialization and the interdisciplinary teamwork essential for success.”
In the decathlon, which will take place in Irvine, Calif. in 2015, each entry will be evaluated in 10 contests, ranging from architecture and engineering to home appliance performance. Each decathlon draws tens of thousands of visitors from across the country.
The GRoW House will be built in Western New York, shipped to Irvine for judging, then returned to Buffalo. Possible permanent locations for the home include the city’s Fruit Belt, West Side or waterfront neighborhoods.
Ultimately, organizers hope the GRoW House will become a community resource, open for tours that educate and inspire schoolchildren and the public about the benefits of sustainable, low-energy design.
“There’s an untapped potential in Buffalo to do interesting and provocative sustainable design,” said Martha Bohm, UB assistant professor of architecture, who worked on two Solar Decathlon projects as a Cornell University faculty member before joining UB. “Sometimes, to get things moving, you need a project that captures people’s imaginations — something people can experience firsthand."
Plans for the home — designed by UB students in studios and seminars — call for three main spaces:
The project is led by the School of Architecture and Planning, but students and faculty from across UB will form an integrated team. The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences will lend its expertise to design and construction, and the School of Management will develop marketing and communications strategies for promoting the GRoW House to the public.
So far, more than 40 students have taken architecture studios and seminars devoted to the Solar Decathlon. Many more are expected to contribute by the project’s end.
Support from the business community has been pledged by Montante Solar, Watts Architecture & Engineering, Buffalo GeoThermal and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the UB team’s primary partner. Materials and mentorship will come from corporate donors, and the U.S. Department of Energy will supply seed funding. The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry will collaborate on the design of the house’s site.
Team members calculate the GRoW House will generate electricity in excess of what residents need for regular activities. Despite Buffalo’s long winters, the region actually does get enough sunlight to make solar an effective option for powering homes, project leaders say.
“I designed a passive solar house in East Aurora that works very well — not quite net zero, but the design cut heating costs by 75 percent," said Wales. "Fossil fuels are expensive and their consumption generally degrades the environment."