Students Look To Stem Climate Change With The Design/Build Of A Renewable Energy Residence In Bryan
An empty lot in Bryan is being transformed by a group of enthusiastic students into a 1,600-square-foot residence powered mainly by renewable energy — part of a new generation of homes that will dramatically reduce greenhouse gases, the main contributor to climate change.
The intensive design/build undertaking is Texas A&M’s entry in the Solar Decathlon, a contest hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy, that includes competing teams from 97 universities in the U.S. and throughout the world.
“The Solar Decathlon continues to be at the forefront of building the next generation of student leaders who can address climate change through the built environment,” said Holly Jamesen Carr, director of Solar Decathlon. “As these students take on the toughest challenges in the built environment, their bright ideas and creativity will be crucial in the transition to a clean energy economy.”
The student teams from design, planning, construction science and architectural engineering are creating designs and homes that will be scored in 2023 by expert juries on energy performance, environmental quality and impact, durability and resilience, their effect on the quality of life of their inhabitants, and more.
More Than A Home
Students have already designed a three-bedroom, two-bathroom brick-and-mortar home with solar panels, large skylights, quadruple pane windows and LED lights. Drought-resistant plants and a rainwater collection system will be installed, along with extensive safety features like a safe room compliant with Federal Emergency Management Agency standards.
The safe room looks like an ordinary bathroom, but is made with thicker, reinforced walls and is able to maintain power for up to three days if a natural hazard strikes. Outfitted with rations and water, a family could stay safe through a hurricane, tornado or flood.
“We want passive survivability, meaning if an event were to take place, you should be able to remain stay safe in your room,” said Gregory Luhan, Department of Architecture head and one of the faculty project leaders. “The house provides enough battery backup for communications, refrigeration and illumination.”
Luhan said it is also important that the home is fully compliant with the Americans with Disability Act, and allows residents to “age in place,” or live in their home safely, comfortably and independently regardless of age, income or ability level.
“We’re making more than a building,” said Luhan. “We are making architecture that provides shelter and elevates the homeowner’s spirit of place. By designing with that in mind, we specified innovations that would allow for a building that accommodates a long-term affordable home for a single family. Despite the anticipated higher upfront cost, these innovative strategies will save the family money over the long term.”
Efficient And Cost-Effective Design
For efficiency and affordability, the home will be able to operate for about $1 per day by utilizing natural resources like solar power.
“Many people are struggling right now,” said Aaron Shipp ’10, director of construction at Habitat for Humanity, the student team’s main project partner. “While on a fixed income, with inflation and everything happening globally, a dollar a day to run a house is great.”
The Texas A&M team ran a “life cycle analysis” on Habitat’s previous local builds to have a baseline while trying to reach energy net zero, meaning more greenhouse gas is removed than produced with their project.
“We were able to reduce their carbon footprint by 75 percent,” said Luhan. “We’re still working on carbon net zero. We want to source things locally, but most of higher energy things need to be brought in.”
Texas A&M’s solar decathlon partners include the Bryan/College Station Habitat for Humanity, which has built over 300 homes in the area.
“We’re looking at this project to see what we could utilize sustainably and affordably to implement in our builds,” said Shipp, who is also a Master of Construction Management student working on the project team.
“(Habitat) couldn’t do a project like this without A&M,” he said. “It’s a perfect fit. Altruism meets community engagement meets impact.”
The home site, at 1613 Conlee St. in Bryan, has been prepared and the foundation is set to be poured by the end of 2022, but Luhan said the team will need more funding to bring the project to completion.
The total costs are estimated at about $600,000, but several community partners have donated in-kind labor and materials to help.
“We’re under very tight time constraints,” Shipp said. “Everything has to fall in line and we have to use the maximum amount of resources in a small window to make this happen.”
For more information about volunteering, donations or partnerships, contact Heather Sauber, director of development at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous Decathlon Entries
A Texas A&M team entered and placed in multiple categories at the 2007 Solar Decathlon for their sustainable structure “groHome.” Thousands toured the project in College Station before it was reutilized as a sustainable industry training center for jobless community members in San Antonio in 2010. It was then moved in 2013 to a non-profit organization in Austin to be used as a Green learning lab.