Day #1 of Solar Decathlon Construction.

DSC_1914 (1)The S&T Solar House Design team had already moved their Nest Home once, some 5 miles from the indoor build site to the Rolla campus, so setting it up on a wide-open parking lot was a piece of cake.
No drama, no worries, just mark off the lot, set up the three steel frames, attach all the deck and flooring sections, and screw down the decking. Then go out for dinner, all well before sunset.

It wasn’t just that they knew how to move the house, though that is extremely important. The could move it because they stayed on schedule during the roughly eight-month construction cycle, a feat often planned, but never actually accomplished by the Miners.
They Day #1 payoff? The S&T Nest Home was one of only two solar homes approved for seismic compliance.

This is, after all, California.

Registration at the Solar Decathlon

Solar Decathlon 2015 looks promising. The layout is much better arranged for solar decathletes and public alike. Adjoining parking, plenty of nearby shade, and a better “village” feel to things. More human. Not stretched waaaaay down a converted Marine runway.

The Miners were the first team to get to registration and were surprised to see they were the ONLY team ready to sign in.
And the first team (we think) to check on their house at the vehicle staging site. DSC_1536DSC_1545They checked for damage (very little) and got an early look at the other houses still tied down on massive trailers.

And the first team to do a “course walk” over and around lot #108, their home for theDSC_1570 next three weeks or so, and check on site elevation and develop a strategy for vehicle placement, all for tomorrow’s 7:00 a.m. starting whistle.

The Miners site has a slight dome-like curve to it, but it’s also on the highest point of the competition area, directly under Decathlon cameras. That means it may well be the easiest structure to see when visitors begin flowing in.

And that’s a good place to be.

So It Begins…

DSC_0397Two weeks ago yesterday, the Missouri S&T Solar House Design Team unveiled the beautiful new “Nest Home,” S&T’s entry in the 2015 Solar Decathlon.
Some 200 people showed up to tour the new home and hear team leader Mary Puleo and PR director Steve Rusakiewicz tell how their S&T education is guiding them toward solving energy challenges of the future.DSC_0642

It took another week to disassemble the structure and load it on trucks for the 1,800-mile trip to Irvine, CA, and an additional week to wrap up classwork, finish up DSC_0722last-minute details for the Decathlon, then drive (or fly) to Orange County.

An hour from now registration and team meeting begin in the Orange County Great Park, site of the soon-to-be-built solar community. The house should have arrived at the staging site a few hours ago, so the crew will check on that, take a VERY deep breath, and prepare for over week of very long hours, very hard work, and no time off. But it WILL be fun!

Sound like a typical week for your average S&T undergrad….

It’s Late On A Saturday Night. Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

LRmodEWBdinner1-TEDSUN_72487Your kids (well, college students) have moved out and don’t answer your calls or texts. Unless they’re broke.

Ever wonder what they’re up to at night?

Well, if you were to sneak onto campus one (or most any) evening, you’d discover: Ignite Rolla; two hours of what looks like stand-up comedy, but it’s serious. The Council of Graduate Students hosted a Ted Talks-style evening devoted to ideas worth spreading. Among the dozen or so student speakers were members of two student design teams who presented on topics that inspire them. Brian Gifford, long a stalwart of the Solar House Design Team and four-year S&T basketball player, drew a strong analogy between childhood memories and the need to develop long-term sustainable housing in the U.S.

LRmodEWBdinner1-TEDSUN_74731Hanna Frye and Kelsey Crossen of iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) gave Ignite Rolla a redux of their technical presentation of how their DNA modification holds promise of reducing coal-fired power planet emissions into ammonia fertilizer.

Saturday night is for celebrating, EWB-style (Engineers Without Borders), with a rice and beans banquet. Sound tasty? It was, with authentic recipes from their customer communities in Central and South America. This event was a celebration of the life-saving clean water
BLOG2blprintprojects these students designed and built for remote villages in Guatemala, Bolivia and Honduras. More important, it was a way of saying “Thank you!” to the people that inspire these 20-somethings to tackle these enormous, real-life challenges, their advisors and key financial backers who help make these trips possible.

LAtheblogDSC_6504For a post-dinner stroll, drop in the Student Design and Experiential Learning Center and listen to the chaos. Loud music. Shouting. Hammer on steel. Humming lathes and mills. The sound of production, of work being done. Design teams are beginning to turn their designs into reality. Evaluation via non-destructive testing, which sometimes turns into destructive testing, whether they like it or not.

They’re learning the language of the machine shop. The metals and composites are “talking” to students, saying “are you really sure I’m the best choice of materials for this thing on which you are staking your engineering reputation?” A daunting thought…………..

Rockets and Marshmallows and Glass! Oh, My!

The St. Louis Science Center is the perfect antidote for kids with cabin fever, and what better time to visit than Engineers’ Week?

S&T’s design teams, along with amazing students from Material Advantage outreach crew, celebrated by setting up hands-on technical displays that kids are encouraged to touch, play, launch, break and even eat.

Advanced Aero Vehicle Group turned paper and tape into the stuff of dreams by helping young children build and name their own paper rockets. A small compressor and PVC tubing served as the perfect platform to simultaneously send four semi-guided paper projectiles near the roof of the Science Center’s four story building. Most of the missiles were taken home as prized trophies; others remain on ceiling beams, the top of the elevator, or firmly lodged in other groups’ displays.

MADSC_9077 The student traveling roadshow known as Material Advantage, AKA material manipulators, brought playtime down to earth by handing out nitrogen-frozen marshmallows. The little gems look and taste the same but go “crunch!” when eaten and cause steamy vapor to escape from your nose. Just the kind of thing to keep kids wondering “How?” “Why?”

Engineering can be a lot of fun; intriguing stuff that ignites the spark that guides a youngster’s entire life. A passion that may have started with steam wafting from a child’s nose.

The Miners Are Back In The Solar House Business!

Dateline: California, U.S.A

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon will return to Irvine, California in 2015, and the Missouri S&T Miners will again be part of that net-zero neighborhood!

Based surely on the success of the Orange County Great Park site, the announcement came out of California today that 20 universities will set up a thriving, albeit temporary, community on a converted Marine Corps airbase runway. The Miners, veterans of five of the six previous events, are masters at logistical planning and have developed the “Nest House” to be easily and inexpensively hauled the 1900 miles to Southern California.

The biannual event lists a surprising 12 new teams to the mix, along with Missouri S&T and seven other experienced groups. We’re glad to see the State of Missouri is sending two teams westward, as Crowder College is partnering with Drury University. S&T and Crowder have a great relationship; several Crowder grads have transferred to Rolla and been active on previous solar house designs, especially the highly-regarded 2005 home.

Just over three weeks ago S&T’s massive Chameleon House departed Rolla for the first-ever U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, west coast version. Communication’s been a little thin since then, an unfortunate byproduct of many 19-hours days on the jobsite. In the mad dash to get the house rebuilt within the 10-day deadline students, staff, and especially the heroes from the campus physical facilities have been working as hard as they ever have before; maybe as hard as they ever will again.

The team really held it’s collective breath to see if the home’s integral concrete floor survived the 1,700+ mile trip. The building also had to survive two crane-lift cycles and lots of pushing and pulling during the intensive rebuild chaos, so the engineering had to be just right. Remember the concrete wasn’t under the house; it was inside the house. For all to see.

The colored floor has been very popular with Decathlon guests, both for it’s visual impact and the fact that the Miners were able to move it intact. It sets the foundation for the house’s striking interior and incorporates hundreds of feet of radiant tubing to keep the living space comfortable in Missouri winters. Damage or cracking could have ruined both those completion strategies, but it all (whew!) came through in fine shape.

The competition’s been underway for a few days but since less than 15% of the points have been awarded it’s tough to pick a clear leader. The Miners ran into repeated trouble with their water pump that hurt them in the early phases of the hot water contest; they’ve been able to heat plenty of water but fell just short of delivering the daily required volume. It was finally repaired over the weekend so S&T should rebound in the scoring. We’re speculating that without the pump problems S&T would be in the top third of scores.

Students report wonderful weather for the event, except for the day that Santa Anna winds roared out of the mountains. Gusts of 60-70 mph wrecked displays, pushed clouds of sand and dust through the site and forced the event to close for a day.

You can track S&T’s scoring progress here. You can even vote for your (hint, hint!) favorite house, so do as Chicagoans do; vote early and often.

Now that the team has a working house and plenty of rest, you should see more stories, anecdotes and pictures in the coming days.

Why Does Critical Solar House Work Always Happen In Lousy Weather?

Outgoing team leader Emily Vandivert summed it up nicely today when she said “when the SIP walls were delivered it was raining.  When we poured the interior concrete floor it rained again.  Today we load the house onto three big trailers and what do we get?  Rain, interspersed with dense fog!”

The Chameleon House, S&T’s 2013 Solar Decathlon entry, hit the road today for the five-day haul to Orange County, CA (AKA, south of LA). It took barely five hours to lift and rotate each of three house sections while each massive low-boy trucks/trailer backed into what had been the structure’s center.    CraneMeister Gene Gabriel lowered the c. 25,000-lb sections to touch the trailer like a down pillow, while solar house team members and campus physical facilities’ crews pushed, grunted, pulled and struggled against each other to get each section OversizedSUN_3702centered precisely on the deck before Gene loosed the steel lift cables.    Repeat two times while trucks pull forward to tie down the loads and prepare to hit I-44 (née Route 66).

No time to celebrate.  Tomorrow calls for a massive construction site clean up as eight months of rotating work crews can leave quite a mss.  Thursday the (somewhat) smaller S&T-owned trucks/trailers pull out with the deck and solarium on one, and all of the tools, lifting systems, ladders, and safety gear in the other.  This advanced guard will stage at the Orange County Great Park, flag down the house caravan, and wait for the student rebuild crew to fly in.

And the process will repeat itself. In reverse.




Friends In High Places

tenKblogWellllllll, only about 15 feet from the ground, but who’s counting?

The S&T Chameleon House is a student design project of massive scale that can’t be successful without a lot of partners.  The Solar House Team’s biggest and most visible business sponsor is tenKsolar, whose new array design converts wasted space  between rows of traditional solar panels and uses reflectors to boost the PV modules’ energy output.  TenKsolar donated the entire array, including the roof-mounted AC inverters, which improve efficiency by shortening DC power lines.

Yesterday afternoon Erica Forsman (third from right), tenK’s midwest region sales manager, dropped by the Chameleon House construction site to get a first-hand look at how quickly this student group built a house and set up the firm’s solar array.

There’s still plenty of work to do on the home’s interior as the students can attest.  Besides (right to left) Charles Wright, Leann Krieger, Erica, Emily Vandivert, Shawn Herrington, Eric Mullis and Chris Bowe, dozens of other team members are dedicating most (or all) of their summers to build, test, and operate a great solar home!

Next task?  Move the home nearly 2,000 miles to Orange County, CA for the 6th U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.  Set it back up, compete, then bring it back to Rolla as another campus energy-related showcase!




And On The Seventh Day They Rested

Just six solid days of non-stop work took the Chameleon House from a barren platform to an impressive structure.  Day #7?  Rest, and study for final exams that start tomorrow morning.
This was a rough week, with team members Aaron Enz, Colin Polleys, Katelyn Denby, Shayne Heskin and a host of others putting in long hours.  They led rotating crews of a dozen of more team members in 12-hour work shifts to sort and assemble Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) before craning each one into position.  And we can’t say enough about campus support!   Equipment operators Wendell Hendricks and Roy Snelson stepped up and worked late to help keep this house on schedule.  Thanks, Wendell! Thanks, Roy!  And thanks to supervisors Jim Duncan and Glen Matlock for “loaning” you to us!

By Saturday the upper-classmen had to study for exams and let blisters heal so low-key freshman Nolan Severson took over and ran the crew.  Nolan’s squad finished the fall-prevention railing and sealed all of the roof seams so team member Kyle Irby and his dad Lamar can install the roof membrane before the next round of spring rains sweeps through.  If the weather holds we expect to have the solar panels positioned on the roof in time for Saturday’s graduation ceremonies, house wiring well underway, and even the drywall installation ramping up.

Lots to do; little time in which to do it.  But this group will have it done, done well, and set up in California in late September.