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Students build self-sufficient, energy-efficient, solar powered house

Virginia Tech students are currently building a house of the future -- a completely self-sufficient, energy-efficient, solar powered house, that will generate enough energy to power all the needs of the house, run a small home-based business, and power a solar car. Addressing the need for alternative, sustainable energy, the Virginia Tech solar house uses renewable materials, innovative technologies, and construction methods that have the goal of ultimately achieving cost-effectiveness.

The Virginia Tech solar house will compete in the 2005 Solar Decathlon, an international, intercollegiate competition sponsored primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It is designed to educate students about the ways renewable energy conserves the environment, to move the general public to think about ways they can use modern technology to conserve energy and make responsible choices about their energy use, and to speed up the development and marketing of new technology.

Students began planning, designing, and building their homes about two years before the actual competition at the Solar Village on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Oct. 7 through Oct. 16, 2005. Virginia Tech students raised the level of its participation by having an in-house competition to determine the design of the house that would represent the university at the competition.

A crucial design criteria that the Virginia Tech team must address is transportation of the house to Washington, D.C. for exhibition and final competition. In the 2002 competition, Virginia Tech students had to construct, then dismantle, the house, take it to the Mall by truck, and reconstruct it for the contest. This year, however, the house will be transported intact to the mall, due to a uniquely designed trailer that allows the house to fit under interstate overpasses.

The Virginia Tech team is a collaborative of students and faculty from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (the programs of Architecture, Industrial Design, and Interior Design, in the School of Architecture + Design, the Department of Building Construction and the Department of Landscape Architecture) and the College of Engineering (the departments of Civil and Environmental, Electrical and Computer, and Mechanical Engineering). Project participants will experience teamwork, collaboration, and compromise – important skills for future builders and leaders.

The Solar Decathlon project illustrates the benefits of having students and faculty work outside their own disciplines and alongside those from other fields. The range of experience it provides the students enables them to develop such things as movable walls and heated floors, a double-drop low-bay mover that may prove beneficial for moving prefabricated homes and, of course, small, energy-efficient homes that could be useful in high-population-density areas while saving the Earth's resources. The Solar Decathlon not only gives students an intensive, hands-on course in solar housing, but also the opportunity to solve some of the problems of the world.

“The Solar Decathlon project is an invaluable educational experience and it demonstrates many principles emphasized throughout the college, including inter-disciplinary collaboration, research, sustainability and even livability, said Paul Knox, University Distinguished Professor and Dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. We are extremely excited by the accomplishments of our students and faculty to date and we are pleased to once again be involved in the project.s

The Virginia Tech solar team's approach looks beyond the programmatic requirements of the competition to yield a solution that can be produced with manufactured housing techniques, that uses a high degree of recycled content in the production of the materials, and that has an overall low environmental impact. Their approach in this second Solar Decathlon will include research and innovative techniques that extend, improve upon, or replace techniques used in the 2002 Solar Decathlon competition.

The Virginia Tech team has created such innovations as the boomerang-shaped roof, with photovoltaic panels, that gestures toward the sun and hovers above the house. They designed a new type of wrap-around, translucent exterior wall, made up of a transparent membrane filled with a highly insulative aerogel, that achieves a high insulation value, while allowing abundant light to filter into the house. The integrated heat pump system and the building control system are both truly inventive. Students have combined imagination with knowledge and skill to produce new ways of living.

The Virginia Tech solar house is designed to adapt to different types of climates, to have long-term value, and to balance structural integrity, function and comfort with visual appeal.

A project that challenges the mind, stimulates the spirit, and delights the senses, the Virginia Tech Solar Decathlon has a primary mission of educating the public, while enhancing the students' educational experience. For further information, visit The Virginia Tech Solar Decathlon Web site, and the DOE site is found at

The College of Architecture and Urban Studies is one of the largest of its type in the nation. CAUS is composed of two schools and the departments of landscape architecture, building construction, and art and art history. The School of Architecture + Design includes programs in architecture, industrial design and interior design. The School of Public and International Affairs includes programs in urban affairs and planning, public administration and policy, and government and international affairs. Visit

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Kids Learning Links
Buddy's Diner (for the birds)
Bird Profiles for Young Naturalists