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ASU students’ super-energy-efficient house is in European competition

By Hannah Miller

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  • The saving graces

    Here’s how Maison Reciprocity saves cents (or francs).

    Four-layer outer walls: A high-strength base layer of CLT (cross-laminated timber), is covered with a 4-inch layer of insulation.

    Taking the place of framing, the smooth-surfaced CLT offers no cracks for air to escape. In two outer layers, moisture-impermeable engineered wood is covered by a wrapping of conventional lumber. It’s called “rain screen technology.” Rain enters the inevitable cracks in siding, hits the impervious barrier and falls harmlessly down and out of the wall.

    Here comes the sun: “We wanted to include as much glass as possible,” said project manager Bill Pfleger, partly for solar gain, partly for light, but also because “In Europe, they have these beautiful cityscapes.”

    Eastman Chemical’s Heat Mirror technology uses thin sheets of film to create chambers between two panes of glass in doors and windows. The resulting insulation protects the front, where the morning sun hits directly. In the rear, it’s modified to welcome the late afternoon sun. Adjustable exterior louvers add shade in both front and back, and a large roof overhang blocks midday sun.

    CHORD: Two of the home’s six basic modules are stacked atop each other and designated the CHORD (Container for High-Performance Operation, Recirculation and Distribution). It contains all the electrical and mechanical equipment as well as the home’s full and half-bath and staircases.

    Solar collection, distribution: When residents tell an automated control system that they want heat, it chooses among three different solar-based systems.

    The first and most economical choice is an air collector on an outside wall; air heated by the sun goes to an air handler and is distributed through ducts and vents. It’s also absorbed into a molten paraffin wax. As the house cools and the wax solidifies, it’s released for distribution.

    The second choice is a solar thermal collector system made up of long, roof-mounted glass bars that directly heat stored water, over which air is blown. The collector also provides the home’s hot water.

    The third choice: Sixteen rooftop photovoltaic panels create energy to run the home’s appliances, including a heat pump, by capturing sunlight and converting it to electricity.

    The heat pump is the last choice because if it stays off, the saved energy can go to a communal grid for use by neighbors in the rowhouse community.

    If Maison Reciprocity were to add another story underneath for residential or business, the house is expected to create enough energy to supply it, too.

  • Is Winston-Salem next?

    Maison Reciprocity will stay in Angers, France, after judging, but lookalikes could take shape in the U.S. if a Winston-Salem redevelopment group buys into the students’ thinking.

    Told by decathlon officials to design for an existing community rather than a hypothetical one, Angers students studied Angers, and ASU students studied Winston-Salem.

    They’re both medium-density, “up-and-coming” small cities, said Mark Bridges, communications manager for the ASU team, and students figured that what worked in one would work in the other.

    Now, with Maison Reciprocity on the high seas, students are submitting their design ideas, this time in community rather than single-house form, to Winston-Salem, where the Goler Heights area near downtown is being redeveloped.

    Students don’t want to build it, just serve as inspiration.

    “Our main goal is to invoke change in the way society approaches housing in the Southeastern U.S., using new technologies in wood construction and emphasizing energy efficiency and renewable energy,” said project manager Bill Pfleger.

Maison Reciprocity, the super-energy-efficient, student-built house that rose beside U.S. 421 in Boone the past year, is now packed in six shipping containers making their way across the Atlantic.

When it reaches its destination, the Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 competition in France, it will be presented as one solution for an international lack of affordable living space.

Its occupants are intended to never pay a penny – or a franc – for energy.

Heated by the sun and shaded by a rooftop garden and various architectural features, the house itself will create enough energy for their needs.

There might even be some left over, says one of its Appalachian State University builders, graduate student Eric Burgoyne.

In that case, said Burgoyne, the excess energy would be kicked into a grid serving all units in its hypothetical rowhouse community.

“Community” is a big thing with the student builders, who joined with students from the University of Angers in France to create the house.

It’s not just a solar home to them. It embodies the goals of decathlon officials, who wanted a home that is affordable and “green,” and also fits into the traditional fabric of a small French city.

In France, said Burgoyne, multifamily living and “living above the store” are common, with retail and residential mixed.

Maison Reciprocity’s 1,100 square feet is divided into two stories of flexible living space. A roof garden will be added in France, and the master plan envisions another story to be built below for either residential or business use. Similar rowhouses can be connected on either side.

“Really, it’s a reimagined rowhouse community,” said project manager Bill Pfleger, who earned his master’s degree during the project but stuck around until its completion because “I kind of feel like it’s my baby.”

There are 20 entries from 16 countries in the decathlon, with judging set for June and July in Versailles, France. The only other entrant chosen from the U.S. is a team from Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design, paired with the University of Applied Sciences in Erfurt, Germany.

An earlier ASU student-designed home won third place in architecture and the “People’s Choice” vote in a similar U.S. Solar Decathlon in 2011.

“We want to do it again and do it better,” said Burgoyne.

ASU faculty advisers James Russell and Jason Miller lent expertise and sometimes muscle, but the house, said Burgoyne, is “100 percent student-designed, student-built.”

Graduate students in the Department of Technology and Environmental Design, some of whom worked on the 2011 solar home, led the way.

After ASU and Angers students conducted preliminary real estate market studies and their design was accepted into competition, about 50 students started construction in Boone in September.

With the help of propane heaters, they measured, cut and hammered through the close-to-record cold temperatures of the winter of 2013-14.

“The wind chill was minus 35 one day,” said Mark Bridges, communications manager for the student team.

As the early-May 2014 deadline neared, the ASU students, joined by a visiting crew from Angers, worked from 40 to 90 hours a week.

More than 1,000 students from other disciplines received college credit for contributing their talents. And students “kicked in some of their own money and raised funds,” Burgoyne said.

A total of $780,000 was raised in in-kind and monetary contributions. If built in the U.S., Burgoyne estimates the house’s cost at $120 to $150 per square foot.

That’s “middle ground,” he said. “A quality building for a good price.”

Students used some materials and techniques familiar in Europe but just now coming into use in the United States. They were already familiar with them, Pfleger said, because their studies cover a broad range.

One is CLT (cross-laminated timber), a “super-plywood” made of many strips of lumber glued together at right angles. It’s lightweight and high-strength, and, when used as the base layer of Maison Reciprocity’s outer walls, it eliminated the need for framing.

“This may be the first CLT residential (structure) in the U.S.,” Pfleger said.

Two physics students came up with an algorithm that lets an automated control system choose from among three kinds of solar-derived heat, depending on what’s available.

Thirty ASU students will fly to France this summer to reassemble the house. They will be joined by Angers students who will contribute, among other things, a roof garden for shade and socializing.

Even in a rowhouse, said Burgoyne, “you want the yard.”

“We thought, ‘Put the yard on the roof.’ 

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