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Denver, Colorado
October 5-15, 2017

University at Buffalo, The State University of New York GRoWs a Solar House

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

Upstate Buffalo, New York, isn’t typically associated with gardens. More people probably envision Buffalo covered in the lake-effect snow of frigid Lake Erie than in greenery.

But the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 University at Buffalo, The State University of New York team may change that. Its Garden, Relax, or Work (GRoW) Home includes the GRoWlarium, a built-in 338-ft2 greenhouse.

“We have a long and cold winter, but surprisingly, there’s a lot of outdoor, urban gardening in Buffalo. People say having the cold makes an even more lush growing season in the summer,” says Amanda Mumford, a member of the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York Solar Decathlon team.

Photo of a group of young men.]

Members of the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York team gather at the Orange County Great Park on Jan. 9. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

While discussing a “solarium” during the project design phase, the team coined the GRoWlarium term to capture its concept and reflect its city.

“Around the school, community gardens are springing up on vacant lots,” Mumford says.

This movement inspired the team.

“We really wanted to embrace complete sustainability and the idea that people can grow their own food at home,” says Mumford.

The team, whose approximately 30 members range from freshmen to doctoral candidates, believes that users of a GRoW-style house can avoid high costs for farming and shipping produce. And there’s more. The holistic vision allows for flexibility in use.

“It’s really a dynamic living space as well,” says Mumford, an environmental design major from Long Island, New York.

Adapting to seasonal changes, a resident can open up the GRoWlarium or seal it off from the rest of the house while still allowing for year-round harvests. Also, the greenhouse “lets light in the house and can be tailored throughout the seasons. In summer, you can put your plants outside, too,” Mumford says.

The concept works in concert with the rest of GRoW Home, which consists of a 770-ft2 fully enclosed living space that is heated and air-conditioned. The dwelling space is enclosed in a thick thermal shell and has two units: a bedroom with a central living space and a kitchen with potential for canning and storing home-grown produce.

Computer-generated illustration of a modern house surrounded by garden planters.

The University at Buffalo, The State University of New York’s Garden, Relax, or Work (GRoW) Home includes the GRoWlarium, a built-in 338-ft2 greenhouse. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 University at Buffalo, The State University of New York team)

The team plans to continue planting seeds about renewable energy and sustainability after the competition. It thinks GRoW Home will end up taking root on the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York campus, next to the architectural school where it was born, to serve as a research tool for the community and a location for seminars on community gardens and energy efficiency.

“We’re really excited to see it built,” Mumford says.

Ultimately, the team hopes GRoW Home will put Buffalo back on the map as an “innovator and model for sustainability” and a place known for its verdant green, not icy white.

Ernie Tucker is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

 

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