While most college students will head home for a summer job or a well-earned vacation, dozens of Santa Clara University students are building a net-zero home on campus called “Radiant House.” It’s a modest and ambitious attempt by a team of undergrads to revolutionize the solar construction industry as part of the U.S. Dept of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition. While it is overwhelming at times, my generation is committed to developing new ways to build sustainably.
One of the ways Santa Clara University engineering students are paving the way is through the innovative use of bamboo. While many structures use bamboo for its beauty, we’ve incorporated it into the structure of our home. Bamboo is a grass and grows fast, making it more sustainable than traditional timber. It’s also low-maintenance plant and can grow in many climates. Our engineers have tested its load-bearing properties and found that by using a combination of different types of bamboo as well as processing techniques it can be used as the floor and roofing joists as well as the shear and gravity walls.
The Radiant House will also be the first home to debut Sunplanter, which eliminates separate solar racking and roof structure systems by combining them into one innovative technology. By incorporating these systems together, Sunplanter allows homeowners to save money, material, and space, while improving aesthetics and allowing for natural cooling to improve efficiency. The system is one way home builders can incorporate energy efficiency from the start of construction – rather than as an afterthought.
We’re also the only team in the Solar Decathlon competition with two student ethicists. Allie Sibole writes reports looking into the impact our donors and the materials we use have on the environment. The team considers this when choosing materials because we believe ethics are at the core of sustainability. Ethicist Missy Giorgi focuses on outreach to the community because alternative energy and green construction can only become the norm if people understand it. The team is hosting a monthly Google+ hangout with fourth and fifth graders in Irvine, California explaining how solar energy works and showing off the interesting technology in our house. We’ve taken the Plaza Vista School students from on a “virtual field trip” through the mechanical room of our 2009 Decathlon entry, taught them how solar panels work, discussed what makes a home energy efficient, and had them demo our controls system; students in Irvine used an app there and were able to turn lights on at our Santa Clara campus. When our team moves the home to Irvine for the competition in October, the young students are hoping to tour the home they’ve digitally watched being built literally from the ground up in person. These hangouts have expanded with schools from across the country and world watching live.
Though most of the team will be too young to celebrate the completion of the home with a drink, we’re hoping our work leaves a lasting legacy. We want to send the message that homes should be built with sustainability in mind. Santa Clara University’s Radiant House is elevating the standard of how homes are built and we’re happy to spend our summer getting dirty for a cleaner future.