Solar Decathlon Profile: Building Official Tom MeyersMonday, September 19, 2011
Before teams are deemed eligible to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, they must pass a series of inspections to ensure their houses are code-compliant. This makes Tom Meyers a very popular guy during assembly.
Tom and the inspections team approve the houses for 21 compliance requirements that fall into the following categories:
- Building code
- Electrical systems
- Mechanical systems
- Event logistics.
Armed with a measuring tape, a leveler, a flashlight, and his never-silent cell phone, Tom moves from house to house ticking off line items on inspections sheets as the teams make progress constructing their houses.
The Solar Decathlon Building Code was adopted from the International Residential Code (IRC), which sets the minimum requirements for one- and two-family dwellings. Tom serves as the chairman of the committee that reviews the IRC every three years for changes.
The IRC has been amended to address the unique nature of the competition, such as including additional requirements to make the event accessible for those with disabilities. While the IRC informs the competition, the Solar Decathlon also informs the code.
“We have looked at changing the building code based on what we see coming from student innovation here,” Tom says. “This is one of the big national benefits of the Solar Decathlon.”
For example, Tom hopes to see guidelines for the use of phase-change materials introduced to the code. He thinks this energy efficiency technology, which is used in many of the team houses, has the potential to greatly reduce our nation’s residential energy use.
“These teams are building advanced engineered structures using methods that aren’t prescripted yet,” says Tom. “What is unconventional in my normal job is conventional here.”
Today, Tom inspected the I-joists in Team Massachusetts’ 4D Home. This team is using wood that is usually put in flooring on their walls. Tom is helping make sure that this unusual approach is carried out safely.
“I don’t always know everything about everything, but I know the experts,” he says.
The Solar Decathlon is fortunate to have his expertise as a third-time event organizer.
Alexis Powers is a member of the Solar Decathlon communications team.