Talk to any member of the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) team, and you'll quickly hear a common theme: the importance of public education about sustainability. Early on, team members decided to use the Solar Decathlon to work toward a broader vision—a new type of residential housing industry in which homeowners produce, not just consume energy.
So while they further their own educations with the competition, the students are also actively educating the community beyond the campus, including local schoolchildren. According to student Rachel Carson, "Kids love this stuff; they seem willing to embrace the concepts, seeing sustainable design as the thing to do."
The team's "SolarD SNAP House" consists of prefabricated modules that "snap" together for easy transportation and quick assembly on the National Mall. In a play on words that demonstrates how they feel about their design, the team refers to the project as the "Super Nifty Action Package." Graduate architecture student Rea Koukiou says, "The modular design worked itself into every detail, from the foundation, to the walls, to our innovative strategy for roof assembly."
The students are especially pleased with their materials choices, which blend natural beauty with cutting-edge technology. Reclaimed redwood forms an exterior rain screen. Recyclable zinc cladding blends aesthetics with functionality. Local mesquite wood forms the floors. The walls are structural insulated panels with an expanded polystyrene foam core, finished with a translucent ecoresin.
A "green roof" on the home's north side—planted with native Texas grasses—adds aesthetic appeal and provides extra insulation. According to student Sunshine Mathon, "It doesn't look like a lawn up there because the grasses have some height and blow in the wind, evocative of the Texas grasslands themselves."
On the roof's south side, the students are installing the 42 PV panels they won in BP Solar's separate design competition for the teams. Also a sponsor of the larger competition, BP awarded a free set of its BP 4175 panels—valued at approximately $40,000—to UT Austin, the team that BP representatives felt had most successfully integrated the PV panels into the home's design.
On the roof's south side, the students are installing 42 PV panels.
And the team's focus on education and outreach is paying off, too. In addition to local TV coverage and articles in the Austin Chronicle and regional trade journals, the Texas legislature passed a Senate resolution honoring the students on May 18, 2005.
Prof. Michael Garrison
The University of Texas at Austin
The School of Architecture
1 University Station Stop B7500
Austin, TX 78712