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Purdue-designed solar-power home will compete in D.C.

May 2, 2011

Sun will be the sole power for a house being built at Purdue University.

More than 200 students have spent two years planning, designing and now constructing a 1,000-square-foot solar home that will compete in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon this fall.

"The big picture is to show doing solar houses can happen now," said Kevin Rodgers, a mechanical engineering technology research assistant who is managing the project.

A "topping off" party was held Friday to celebrate construction of the $250,000 house, called InHome, at its site on the north side of Purdue West shopping center off Indiana 26 and McCormick Road.

Students will put the finishing touches on the house during the next month. An open house is planned the first week of July.

The Solar Decathlon is a competition to design, build and operate the most affordable, attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house.

This is Purdue's first entry in the contest. The team will join 15 U.S. and four foreign universities who will set up houses to be judged on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in August.

The DOE held the first competition in 2002 and has held it biennially since 2005.

In late July the Purdue house will be broken down and shipped to Washington, D.C. The team will have seven days to reassemble it.

The competition will last for a week, during which time the house will be audited for its energy use.

Part of the competition includes using the house for normal activities that need energy -- such as hosting a dinner or movie party, Rodgers said.

The project also has given students hands-on experience in building an energy-efficient home.

The biggest challenge in planning the house, said Mallory Schaus, a civil engineering graduate student, is making sure its net-zero for energy consumption. That means the solar panels must produce at least as much energy as the house uses.

Besides solar panels, the house features energy-efficient appliances, insulated housing panels that create an air-tight envelope and passive solar heating designs, such as window overhangs and specially designed windows.

"To do that, we are using manufacturing at the industrial level," she said. "Everything has to be the top-line of efficiency." The house also has a special ventilation system that keeps the indoor air fresh while minimizing energy loss.

After the competition, the house will be returned to the Lafayette area and put to use.

"The plans are to put this house on a foundation for a real family," said Eric Holt, construction manager and graduate teaching assistant. "Because this is a real home."

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