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GRoW Goes West

Grow Your Own Food: The GRoWLarium’s year‐round growing space, combined with the home’s exterior gardens, will produce nearly 1,600 pounds of produce annually, enough to meet the USDA’s recommended fruit and vegetable consumption for 2.3 people. Renderings by UB Solar Decathlon Architectural Design Studio, Spring 2015, Instructor: Martha Bohm

UB’s first-ever Solar Decathlon team is off to California for the competition

A rotating crew of two dozen students and faculty clocked 12-hour days – six days a week – during the final six-week stretch of constructing UB’s solar home entry in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. Led by the Buffalo School with UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, School of Management and College of Arts and Sciences, UB’s team is one of 15 competing in the prestigious international event which challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar homes. 

Proposing a new way of living with energy, the GRoW Home is an ultra-efficient modular home that embraces both the urban farming culture of Buffalo and its seasonal weather cycles. Through passive and active energy systems, a GRoWlarium for year-round food production and a seamless indoor-outdoor living experience, the GRoW Home integrates architecture, occupant and nature in support of energy stewardship.

After two years of preparation by more than 200 students and faculty from 14 departments and units, with the help of dozens of business and community partners, UB’s first-ever Solar Decathlon team is off to California for the competition. As this article goes to print, UB’s team is packing up the fully-tested modular house onto two flat-bed trucks – and two additional box trucks for furnishings – for a five-day cross-country drive. Thirty–seven members of UB’s team will board a plane and meet the house in Irvine to reassemble it for the competition, which runs from Oct. 8-18. The competition includes 10 contests that measure performance, affordability and livability and ask teams to host dinner parties, test their clothes dryers and power electric cars hooked up to the home. Winners will be selected in each category, and an overall Solar Decathlon winner will be announced Oct. 17. 

Thousands will be invited inside for tours and a sneak peek at the latest in energy-efficient living before the house is shipped back to Buffalo, where it will serve as an energy education center for the community.

Supported by the Western New York Community

The Western New York community, alumni and friends from around the world have rallied behind the project, which has benefitted from the financial support of more than 450 individuals and organizations. Thanks to all for making UB’s first entry in the Solar Decathlon possible. We would like to recognize LPCiminelli for its many contributions to the project as well as all of our top sponsors, each of whom provided $10,000 or more in gifts of cash, materials and services:

Mr. George Gellman; Intigral Inc.; Larkin Development Group; LPCiminelli; Montante Solar; Mr. Robert Morris; National Grid; NYSERDA; SolarCity; UB President’s Circle; U.S. Department of Energy; Watts Architecture & Engineering

GRoW team perspectives

Martha Bohm, lead faculty advisor and assistant professor of architecture

“The challenge of this project is phenomenal, as is the opportunity it presents to our students and the school. We’ve come a long way in two and a half years, and we’re looking forward to finishing strong!”

Duane Warren (MArch ’15)

“It’s just amazing seeing it actualized, from the design phase to construction to the competition,” says Warren, whose roles have included architectural project manager, furniture designer and, during the competition, tour guide and electric car driver.

Kaitlyn O’Connell (MArch ’16)

“It’s evolved from something on paper to a finished house. It’s awesome. It’s real. It’s happening,” says O’Connell, who has manned the studio throughout the project and joined the construction crew for the final sprint.

Craig Tamborski, carpenter, LPCiminelli

“I’ve been in the carpenters’ union for 26 years. This is like something I’ve never seen before. It’s cool,” says Tamborski, adding that he’s honored to have played a part. 

Photos by Zhi Ting Phua (BA ‘16) and Rachel Teaman

Welcome to the GRoW Home

The GRoW Home introduces a new way of living with energy, inviting the user to engage with the architecture and environment as they as they adapt the home and its systems to the changing forces of the sun and wind. Generating twice as much energy as it consumes, the GRoW Home features a “GRoWlarium” for producing food year-round, 10-inch-thick structural insulated panels, 6.7 kilowatts of grid-tied solar panels and solar water heating, operative shading and high-performance windows and folding glass doors. 

Renderings by UB Solar Decathlon Architectural Design Studio, Spring 2015, Instructor: Martha Bohm

1. Grow Your Own Energy:

 The 1,100‐square‐foot home produces twice the energy it consumes through passive and active solar energy features such as super thick walls and dynamic fenestrations and shading.

2. Live Flexibly and Functionally:

A storage unit dividing the bedroom and living area features a rotating television and entertainment platform to serve both rooms. A double-sided kitchen table can be flipped from its steel surface for prepping food to a wooden surface for dining.

3. Live with Nature:

The physical heart of the home, the GRowLarium is a year‐round growing space that captures the sun’s light and warmth during the winter and opens up to outdoor living during Buffalo’s comfortable summer and shoulder seasons.

4. Grow Your Own Food:

The GRoWLarium’s year‐round growing space, combined with the home’s exterior gardens, will produce nearly 1,600 pounds of produce annually, enough to meet the USDA’s recommended fruit and vegetable consumption for 2.3 people.

Do-it-Yourself: Architecture students designed and built six multifunctional furnishings to enhance the efficiency of the GRoW Home. The pieces include a solar clothes dryer that doubles as a bench, a canning cabinet with curved slots for storing mason jars and rolling metal tables for holding soil and starter plants. The furniture was fabricated with the assistance of Buffalo’s Rigidized Metals Corp.

Look Up: A steel canopy braces 24 Silevo PV panels and a solar water heating system while providing shading for the entire home. It also serves as infrastructure for climbing plants and, eventually, a green wall and roof.