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).


Living in the Solar Village

Can students live in the Solar Village?
Yes any student can live in the Solar Village. Because it is on campus, is also counts as Campus Approved Housing for Freshman and Sophmore students who are required to live on campus. The leases typically run June 1-May 31.
The Solar Village is first open to members of the solar house team. If no one from the Solar House team wants to live there, it is then open to members of the members of the Student Deisgn and Experiential Learning Center (SDELC, After that the house is available to the entire campus. The selection process has never left the SDELC.
For the 2008-2009 year, we will have three houses available for rent. If you would like more information, contact the Student Design and Experiential Learning Center in the 112 Engineering Research Lab (behind Computer Science).

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:

Cost Per Square Foot

What is the Cost per square foot of the 2007 solar house?
The cost of a marketable prototype of the UMR Solar House is approx. $200,000.
The foot print of the house is 800 square feet. That comes out to be $250/square foot.

How to Arrange A Tour

How can I arrange for a tour of your homes?
You can send an email to us at with the date and time that you would like a tour and your contact info, and we will get back to you as soon as we can. If you happen to be in Rolla, you can call us at 573-341-6794 and if someone is available, they will try and arrange a tour. Because all of the houses are or will be rented to students, we prefer to know a minimum of 48 hrs in advance so that we can arrange the tours with the tenants.

Words of Wisdom

I’m in the planning stages of building a new house (1,500-2,000 sq ft) and I’d like to make it as close to a zero-energy home as I can.
How close to zero-energy are the homes you’ve built and what were the costs for the solar system? Can you give me any detalis on the system you’re using?
Since you’re on your third house, are there any words of wisdom you would offer to someone who is planning a real world solar home?
Each of the three houses are zero energy houses. Each of the houses are capable of operating in a grid-tied mode or stand-alone mode. Each of the houses have used different systems in different combinations so that the most efficient and economic approach can be identified. Both the 2002 and the 2007 house are using BP Solar panels. They are both solid, multicrystalline systems. The 2005 house incorporated UniSolar amorphous panels. They were used in combination with a standing seam copper roof to make the roof more visually appealing.
The solar thermal systems have been variations on the same general principal. The 2002 and 2007 houses both use evacuated tubes for heating water for the house. The 2005 house used a student designed system that worked in combination with the solar panels and the copper roof to produce hot water.

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Webcam in Solar Village

Is the solar house team going to put up some webcams up in the solar village?
-Jordan Wright

At the moment we do not have the internet infrastructure in the solar village to install a webcam. We would like to get one up so you can see our progress, but in the mean time I will be posting pictures often.