Rice students Offer Sneak Peek Of Zero-energy House; Entry In International Competition Built To Help Houston Neighborhood

May 6, 2009

This weekend Rice University students will show Houston how to go green while saving green as they give tours of a home they designed and built for Project Row Houses, a neighborhood-based art and cultural organization that seeks to develop housing for low-to-moderate income residents of Houston’s Third Ward.
 
The house is an entry in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a zero-energy housing competition in which teams of college and university students vie to design, build and operate the most attractive, effective and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The team of Rice students was the only one from Texas among the 20 teams chosen from around the world to participate. This year’s competition will be held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in October.
 
Houstonians don’t have to wait until the fall to see Rice’s entry, Ze-Row house. The team will be giving tours of the 800-square-foot building from noon-3:30 p.m. May 8 at its current construction site on the Rice campus, 6100 Main St., near the corner of College Way and Alumni Drive. In addition to showing visitors around the house, tour guides will explain the latest energy-efficient materials and technologies that can be implemented in the visitors’ own homes.
 
“Solar panels and solar water heaters can be added to any home,” said Allison Elliott, one of the student leaders. “A house can be both environmentally friendly and affordable.”
 
Like other Solar Decathlon houses, the Ze-Row house will be able to produce all the energy needed for its operation on-site using photovoltaic solar panels and other green technologies. But unlike the others, it was designed with affordability and a specific site in mind.
 
While other entries operate on half-a-million-dollar budgets, the Ze-Row house was created with a building and material budget of about $150,000 so that its design and concepts could be replicated in six energy-efficient, one- and two-bedroom homes on two 50-by-80-foot lots in Houston’s Third Ward.
 
After the Solar Decathlon, the Ze-Row house will be transported to its permanent location in Houston, where two local residents will call it home.
 
“Our Rice students have worked at the highest level to create this house, which is on par with professional work,” said Danny Samuels, the Harry K. Smith Visiting Professor of Architecture at Rice. “Through working with Project Row Houses, we have taken the next step in providing affordable, appropriate technologies for people who need it.”
 
Engineering a house for Houston had its own challenges. The team specially tailored the house to withstand the rigors of Houston’s Gulf Coast climate by including a limited number of windows to reduce heat gain from the sun in the summer. In that same vein, they thickened some of the walls to reduce the amount of heat that will seep into the house during the hot months. The team also used a foundation and materials that could stand up to hurricane-force winds.
 
More than 100 members of the Rice University community from disciplines across campus have worked on the Ze-Row house, which is the latest project in an affordable housing initiative and long-term collaboration between the Rice Building Workshop and Project Row Houses. Previously, Rice students designed and constructed new housing on property owned by Row House Community Development Corporation, including the Six-Square House and a row of eight recently completed duplexes. The direct inspiration for Ze-Row was the 500 square-foot XS (extra small) House constructed in 2003 at a cost of $25,000.
 
The Solar Decathlon gets its name from the 10 specific areas of competition: architecture, engineering, market viability, communications, comfort, appliances, hot water, lighting, energy balance and transportation. Each house should produce enough electricity and hot water to perform all the functions of a home, from powering lights and electronics to cooking and washing clothes and dishes. The team that finishes the week of competition with the most points wins.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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