Solar house built by University of Michigan solar team up for bid

Wednesday, October 19, 2016 - 6:08pm

The Michigan Solar House as it sits in the  Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

The Michigan Solar House as it sits in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Buy this photo
Courtesy Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum

 

The Michigan Solar House, a completely solar-powered, renewable energy dependent 459 square foot innovation, has been placed up for bid as of Thursday, by the University.

The house is up for bid on the University’s Procurement Services website.

The MiSo House was built for the 2005 U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Solar Decathlon, a competition that challenged collegiate teams to design and build energy-efficient houses powered by the sun over the course of two years. More than 150 students and faculty from various University colleges, including the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the School of Art & Design, the Ross School of Business and the College of Engineering, designed the house over the course of four years.

“It was a mechanism that was set up by the Department of Energy whose role was to try to expose new thinking associated with renewable energy to as wide a group of American citizens as possible,” said Geoffrey Thün, associate dean for research and creative practice at the Taubman College.

Teams from the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Spain came together for the competition in Washington D.C. to create a solar village with their solar-powered homes. The Decathlon included 10 contests which assessed skills like architectural design, energy efficiency, engineering design and energy production.

“Beyond its initial ambition to be a really effective marketing tool to a broad public, it actually became a driver for innovation for a whole range of participants," Thün said. "And you see extreme variations in the proposals over the years."

He said the contest catalyzed an expansive set of research experiments at many universities and transformed the experiences of students, faculty and industry partners engaged in these projects, a sentiment echoed by John Beeson, University alum and former student project manager of MiSo.

“The Solar Decathlon itself is a fantastic competition that helps springboard this type of design and thought process of net zero building into the general population,” Beeson said.

The house, which is situated on a mobile trailer, includes a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen with appliances, furniture, a storage space and even a washing machine. The rounded roofline and expansive windows allow for natural daylight to enter the living space during the day and an enjoyable view for night. The kitchen is a compact workspace with seats for eating and to welcome visitors.

Renewable technologies being studied in the solar-house include a solar chimney which captures heated air from the sun into glass spaces and vacuum tubes that transfer solar heat into a closed circuit water loop via heat pipes. This brings hot air inside the house in the winter, and expels it in the summer, to maintain desirable temperatures.

“The buildings themselves drive innovation," Beeson said. "It drives different mindsets and thought processes towards design, allowing for what’s called an integrative design process, which is real key now in developing anything for a high performance building. Integrative design process is a methodology used to help create synergies between team members.”

Since the competition, MiSo has been housed at the University’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens as a means for raising public awareness on solar power and environmentally friendly technologies.

MiSo was used as a full-scale laboratory maintained by faculty of the University’s architecture program and funded by the National Science Foundation to continue research on solar performance across seasons.

Architecture Prof. Harry Giles, a former faculty supervisor of the MiSo project and researcher on the house, is now currently working on a multifamily solar house, rather than a single-family home like MiSo. It is used to test a manufacturing fabrication system, including the integration of building elements, as well as how the energy system can be integrated.

Giles said in an ideal world, every house in the country would have solar panels, generating all needs through electrical power.

“It got me much more interested in renewable technology, renewable energy sources and the actual implementation of solar as something that can be integrated into buildings and building design, as well as the manufacturing process,” Giles said.

Beeson added that the project provided students with skills, mindsets and perspectives different from those they would encounter a classroom setting. It enabled them to work together in a collaborative environment, which is a necessity in the workforce today.

“We’re part of the system and one small part of the system that happens to have the biggest impact,” Beeson said. “That impact could be very negatively thrown into whack, which it has been already, because of us. I think it’s part of our duty to try and figure out how to fit back into the balance better, and part of that is renewable energy systems.”