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Bay Area students aim to win with 100% solar home

July 29, 2009 |  5:23 am

Solarhouse

While some college students are soaking up solar rays at the beach this summer, students at Santa Clara University and California College of the Arts have found a different use for the sun's energy.

About 200 undergraduates have been designing and building a house that will run entirely on solar energy as part of the Department of Energy's 2009 Solar Decathlon. Team California is the only team from the West Coast and one of 20 teams competing from around the world.

The team's Refract House will feature a working dishwasher, television and washer and dryer, in addition to a radiant system that runs water under the floor and through the ceiling to cool and heat the house. Unlike some box-shaped solar houses, which team leader Preet Anand says are "hyper-efficient but boring," Refract House is shaped like a "bent tube." The walls are made of used billboards, which will be covered with salvaged redwood panels.

Santa Clara came in third in the 2007 competition, and Team California hopes to win the competition in Washington, D.C., this year. In order to get there, the team will have to break apart the modular home, load it onto trucks and drive it to the National Mall.

Although travel and marketing expenses have ratcheted the project's cost up to an estimated $1.3 million, some of the features, such as a system that recirculates water from sinks and showers, would cost a buyer less than $1,000.

Following the competition, the home will sit on the lawn of San Jose City Hall, where Anand hopes it can motivate passersby.

"It's an inspiration for people," said Anand. "We're students. If we can do this, all those professionals and architects out there can too." 

-- Amy Littlefield

Photo: A student team works on the Refract House. Credit: Team California; used with permission

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