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Purdue’s “IN Home” Rallies for the Solar Decathlon

Friday, May 6, 2011

By Erik Hyrkas

Editor’s Note: This entry has been cross-posted from DOE’s Energy Blog.

In honor of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon—which challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive—we are profiling each of the 20 teams participating in the competition.

One of the newest teams to the Solar Decathlon is Purdue University of Lafayette, Indiana. The fresh team has joined to rally against many of its Big Ten competitors and prove that, even without an architecture program, Purdue can succeed on the National Mall.

Photo of a group of people wearing hardhats in front of a partially constructed house.

Purdue’s IN Home team takes a break during its “topping out” party. (Note the little tree on the roof of the house.) (Courtesy of the Purdue Solar Decathlon team)

Starting with just four students in 2009, Purdue’s team has grown to a group of 200 people planning, designing, engineering, and building over the past two years. To get the inside scoop, we spoke with Project Manager Kevin Rodgers about Purdue’s ultra-efficient IN Home (Indiana Home).

Purdue’s Solar Decathlon team is using three words to describe In Home: efficiency, practical, and essential.

“We are going with a home that is very realistic but appealing to a specific Midwestern style to fit in most neighborhoods,” said Rodgers, who also works as a mechanical engineering technology research assistant.

IN Home will showcase a very practical design during the 2011 competition.

“Our home is very unique in that it’s very deep,” said Rodgers. “Usually, Solar Decathlon homes are very long for transport. We wanted our home to look more traditional, so we sat down with some engineers and designers to make it feasible. It’s almost a square floor plan and feels more like a real home instead of something designed for being on the road.”

The house is also unique in that it is the first to feature an attached, single-vehicle garage—something most residents of Indiana find a necessity.

The house features all-electric, high-efficiency appliances; structural insulated panels in the walls and floors;  and triple-paned, operable windows above high ceilings, with passive design in mind to allow for optimal ventilation in the summer and heating through the windows in the winter. The entire house is powered by an 8.6-kilowatt solar electric system on the roof.

IN Home has one master bedroom, an office that can be converted into a second bedroom, one bath, a kitchen, a living room, a utility room, and the attached garage. Outside of the house are gardening areas, wheelchair-accessible ramps, and a deck patio. At 990 ft2, In Home maximizes space with a price point just less than $250,000.

Photo of a model of a house on a table beneath a tree. In the background is the full house under construction.

A model of IN Home sits in front of the house during construction. (Courtesy of the Purdue Solar Decathlon team)

Rodgers says he loves that the Affordability Contest was added to the 2011 competition and that Purdue looks forward to doing well in this category as well as in Engineering and Market Appeal.

But not all has been easy for the Purdue team. One of its largest challenges was fundraising for the event during a recession.

“The Department of Energy gives us a certain amount, but the rest is up to the team while building and designing the house. Even organizing the monster that is the Solar Decathlon is a very time-consuming project,” said Rodgers.

In addition, Purdue’s team faced another challenge. Most Solar Decathlon teams are started by university architecture schools. Rodgers said Purdue needed to come up with another way around it.

“We had a faculty adviser who was an architect, and interior design students help design and plan our home,” he said.

Two years and 200 students from six Purdue schools later, Purdue threw its topping out party in April.

“I think we will do very well. We will be very good. … I think the public can make a connection between this home and their own, and that’s very good for the team,” said Rodgers.

After the competition, Purdue University’s IN Home will be situated in LaFayette, Indiana, where it was built and donated to a family for long-term research.

Erik Hyrkas is a correspondence writer for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

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