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Students’ super-efficient house is in European competition

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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