Environment
12:00 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

Solar House at U of L Envisioned as Solution to Temporary Housing After Disasters

A solar-powered demonstration house will be open to the public tomorrow at the University of Louisville. A team of students from three universities has built the house to compete in an international competition.

In a nearly empty lot off Third Street, students are sawing, hammering, and putting the finishing touches on a two-bedroom house.

This house is the region’s contribution to this year’s Solar Decathlon competition…a contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy that will send 20 collegiate teams from around the world—and their houses—to California next month for judging. The house under construction in Louisville was designed, engineered and built largely by students from the U of L, University of Kentucky and Ball State.

Entries in the Solar Decathlon are supposed to be solar-powered, as well as cost-effective and energy efficient. But each team can customize their project to meet a need in their region. U of L Engineering professor Mark McGinley said his team’s project is designed to be a better solution to the temporary FEMA trailers that show up at natural disaster sites.

“So what they wanted to do is design a house that could be a permanent solution to disaster relief,” he said. “So instead of putting people temporarily into shelters like high schools, etc., and then into trailers, they came in here and decided, okay, how can we change that?”

McGinley said the home can be "used as a kernel to grow the home around the family, get them back in the community, even before they’ve fixed the infrastructure. So it’s producing power, engages the people in the community rebirth." Hence the name: Phoenix House.

Phoenix House is about 1000 square feet, and is designed to come apart for easy transport. It’s got enough solar capacity to provide more than enough energy to power the house, and could be deployed with a battery to be used in areas where the power grid is temporarily down.

Inside, students and professionals are working to finish up the kitchen, installing Energy Star appliances. McGinley points to the bathroom. It’s been specially reinforced to provide a shelter for storms.

“One of the problems that you have with people who have been in a devastated community is the impact that that has emotionally on them,” he said. “So what we tried to do is incorporate a room that is a haven.”

When all is said and done, this house cost about $600,000. But the team estimates the prototype could be reproduced for about $260,000.

The house is open to the public tomorrow from 11:30-4:00. The entrance is off Third Street just south of Eastern Parkway behind the J.B. Speed School of Engineering’s back lot.