solar decathlon 2015

Team Alfred's OFFICIAL BLOG!

This was a multi-faceted collaboration between Alfred State College and Alfred University for the 2015 U.S. Department of Energy's national competition in Irvine, California. Scroll down to the start of the blog to get a sense of what the event was and is.

I myself was originally commissioned as the teams designer. I later became a decathlete to go compete with the team. Since I was going to California I also convinced the school to let me bring along my work to have a solo art show in the teams solar house. (Blog post from Day 7 highlights my involvement.)

Day 6

Tuesday, Oct. 13th


A Day Filled with Points

By the end of this day, Alfred would stand in 7th place! This is where we stood on Day 2, but we soon fell to 11th place because of a few slip ups. Day 4 and Day 5 we gradually kept making sure all of our contests were performed precisely as to gain the maximum points available for each individual task.

Completing tasks well do pay off with some points, but half of the accumulative points available for the decathlon come from judged walkthroughs. For those of you who are interested, you can find all of the information on all contests by visiting this Solar Decathlon Link here.


Todays post I will elaborate on some more tasks (mainly ones that I have yet to focus on), as well as the start of the juried walkthroughs.


Avery Sandler, Jessica Scoons and Taylor Kelley checking in on current competition standings.


Communications Walkthrough

For the Communications competition, points are rewarded based on a few simple factors: you must have social media profiles that actively participate in reaching out to your audience; you must have a pamphlet and posters for physical visitors to the home. I was meant to be one of the three students who walk judges through the home, but I overslept so Avery Sandler took my place for me. We met all of the factors required, so we should score well. Click here for the official Communication rules.


Home Life Contest


Home life scores teams by simulating what the house would be like to live in. I already mentioned lighting, and the dinner parties and movie night are already over. What is also included in this category however is Hot Water Draws and Home Electronics.

The hot water is done three times a day, and requires 15 gallons of hot water (110°F) to be drawn to receive full points. This task takes a lot of energy. Normally we would have plenty of solar hot water that is heated for free by the California sun, but our solar hot water is not working. Upon installing it before competition week we discovered that the company that donated us the system neglected to include one essential fitting. They could not make one in time, and we scoured all of southern California for the part to no avail. Because of this we have to heat our own water. 

Home electronics is really simple. All we have to do is have a computer plugged in, turned on and charging as well as our TV on while at 75% brightness. The tv continually loops all of the architectural narative video walkthroughs that all teams have created. You can watch ours on Team Alfred's Website here.


Architecture Walkthrough

The Architecture walk pairs with Engineering to be the two most important parts of the competition. It judges several layers of the house including concept and design approach, Architectural implementation and innovation as well as professional documentation. Things like natural lighting aesthetics, material selection and living comfort are only a few aspects of what teams are scored on. Believe it or not our selection of furniture, ceiling fans and kitchen cabinets are all part of this walkthrough.

Beautiful photograph of our homes public space seen from the mechanical room. 


The two lead architectural students from Alfred State College (now alumni)  came to California exclusively for this walkthrough so that they could give the judges exclusive information on design choices and the whole nine yards. They had it all down pat. They of course have real world jobs, and in order to get back to them we had to switch walkthrough times with another team so that these two architects could be on this architectural walk. Originally we were allowed to do this from the start of the event, but for some reason the organizers last minute told us we no longer could switch, even though we already had another school that agreed to switch with us. Because of this we had to create a ten minute haphazard walkthrough video of the two architectural students so that we could let our judges watch it on our TV.

I was one of our team to fill in. I was basically was just a body. I only had a few words to describe some aspects to the house that stand out to me as an artist, but Avery Sandler (being the team lead) covered as much as he could for us in the absence of our architects.


Commuting (click here for more official rules)

More Electric Vehicle (EV) driving. Today Avery met up with the other teams for a photo shoot and filming before he set out to drive our daily mileage. Avery Sandler and myself are the only two registered to drive in this as we are both over 25. The rules are that you drive 25 miles under 2 hours. If you are over time or under miles you get docked points. You may drive anywhere you want and you can have as many or as little passengers as you'd like. The objective of course is to drive smoothly so you use less power as the car must be charged off of each teams own house.

Here is another Solar Decathlon Minute where today they highlight the Commuting contest. Here and there you can see Avery Sandler and Taylor Kelley riding around in our white BMW i3.


I have already talked about the laundry contest where teams are required to wash towels, but here are another few that are in the same category. These tasks, like many others, require teams to complete with an observer at least once per day. 

  • Maintaining refrigerator and freezer temperatures. This task is simple as we just need to have the fridge plugged in and refrain from opening the doors. There are sensors inside, but opening the doors to take pictures is counter productive.
  • Dishwashing contest requires the washer to run a complete cycle. A sensor is placed inside as the washer must reach a temperature of 120°F to receive full points
  • Simulating cooking requires us to vaporize 5 pounds of water.

At the end of the day, it is points that matter.

After several days of data we have begun to realize some faults and things that we should have changed to save power. Discovering our flaws is perhaps the most important aspect of this entire competition.

Out of all of the schools, we are consuming the most amount of power. This is not good. If our cumulative consumption by the end of the competition is over a certain number, we will loose ALL 50 points available. Up until now all of us have casually been using the homes power for listening to the stereo, using lights when we needed, putting our lunches in the fridge and charging our computers and cell phones. After looking at our high consumption, we decided to aggressively refrain from using any sort of power from the house. I even write my daily blog now at the Great Park's center gathering area where there is free wifi and power outlets. Every little bit counts!


Team captain Avery Sandler and Dr. Wallace Leigh tweaking some plumbing at days end.