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Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Students Compete in Solar Decathlon
  • Oct. 18, 2005 1 p.m. (ET), last entry

The students are packing up the house. They started at 7 p.m. on Sunday and will have everything cleared off the National Mall by midnight tomorrow. They fly home on Thursday. Yesterday, they put in a 22-23-hour shift, “which wasn’t fun,” says Solar Decathlete Andrea Read. “We’ve been going, going, going. We’re just really tired.”

At the moment, piles of wall panels and siding remain on the site, and the students are gradually packing up everything in the truck. The shipping container, the core of the WSU Solar Decathlon home, still sits on the site.

The truck containing the home’s pieces will head straight to Seattle. There, the team will re-build it in a few months for permanent display at Seattle’s Magnuson Park.

“Even though I’m looking at the site and it looks like a bomb went off, I feel like all of our work is almost done,” says Read. “It feels really good. Our work paid off.

“Even though we finished in 15th, it totally made everything worth it to have people come in and say, ‘I would really love to live here.

“Just seeing the public response to something that we spent so much time on – it was a wonderful feeling,” she said. “That’s really the whole meaning of the competition itself. It’s not necessarily who is the most energy efficient or who has the biggest battery banks. It’s all about educating the public about how comfortable and livable responsible living can be. It shows people it can be done well.”

The students are looking forward to returning home and catching up on weeks of missed school. Are they ready to get back to regular life? “Absolutely,” says Read. “I’m kind of hoping that I don’t have too much to do this weekend. I would kind of like to relax.”

  • Oct. 13, 2005, 2:30 p.m. (ET)

“I spent the morning at the house, doing our tours,” says Solar Decathlete Andrea Read. In spite of continued cloudy and rainy weather, the team was able to run the computer and television as well as the dishwasher today. They’re planning on washing towels and drying them.

Visitors from all over the country have come through the home, as well as quite a few Europeans. In spite of almost constant rain, the crowds of visitors have been steady and constant. The WSU team has also gotten to know their neighbors, the Canadian Solar Decathlon team. “We get along really well,” says Read.

The WSU team learned today that they came in seventh in the documentation competition with just under 80 points. They were judged on how they documented their house, including all the as-built drawing, regular drawings, and energy balance report. “Things went really well there,” said Read.

The biggest challenge now is getting through the end of the competition. “We’re just starting to dread dis-assembly,” she said. The team will have three days to get everything removed from the National Mall and loaded onto trucks.

  • Oct. 12, 2005 noon (ET)

Today the solar homes aren’t open to tours. For the students, it’s a break from having to deal with constant movement in the house. The weather continues to be horrible for a solar competition – nothing but rain.

“Since we’re out of power, there’s not a whole lot we can do,” said Solar Decathlete Andrea Read. The team was able to finish their shower test this morning, and they’re planning on doing dishwashing and lighting tests tonight, but “that’s all the juice we have.” At this point, all the schools have to pick and choose which contests they participate in to best conserve power.

Many of the students are taking the opportunity to catch up on homework. Read, an architecture major, will be doing work in Georgetown for two of her classes. The students have been told that the sun might come out this afternoon, in which case the WSU team might head back to the house.

  •  Oct. 11, 2005 noon (ET)

The WSU Solar Decathlon team did pretty well in the communications contest, placing sixth. They were judged on their website, house tours, and branding effectiveness, or how their design concepts run through the entirety of the house. Students leading the communications efforts were Mike Murry, Kay Salisbury, and Jacklin Kingen. The lighting jury came through the house, and the team felt it went really well.

The team had dinner last night with Cougar alums Steve Reynolds and John and Michelle Jessen. “It was a great time to talk casually about the project and learn what it is to be a graduated, successful architect,” said Andrea Read.

Meanwhile, the weather remains cloudly and drizzly, and the team is struggling to keep power going in the house. “We’re hoping we can soak up enough to get by,” says Read.

“We’re definitely trying to keep positive,” she said. “It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re lacking in power. We’ve been having to conserve a lot, and we have had to forfeit contests because we don’t have power to run them. We’ve had so much hard work behind us, yet we have to still give the same energy.”

The forecast is for continued rain through Sunday – the last day of the Decathlon.

“That makes my heart ache, but we’ll take what we’re given,” said Read. “This is when it would be really helpful to be tied to the grid.”

  • Oct. 10, 2005 noon (ET)

Over the weekend, the Washington DC area had more rain in one day than they had in the previous two months, reports Matt Taylor, WSU’s Solar Decathlon advisor and an assistant professor in the School of Architecture and Construction Management. On Saturday, they received seven inches in one day, or one quarter of the annual rainfall for Pullman. “It was awful,” he said, as the students fought continuing leaks in their home. The students, however, took each leak as a great learning experience of how they could have done things beter. “The students were so cool,” said Taylor. “Nothing phases them.” During the past week, the students also turned on their dishwasher, and water sprayed everywhere. “They laughed, and then they fixed it,” he said.

Everybody’s solar battery banks are on low. But, it’s exciting that the homes continue to work – even under cloudy conditions, says Taylor. “We’ll be proving that point, which is kind of fun,” he said.

Today the students found out the results of the first two contests: architecture and dwelling. The WSU team took sixth in architecture and twelfth in dwelling. For the rest of the week, the students continue to conduct tours until 10 p.m. each night. They are also required each day to run their dishwasher and shower, and cook a meal. Tonight, they’ll have Italian night, serving pasta. They also continually run a computer and a promotional video – all using the solar power produced from their home. Each day, they’re judged on a variety of activities.

“This is the heart of the contest,” says Taylor.

In the meantime, several of the students’ families are showing up for the contest.

“It’s really fun,” says Taylor. “We’re having bad weather, but nobody really cares. It’s not dampening anyone’s spirits at all.”

Then, he added, “but send us your sunshine, please.”

  • Oct. 7, 2005 noon (ET)

“Things could be better,” says Solar Decathlete Andrea Read. “I think we’ve definitely got our problem of the day.”

The problem: it’s pouring rain.

“Pretty much every house on the mall is closed from leakage. We were in really great shape until about 45 minutes ago. We had only two or three leaks, and they were pretty minor, but right now we actually had to clear out our visitors. There are many more leaks than we realized. The biggest problem is that we have leaking into our ceiling material. We started realizing that there is huge puddle of water between our roof and ceiling material. We just put a small hole in the material and we’re draining that water off. I think we’re solving the problems in terms of preventing the materials from getting too damaged.”

“We could see the material sagging. When we saw that bulge, we thought that it’s not good. Luckily, it’s a rubber fabric.”

Many of the houses have giant tarps covering them. The problem is that this is a village full of houses that are meant to come apart, leaving lots of potential for leakage. And, it’s still raining. Some of the exhibits and presentations for Industry Day on the National Mall have been cancelled.

The WSU team had prepared for leakage. When they had problems in Pullman, they had lined their gutters and taken precautions. The main areas that can leak are around the gutters and skylights. Until a few minutes ago, they thought they were doing o.k.

“It’s not fun when you have water on your floor and all over the place,” says Read.

Meanwhile, the forecast calls for rain through today and part of tomorrow.

  •  Oct. 6, 2005, noon (ET)

The WSU Solar Decathlon team was hard at work, but they are willing to take time to chat with passers-by who are curious about their solar home. So, it was a few days ago that they chatted with a jogger. The gentleman asked them about the VIP reception and asked who was coming. When they said they weren’t sure, he said he was meeting with some at lunch that day and would mention it. Then he jogged away, leaving the students wondering just who he was.

Yesterday, as three students from the team attended a reception on the 9th floor of the Senate Hart office building, they recognized their jogger friend. In his speech, North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, who co-chairs the Renewables and Energy Efficiency Caucus, complimented the WSU students on their warm welcome – even to a passing jogger. The reception was a wonderful opportunity, said Solar Decathlete Andrea Read.

“It was a great chance to casually converse with important people in government and the alternative energy business. There was great food there, but we didn’t have much of a chance to eat it because we were talking so much.”

The opening ceremony just finished, and tours are just beginning. At the event, the Secretary of Energy, the CEO of BP Solar, and representatives from Sprint Nextel and the AIAA all spoke. Each team had the opportunity to walk up to the front and shake the hand of the Secretary. Then, they cut the ribbon to the village, and tours officially began. Although a few schools still have construction equipment on their sites, “everything has really come together for the whole village,” says Read.

So far, it’s not really busy yet in their first 45 minutes of tours, reports Read. The first tours were for Read’s family, who all came from Spokane for the event, including her parents, grandmother, and two friends. “My grandma and my folks have all seen the house, but never in this location.”

  • Oct. 5, 2005, noon (ET)

“Things are going absolutely fantastic. We’re pretty much completely done,” says Solar Decathlete Andrea Read.

The team at the moment is busy cleaning, as in wiping off counter tops and sweeping floors. They’re almost completely done with inspections – just waiting on the final electrical inspection. The teams were all supposed to be ready by 10 a.m. this morning, although many teams are not done. WSU is also waiting for representatives of the National Park Service to come through.

Yesterday’s storage problem (see yesterday’s problem of the day) was taken care of with great ease, says Read. Hensel Phelps, a construction company that donated power tools for the students to use, came through and took all their stuff off site.

“Right now, we’re able to plug things into the house and use them. We’re doing some last minute, little odds and ends, like sanding and ironing. We can plug into the house and use the power from our house. There is no (external) generator on our site. It’s really exciting.”

The team is still working to get their refrigerator powered up and some of the last few systems.

This evening’s events include VIP and sponsor tours from 5 to 6:30 p.m., which could include state senators and congressmen. Some of the students will also be attending a reception at the Capitol put on by BP Solar. Tomorrow is the opening ceremony.

“We’re just commenting about how exciting it feels not to be rushed. It’s the last exciting pieces. It’s a huge relief to be at this phase. It would be quite stressful to be some other schools at this point. We feel very fortunate to be where we are,” said Read. “It’s going to be really exciting to show something we’ve done and that we’re proud of, and we’re really representing our region.”

  • Oct. 4, 2005, 1 p.m. (EST)

The team heard this morning during the daily morning meeting that WSU is ahead of all the other school groups in terms of passing their inspections. Because of the huge numbers of people that will be visiting the home, (the 2002 Solar Decathlon had about 100,000 visitors) the homes have to pass strict building code regulations to assure safety. The WSU team has passed the foundation, plumbing, and electrical inspections. Their decking has also passed its inspection.

During the inspections, the team learned that one of their materials did not meet code for fire safety. Fortunately, they’re not alone. The students are going to have to take extra precautions when they do tours to be extra safe, and one of the team will take training in being a fire officer.

“We’re going to have very large groups of the public touring the house. Since so many people are touring the space, we have to be on high alert,” said team member Andrea Read.

Going through real inspections has “been a great learning experience.” says Read. “For future projects, we’ll be passing with flying colors.”

Problem of the Day.

We have to have our site completely cleaned up by 10 a.m. tomorrow morning. We have a lot to clean up. We’re in pretty good shape in terms of finishing, but we have a lot of cleaning to do on the site. A lot of our materials need to be stored. We hope most of it will fit under our deck. We don’t have a storage unit. That’s our problem of the day – we’re going to have to figure it out.”

After cleaning up, the team will be hooking up their solar panels to their batteries and doing some testing. At the beginning of the competition, the judges will take a reading to measure the amount of power stored in the batteries. They then take a reading at the end of the competition to see how much power the home produced and used. The WSU team plans to start the competition with nearly depleted batteries, and then gain power throughout.

“It’s been nice to have a little extra time sleeping. I’m personally extremely sore. My hands aren’t working as well as I’d like them to. We’re all looking forward to our week of tours and the actual competition. I think things will be much more relaxed.”

Read reports that the National Mall is still open to the public. A lot of people are walking through the village, taking a look and asking questions. “There’s huge curiosity.”

“It’s been so cool to go from seeing our house in amongst all these engineering buildings (where it was constructed at WSU) to being in a completely open area with space around it – with the Washington Monument and the Capitol on either side. It’s just been great.”

  • Oct. 3, 2005, 2:54 p.m. (EST)

For years, Andrea Read has heard that Starbucks opens at 5:30 a.m. Yesterday, for the first time in her life, she was there when the doors opened.

“Besides feeling tired, we’re feeling pretty good. We were dragging around 4 a.m. this morning. We had no energy, and it was hard to get anything done. We decided we needed to extend the sleeping period a little bit.”

The team has extended their shifts, so they’re now working for twelve hour shifts, taking eight hours off. WSU’s team includes 12 students. Teams of eight are therefore working around the clock, while the other four take sleep breaks. A new team member, Stacy DeKoekkoek, arrived last night and will remain for the rest of the competition.

All of the other teams have much bigger budgets than WSU’s home, which was built for about $200,000, all from in-kind and cash donations. Some teams have 30 or more people working on their house.

“There’s not a point value associated with budget, but we’re hoping in our description that that helps us out. We did all the work ourselves. We feel that’s a great advantage and sets us apart. We hope that the judges will take note that we have that kind of dedication.”

Progress on the house is going well.

“We’re doing really well,” she says. “I’m surprised at how fast we’re catching up.”

“We’re really into the finish phase of doing the last fixes and finish work. We’ve finally been able to see the house with decks, which we’ve never been able to do before They’re almost finished. It’s really exciting. We passed our foundation inspection. We’re having a deck inspection this afternoon.

“There’s quite a few (of the homes) that look really great. We’re all really different from each other. The RISD and Crowder College are quite behind. They came quite late because of transportation problems. They’re pushing it in terms of getting done. We’re supposed to be done by Wednesday. On Wednesday is the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremony the following day.

  • Sept. 30, 2005, 1:45 p.m. (Eastern Time)

Andrea Read is just getting done with her 4-hour sleep shift and getting ready to head back to the site:

“Earlier at the beginning of my shift, we were having difficulty with the foundation, but very quickly we got it taken care of. We got the floor joists in and placed the floors pretty easily into the joists. It’s just really, really heavy.The floor went in, and we put our columns in place. By the time we were leaving, we had the walls finished. As we were leaving, it was about 8 a.m. We were just starting to put our roof beams and joists in.

The site is not very big. We’ve been used to more expansive space. We’ve been having to accommodate for that, let alone having to move machinery around on the site.

I think our plan for scheduling is going really well, in terms of working. It’s amazing for us to look around at certain times during the day and night. We have a crew there every minute of the day. The other teams go home or they all leave. We like the fact that we’re there all the time, although we kind of need to be.

One thing – the damage. There’s been some damage to the interior walls from the trip here. We’re going to have some repair work to do. We’re hoping that all the things that have to monopolize our time go somoothly, so that we have enough time and energy to take care of those repairs. In comparison to other schools, though, we’re extremely fortunate. A couple days ago, a truck carrying one of the homes for another school broke an axle, and part of the house fell. We just heard last night that another axle broke. They’re dealing with a lot more problems than we are. Their house isn’t here yet.

We’ve been really excited to get to meet people from other schools, at least in passing. The schools who are “next door” include a university from Puerto Rico and Concordia College, from Canada. Across the street is Colorado, the defending champions. There are tons of people walking by. They all stop to look at our decking (made by WSU’s Wood Material and Engineering Laboratory). They’re very intrigued and want to know what it is. That makes us feel good. It gives us a chance to talk about the house, even before it’s up, and to get to know people around the so-called village.

So far, there hasn’t been time for sight seeing, but it’s really cool to be in Washington DC. It’s amazing to be building on the Mall right between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. They have lights on them for 24 hours a day. It’s cool to look out at them in the night sky.

  • Sept. 29, 2005, 12:30 p.m. (Eastern Time)

“I’m a little tired,” reports Andrea Read. Last night, the team worked out their schedule – 20 hours on site, four hours sleeping back at the hotel. After deciding on what they thought was a liberal schedule, the team got to work. Trucks were scheduled to arrive at midnight. They arrived at 1 a.m. Now, “we’re quite a bit behind,” says Read. “But we’ve also gotten quite a bit done,” she adds optimistically. In 12 hours, two and half trucks have been unloaded, and the shipping container that is the core of their home is on its foundation. Now, unfortunately, it’s raining. The team is concerned about exposed finishes, so unloading the trucks has come to a standstill, and the team is working on the foundation for the rest of the house. Andrea will be heading to the hotel soon with teamates Brad Frey, Matt Kimball, and Ryan Miller. They have been awake for more than 30 hours.

Read says she’s proud to notice that the WSU team is doing real home construction, as opposed to a lot of the other teams, who are simply unloading their finished homes off of the truck. “We’re definitely going at it the hard route,” she says. But, the team feels that their finished home will be beautiful.

Read would like to shoot off email about the team’s progress, but the team is simply too busy. “Right now,” she says, “it sounds a lot more fun than lifting giant pieces of decking.”

  • Sept. 28, 2005, 12 noon

The Solar Decathlon students and advisor Matt Taylor arrived in Washington D.C. on Tuesday. Tomorrow morning, starting exactly at 12:01 a.m., they will begin re-building their solar home. Just last week, they had disassembled the entire home, to transport it via truck to Washington D.C. They have four and a half days to put their home together to get it ready for the display on the National Mall.

Washington State University team members show off their evacuated-tube collectors for the home's solar hot water system. The students are participating in the Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon on the National Mall. Photo by Stefano Paltera /Solar Decathlon
Washington State University team members show off their evacuated-tube collectors for the home’s solar hot water system. The students are participating in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon on the National Mall. Photo by Stefano Paltera /Solar Decathlon