Prior Planning Promises Productive Performance

Three work days ago the Solar House Team had naught but a rain-washed subfloor.  Just two days of intensive work and the Chameleon House walls are up and the bedroom is under roof.

Engineered Panel Systems’s  two-man crew showed up to train S&T students on how to put up a “kit” house quickly and safely.  A focused student crew attached bottom plates while others installed pre-cut dimensional lumber to each edge of dozens of SIP sections.  The “finished” sections were then handed off to yet a third crew who, panel by panel raised the walls.

By mid-afternooon it was time to call in the boom truck to raise the R-40 roof panels, each of which has to be “persuaded” into position a finely-calibrated hammer.

Near sunset Shawn Herrington and Nolan Severson arrived to assemble interior walls that separate the living room from the laundry room.  Those walls also support the remaining roof sections, so it’s a priority to get them done before we beg the boom truck operator to return for another evening’s work in Rolla.

The much feared rain seems to be holding off, so slather on the sunscreen, get hydrated, and let’s get back to it.  You can finish your term papers after dark.



Little Solar House On The Tundra

With apologies to Laura Ingalls Wilder, today’s arrival of the Chameleon House SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) was a cold, miserable experience.  Rain, wind, temps in the mid 30s, and snow threatening from the west, it was anything but a normal May morning in Rolla.  No way would it be feasible to begin assembly, so the Solar House Team took a lesson from their Chameleon mascot and adapted.

They’ve pushed back the “barn raising” until Monday morning when experts from Energy Panel Structures, producers of the wall and roof components, will show up and teach the Miners how to assemble the building, then step back and let the students take over.

In the meantime they’ll spend the weekend on site organizing the SIPs, building interior walls, and thawing out.



Is This A Great Campus Community, or What?

We often brag to prospective students, their parents, and our alumni about S&T’s wonderfully supportive campus community, and that includes Rolla citizens and businesses. And we can’t think of a better example than this……………………
Some weeks back S&T’s Solar House planned an ambitious Saturday of construction, including punching holes in the steel foundation for electrical circuits, but none of the usual Rolla businesses had the tool for the job.
It was 4:00 p.m. that the erstwhile house builders started calling all over campus begging for a heavy-duty metal punch. Keep in mind that the only thing on the S&T campus more sacred than St Pat’s is the 4:30 p.m. Friday quitting time, so the pressure was on. They’d get told “No, we don’t have one, but call so-and-so” but the last number went unanswered right at 4:30. We were SOL. Severely out of luck.
But here’s what sets S&T apart from the rest of the world…………….
About 5:00 p.m. Mike Basset of the Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center called to say he just got our voicemail, and what did we need? Told of the crisis, Mike said “I’ll tell you what. I’ll come back to my office tomorrow, get the special hole-saw set we use, and I’ll bring it to you Saturday morning. Where and when would you like it, and BTW, here’s my cell #. Just call me!”
First thing Saturday morning, here’s Mike, smiling as if we were doing him a favor. Why’s he so happy, you ask? He’s taking care of “his kids.”
It’s taking care of “our students” that makes Missouri S&T such a great place to work. No better example of that than Mike Basset.
On behalf of all “our” students, Thanks, Mike!

Working In A Winter Wonderland!

Winter 2013 has been fairly mild in South Central Missouri. Until last week. HousesnowDSC_6157.jpgThe season’s first winter storm dropped 2-3 inches of hard-packed sleet on the S&T campus and the days since have added repeated layers of light snow. Great for the drought-stricken farmers in the region, but for construction crews? Not so much. Especially those building the Chameleon Solar House.
Missouri S&T’s Solar House Team has assembled the basic platform of its 2013 Solar Decathlon entry, but the arduous work of hacking ice from the ground to build supports, precisely leveling the subfloor, and bolting it all together in the snow is something less than a picnic.
Our Miners are plenty tough enough to balance classes, design meetings, fraternity events, job interviews, social lives and slippery construction sites. And determined enough to spend their weekends keeping the project pretty close to schedule.
BTW, working is snow is easier than in mud. Just sayin’.

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho! It’s Off To Work We Go!*

What better way to spend a chilly Friday morning than burying 326′ of heavy utility wire?
S&T’s Solar House Team, with some pretty significant help from Maggi Construction, broke serious ground at the team’s temporary construction site. The crew rotated between classes, tests and lunch to keep the site hopping all morning. They rolled out the wire, slid conduit sticks down the lines, glued it all together, hooked it to the meter box, and by 3:00 p.m. the job was done!
TrenchRP2_0057.jpgThis utility line is the real start of S&T’s entry into the 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon. Months of planning and research will soon develop into a 1,000-square-foot adaptable living environment, aptly named The Chameleon House. That future home will be hauled to Irvine, California, site of the first non-D.C. Solar Decathlon, then back to Rolla to it’s permanent location.
As in all construction projects there are surprises, and the golf course certainly served up a big one. Imagine the “Oh, CRAP!” moment when Eric Mullis found a huge severed phone cable running straight toward the regional medical center! The first thought was “why aren’t a lot of people really upset with us right now?” Turns out the Dig-Rite people had done their job perfectly, as the shredded wire was abandoned years ago. “WHEW!
*Somehow it’s fitting the Miners should parallel the Seven Dwarves. That seven-member chorus dug for diamonds and rubies, while S&T was founded based on the search for silver and gold. Or lead. Or petroleum. Or pretty-much-you-name-it. We’ll leave the farming to the Ag schools………..

Solar House Team Preps For House Build

Groundbreak.jpgS&T’s Solar House Team spent a busy summer perfecting their house designs, so when construction started there would be as few changes as possible. Their sparkling new website celebrates the “Chameleon House” approach, and just a week or so before students returned to campus the team hosted a gala groundbreaking on their 10th Street construction site. S&T Chancellor Cheryl Schrader (at right) joined tireless project manager Emily Vandivert for the team’s symbolic public “shovel turn”, just one part of day-long presentations, receptions, and meet-and-greets aimed at promoting experiential learning and renewable energy.
Emily is certainly keeping up the outreach efforts and just gave an interview to Public Radio KMST-FM 88.5. You can hear (88.5) or stream ( the interview Monday, August 27 at 6:35, 7:35, or 8:35 a.m., and again at 4:45 p.m.

It’s Official! 21,000+ Visit Missouri House; Most Visited On The Mall!

David George of Team Missouri tells us that Solar Decathlon officials have released the visitor head count of all twenty solar houses, and Show-Me Solar came out #1. All told MissourI hosted 21,402 guests!*
Maybe we were wrong about excruciating waiting lines at many of the homes. Usually the longest lines snake out of the winning houses in what we always figured was a popularity contest, but now we realize that our home was so open and spacious that we were able to “process” many more visitors than any of the other structures. The Miners and Tigers (Migers? Tiners?) posted students at several points throughout the home to answer questions about the energy systems, “green” materials, design philosophy, and interior decor.
You can call this a housing contest, but the hidden agenda really is public education, getting people to understand that we can support our (sometimes) ostentatious lifestyles in an energy-efficient way. In that category Missouri was the clear winner, edging Team Spain by about 80 pair of feet. There were something like 305,000 overall house visits, which works out to an average of 15,250 per house. Missouri beat the median by better than a third!
*This informal award harkens back to the inaugural decathlon when Home Depot cited the Miners for the “Best Customer Service”. HD lauded S&T for the enthusiastic and well-organized way they hosted public tours. Led by the indomitable Allison Arnn (now Allison Casem), the first solar house team fanned out along the line of visitors to describe the home’s design philosophy, keep the guests entertained, and otherwise talk themselves hoarse while making the wait seem short.

The Last Thirty Hours At The Solar Decathlon

Hundreds of people have sent in cards and letters asking “what happens when the Solar Decathlon is over?” The answer is simple……….open up the event to the teeming masses, er, public, we mean.
Thousands of people patiently braved Saturday’s rain and Sunday’s chilling north winds to tour all twenty homes, kinda like a real estate agent’s worst open-house nightmare. It was so crowded organizers kept a big display board that gave times estimates for waiting in line at each site. The bone-weary Show-Me crew played perfect DSC_0142.jpgDSC_0078.jpghosts to a steady stream of wide-eyed strangers, all of whom asked the same questions over, and over, and over and……………….so by 5:00 p.m. all you can repeat is, “yes, our beautiful cabinet doors are made of sorghum straw waste products.” The upside of all the company is that so many folks commented on how open and spacious the Missouri house was compared to some of the other structures, and one perfectly charming little Italian woman said “oh, this is the house for me! The kitchen is just perfect, with lots of light. I just love it!”
Right at 5:00 p.m. the crowds melted away until Team Missouri set out all the landscaping plants, and then it was a feeding frenzy. We couldn’t put them out fast enough to the grateful public, and some people even said “no, not that one, the red one next to it!” Anyway, it was better than hauling them back to a Missouri winter.
And then, as the night crew staggered back to the Mall, disassembly started in earnest.
First the shade louvers came off, and as night fell the deck did, too. By 3:00 a.m. the night crew had removed the huge deck, and by the dawn’s early light the evacuated tube system was, well, evacuated. Surprisingly, few other teams worked through the first night.
Morning was mostly site clean up while we waited for the first trucks to arrive, then it was a case of “lift ‘dat barge, tote ‘dat bale” and get the deck sections loaded on the truck. The Miners couldn’t do much to the house itself until our western
DSC_1114.jpgDSC_1129.jpg neighbor Rice University craned their house directly over Missouri airspace onto another trailer. That was a great time to evacuate the site and slip out front for a quick crew photo with team advisors Dr. Katie Grantham (S&T), six-week-old Logan G, and Mizzou’s Barbara Buffalo.
The crane arrives tomorrow to lift the roof just enough to swing in the north window wall, and then they’ll raise the house high enough to drive the second truck under it, set it down, secure it, and hit the road until 2011.
We keep referring this amazing group of undergrads (you listening, California?) as “the team”, and that barely describes it. This group works so well together as to defy description. No drama, no tension, just go about the work as if it were no big deal. These Miners and Tigers (oh, my!) clearly enjoy each others’ company and work as a unit. Everyone pulls their own weight and no one seems in charge because everyone simply takes care of business. Do they have fun? You bet, every chance they get!DSC_1123_3.jpg

Darmstadt, Germany Edges Past Illinois, Takes Decathlon; Team Missouri 11th

Germany 09 house_2.jpgThe Illini were the sleeper team this year, bringing an unassuming barn-like structure that would make expat Champaign/Urbanna grads feel right at home. Recycled barn siding formed a simple exterior that hid a well-designed home that took 1st place in Appliances, Hot Water and Home Entertainment, and narrowly lost to Germany in the all-important Net Metering contest. Germany (pictured at right) slipped by Illinois by winning the Net Metering contest by 12 points, just enough to move into the winner’s circle by 11 points. How did our Hessian friends do so well in power production? Simple. They covered the entire skin of their building in solar panels, a slightly understated techno look that would be very popular in Europe, and a hugely powerful source of electricity.
California, which held first place until the last days, had a great house but maybe the Karma got ’em. They made multiple claims, all bogus, they were the only undergraduate team on the Mall. CNN bought that nonsense without checking, and to our knowledge Cali still makes that claim on their website. We’ll quote a recent S&T grad who works in the Cali desert (and who just happens to be from Illinois) who wrote last week that:
“I now live and work with these Californians, and they just don’t seem to grasp that they aren’t the best at everything. It just takes being beaten by “those dumb old country folks” from the Midwest for them to learn who the real engineers are. Keep it up, Solar House. I’ll make sure to clear up the confusion next time I run into a Santa Clara grad at the office ;)”
Show-Me Solar hung in there for a respectable 11th place, right behind Ohio State and two slots above powerful Virginia Tech. The team is understandably disappointed in their engineering and architecture scores, but as one participant asked rhetorically “those architecture comments were like reading ones from another house & we can’t appeal a subjective contest. ugh!!!”
In the judges’ defense you have to keep in mind that this biannual event comes together with hundreds of staffers in roles outside of their normal jobs. The judges are expected to have the wisdom of Solomon and the data retention of an Excel spreadsheet, but YOU try walking through twenty innovative homes and keeping straight which feature went with which house! Obviously errors are going to be made, especially in the subjective events. Rumors are even swirling that officials were debating changes in this year’s contest as late as last night.
Here’s a quick salute to Illinois, whose more traditional style home (below) is an indication of how much the 2009’s Decathlon entries actually looked like homes compared to ’07, when to this writer’s eyes, there were an awful lot of “bank branch” buildings out there.
illinois 09_2.jpg

More News From The National Mall

Here are some updates, both from team members and the public.
First of all, Monday was a federal holiday, and a Solar Decathlon visitor told us that the Decathlon site was so crowded you could barely get inside any of the houses.
Second, even today the lines to tour solar homes are long, despite cold, rainy and windy weather. Apparently busloads of local high school students descended on the site today.
Most important, Show-Me Solar is creeping up in the rankings with two contests yet to go. Luke Sudkamp reports that
“WIth the cloudy weather we’ve turned off all unnecessary systems so we can maintain our temperature”
“We got 8th in lighting, tied with 3 other teams, and the architecture jury comments got back to us yesterday too. The best comment was that the light fixture in the bedroom didn’t match the ones in the rest of the house. In reality, they are exactly the same it just has reading lights built in that you can’t see.”
Luke goes on to say “there was a team-only open house program last night so it was really good to visit the other houses and all their ideas.”
In the meantime pre-contest favorite Virginia Tech, which led S&T by just two points yesterday, has dropped to 16th place and Illinois has, for the moment, snatched the lead from Team California (see blog story from Oct 10th, below).
Back to local highlights, Congresswoman Emerson was by for a tour Wednesday, and we understand that Representative Carnahan took time out his busy schedule to see the house earlier in the contest.
Engineering scores will be released tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m., and net metering will round on the scoring, and along with any possible penalty points, determine who will win the overall event.
Keep your fingers crossed!