Solar House goes to the EPA P3 Expo!

After a quick run in with TSA questioning if we were transporting a baby seal, the home automation team made it to Washington DC to present their project in hopes of winning a Phase II EPA P3 grant.

Back on the same National Mall that is home to the Solar Decathlon every other year, the team has set up a display of their project along with 50 other P3 teams from accross the country.  The first round of judging went well and the team is getting ready for the final round tomorrow.  The public is invited to view the exhibits Saturday and Sunday before the awards ceremony.

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Dr. Baur, Ben Brannon and Austin Murdock at the P3 Expo

Top Questions from D.C.

In the spirit of education, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 questions we receive during public tours.  If we added some new signs, we could probably reduce the amount we have to talk by about 90% or just send the 21 year old team members bar-hopping for the day.

In the spirit of being tired after a few long weeks of work, we’ve also added the responses we’d like to give to mix things up a bit…

1.  What is the wood the cabinets are made out of?
Real Answer:  It’s actually manufactured from reclaimed sorghum straw and low VOC, no formaldehyde adhesive.  It extends our design concept (expanding horizons) because of the long straight lines in the grain, and is a green material from the Midwest as well.
After a Long Day:  “It’s actually pure magic.”  We’d offer a longer, more creative explanation, but we’d be hoarse since we get this one from almost everybody.

2.  What are those things on the walls?
Real Answer:  Those are custom made lighting fixtures that we installed efficient LED lighting in.  They’re made entirely from recycled steel and glass as well.
After a Long Day:  “Take a stab at it…they are plugged in to the wall and giving off a warm, yellowish glow that happens to light up the area…”

3.  How do you water the plants?
Real Answer:  Our custom automation system (Chameleon) has soil moisture content sensors that it reads.  If the soil is to dry, a soaker hose running underneath the plants will turn on and water them until the desired content is reached.
After a Long Day:  This one depends.  If you just got the 10 minute pitch on the automation system, we’re likely to ignore you since we already talked about it.  If you skipped the pitch on automation, we’re likely to ignore you because you’d know the answer if you had listened.  Guess it doesn’t really depend.

4.  Are these cement countertops?
Real Answer:  We chose concrete countertops due to their durability and because it’s recyclable.  It also helps us to keep the price down as it’s cheaper than other common counter materials such as granite.
After a Long Day:  That would be awfully tough since cement is just a binding agent.  If you mix it with aggregate and water, you get the wonder material that we used.

5.  What are the fins on the sides of the house?
Real Answer:  They’re called louvers, and are rather popular in other countries and on some larger commercial buildings here.  Because of the changing angle of the sun through seasons, they block direct sunlight during the summer and allow most to pass during the winter.
After a Long Day:  We have to drive our house down the highway to D.C.  These are for aerodynamics to make it easier on the truck.

6.  Does the drain work?
Real Answer:  Yes.  The shower area is sloped down to it to make sure we don’t have standing water.  As it runs the length of the bathroom, it can handle the flow from the shower, and it’s slightly dammed as well to keep water from spilling over.  We chose this type of drain due to the universal design aspect of the home…anybody can get into the shower.
After a Long Day:  No.  The company decided to mass market a product that doesn’t work and we thought we’d support them because we respected the brash attempt.

7.  Why is there a screen behind the mirror?
Real Answer:  It is actually an energy saving measure.  By getting headlines, weather, sports scores, stocks (et al) through a very low power draw device, you’re minimizing the usage of traditional, high power draw devices such as a TVs or computers.  Plus, it’s awesome.
After a Long Day:  Toilet + Shower + TV means all you need is a beer cooler and you’ll never have to leave the bathroom.  We’re only one step away…

8.  What are the tubes on the roof?
Real Answer:  We generate our electricity through the flat PV panels on the roof.  The tubes allow us to heat water without using our electricity, which is far more efficient.  There is a copper tube that goes into the manifold at the top, which in turn heats a closed loop of a hydroglycolic mixture.  That in turn radiates up and heats the domestic hot water for the home, and the water used for our hydronic radiant floor system.
After a Long Day;  They’re huge Pixie Sticks.  Go try to eat one.

Okay, so it’s not quite the top 10 list I promised, but it’s been a long day ;-).

In all seriousness though, we actually like answering questions.  We’ve worked on the project for the past two years to raise public awareness and because we love the idea behind it.  Keep asking questions, and we promise to give you the real answer (though you may have to sit through the others first).


Let the Games Begin

After a week of late nights and sleep deprivation, the house is complete!  The Show-Me Solar team was the 9th to pass its final inspections last evening, and started a mad dash to beautify the house (we’d  never seen so many college students cleaning at once before).

The day wasn’t without difficulties however.  After finalizing code and running tests, the automation team encountered several problems.  One of the Pico computers crashed, a CF card went bad, the lighting system went down, a few sensors went bad, and without warning, the primary controller that the team had been using for the past year blew out.  The team managed to get everything rerouted to the secondary controller and recompiled the code just before the 10:00pm deadline. The broken sensors and parts were replaced just in time as well.

And so that everybody can see how awesome we are, a few pictures…

Pictures from the S&T house in D.C.


Tied In

As of late last evening, the team is grid tied on the National Mall.  Passing inspections early allowed us to grid tie about 12 hours ahead of schedule, and also earned us a 29 kWh bonus for pre-competition metering.

A few things went haywire after being tied in, but everything seems to be under control now.  In an effort to conserve energy, the night team will now be working days and taking advantage of natural light (which they haven’t seen in quite some time).

As things come down to the wire, it looks like the team is in good shape.  Maintaining an internet connection remains one of our bigger problems…so stay tuned for another post at a random time when we have one.

First Update from DC

We’ve arrived.  The team actually made it into Washington DC last week, but we’ve had limited internet access thus far.

After some minor vehicle troubles, our caravan of vehicles arrived on the National Mall.  Our house was actually the first to arrive, and we were the first to have our crane up as well.  Things are progressing on schedule.

If everything continues to go as planned, we’ll have internet on site in the next few days.  At that point, you can expect daily updates and pictures as well.


The Work Continues

Construction on the 09 house resumed earlier this week.  It may have been hard to follow on the webcams because we’ve been doing some work on the inside.  The soffit and interior walls are coming along quite nicely.

You may also have seen us unloading our recycled siding for the outside of the house.  We’ll make an update when we know what day we will begin installing it.

For those of you who missed the construction thus far (or didn’t sit at your computer and watch for several days straight), I encourage you to check out the newly posted time lapses.  We’ll post more as work continues.


Come See Us in Kansas City

The Show-Me Solar team will have a booth at the Kansas City Remodeling Show presenting information about the project. We will be showcasing some of the new technologies that are going into the 2009 house.

The show will be February 6-8th at The American Royal Center.

For more information about the show, checkout:

Master Picture Index

I am trying to put together a master folder of all the pictures taken of our house before, during and after competition. If you have ANY pictures, please drop me an e-mail

University Name Change

For anyone out there who doesn’t know, the university is changing from UMR to the Missouri University of Science and Technology or Missouri S&T for short.

To distinguish UMR from the other University of Missouri campuses; to reflect the university’s national mission; to broaden market share for the best students nationally, and to enhance the university’s reputation.

Effective immediately please know that all of our websites and e-mail address have changed from to For the time being will work, but is soon to be disabled.
Main Website:

CNBC Video

Here is the link to the video CNBC aired about our solar house.
The counter tops that they refer to in this video are made by PaperStone and the solar/domestic hot water system she showcases is made by Watt’s Radiant.
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