BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo students and
professors will build a 1,400-square-foot solar-powered home as
finalists in the U.S. Department of Energy’s elite Solar
Playfully called the GRoW House, the UB project is designed to
appeal to Buffalo’s urban gardening contingent. The dwelling
will have space where residents can Garden, Relax or Work (GRoW).
Features include a generous greenhouse and kitchen for growing,
processing, cooking and storing food.
The Solar Decathlon is a national, two-year contest that
challenges collegiate teams to design, construct and operate
cost-effective solar dwellings.
The Department of Energy announced on Thursday afternoon that UB was one
of 20 schools selected to participate.
“This invitation is a clear demonstration of the strength
of our faculty leadership and the talent of the student body," said
Robert Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning.
“Together, they have gotten us this far in a highly
competitive, hands-on project focused on collaboration in design,
construction, commercialization and the interdisciplinary teamwork
essential for success.”
In the decathlon, which will take place in Irvine, Calif. in
2015, each entry will be evaluated in 10 contests,
ranging from architecture and engineering to home appliance
performance. Each decathlon draws tens of thousands of visitors
from across the country.
The GRoW House will be built in Western New York, shipped to
Irvine for judging, then returned to Buffalo. Possible permanent
locations for the home include the city’s Fruit Belt, West
Side or waterfront neighborhoods.
Ultimately, organizers hope the GRoW House will become a
community resource, open for tours that educate and inspire
schoolchildren and the public about the benefits of sustainable,
“There’s an untapped potential in Buffalo to do
interesting and provocative sustainable design,” said Martha
Bohm, UB assistant professor of architecture, who worked on two
Solar Decathlon projects as a Cornell University faculty member
before joining UB. “Sometimes, to get things moving, you need
a project that captures people’s imaginations —
something people can experience firsthand."
The GRoW House is being developed under the leadership of Bohm
and Clinical Assistant Professor of Architecture Brad Wales,
working with department Chair Omar Khan.
Plans for the home — designed by UB students in studios
and seminars — call for three main spaces:
- The Garden Box. This 649-square-foot greenhouse has
ample room for the home gardener to grow vegetables in any weather.
Sun will heat this space in colder months and generate electricity
year-round via translucent solar panels integrated with the glass
- The Relax Box. This small, super-insulated room includes
bedroom and ad hoc office space opening onto a private patio area.
It’s perfect for Buffalo: snug in the winter, but with easy
access to the outdoors — to fresh air and blue sky — in
- The Work Box. Connected to the Garden Box, the Work Box
is a substantial kitchen where home gardeners can wash, can and
store food. This space shares key features with the Relax Box, such
as thick walls and concrete floors, all of which will help moderate
interior temperatures year-round. Rooftop solar panels and a system
for catching and storing rain will provide energy and water.
The project is led by the School of Architecture and
Planning, but students and faculty from across UB will form an
integrated team. The School
of Engineering and Applied Sciences will lend its expertise to
design and construction, and the School of Management will
develop marketing and communications strategies for promoting the
GRoW House to the public.
So far, more than 40 students have taken architecture studios
and seminars devoted to the Solar Decathlon. Many more are expected
to contribute by the project’s end.
Support from the business community has been pledged by Montante
Solar, Watts Architecture & Engineering, Buffalo GeoThermal and
the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the UB team’s primary
partner. Materials and mentorship will come from corporate donors,
and the U.S. Department of Energy will supply seed funding. The
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry will collaborate
on the design of the house’s site.
The GRoW House received some of its first seed funding from the
Sustainability Fund of the Research Foundation for SUNY, and the
Directed Energy business incubator program managed by the UB Office
of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach.
Team members calculate the GRoW House will generate electricity
in excess of what residents need for regular activities. Despite
Buffalo’s long winters, the region actually does get enough
sunlight to make solar an effective option for powering homes,
project leaders say.
“I designed a passive solar house in East Aurora that
works very well — not quite net zero, but the design cut
heating costs by 75 percent," said Wales. "Fossil fuels are
expensive and their consumption generally degrades the