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UB solar home moves out of warehouse and into the sun

On Wednesday, a solar house UB students and faculty are building was moved from a Tonawanda warehouse into a parking lot, where construction on the home will continue. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published July 30, 2015

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An animation shows what the GRoW Home is expected to look like when completed. Credit: Duane Warren, Chris Osterhoudt, Nick Karl and Aaron Salva.

“It’s exciting to see 2-plus years of work taking concrete form in these last few weeks.”
Martha Bohm, assistant professor
Department of Architecture

How do you move a 40,000-pound house?

Split it into two pieces, mount it on a set of giant skates, and wheel it to its new location.

That’s the spectacle that UB students and faculty got to witness Wednesday as a solar home they are building for a national contest was moved out of a warehouse and into the sun.

Some team members were nervous: The warehouse door was less than three inches wider than the pieces of the house that needed to be moved.

But the riggers hired to do the job were pros.

“They didn’t bat an eye when we told him how much clearance there would be,” said Assistant Professor of Architecture Martha Bohm, who is leading the construction project.

“We were a little nervous the whole time, but these guys said they could do it without a problem,” said Chris Osterhoudt, a 2015 master of architecture graduate who serves as project manager for the house. He began working on the dwelling as a student.

The house on skates was the GRoW Home, UB’s entry in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. This prestigious biennial competition challenges participants to build and operate an ultra-efficient solar home, and UB is one of only 16 intercollegiate teams competing.

A sprint to the finish

The Wednesday move-out marked an important turning point for the GRoW Home as the project nears its conclusion.

The effort has been underway for two years, starting with the development of a concept for the house, which will be 1,100 square feet when completed.

GRoW stands for “Garden, Relax or Work,” in a nod to the dwelling’s many uses. The home embraces Buffalo’s four-season climate and urban gardening movement by including a sizable greenhouse for growing food year-round.

Construction began this February in a Montante Solar warehouse on Riverwalk Parkway in Tonawanda. Students laid down a floor, erected walls, put in windows, installed a roof, and completed plumbing and electrical work with the help of local contractors, including some volunteers.

But — because of that narrow warehouse door — the team couldn’t start on many of the house’s most important features until the structure was moved outdoors.

“It’s such a relief,” said Joseph Tuberdyck, construction manager and 2015 UB master of architecture graduate, who, like Osterhoudt, started on the GRoW Home while a student. “We have all the materials ready, but we needed to get the house outside to finish it.”

The remainder of July and August will see an intense period of construction during which students will work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week. They will install a canopy of solar panels to power the residence. They will also build the greenhouse, a 340-square-foot, glass-enclosed space that doubles as a sunroom and is called the “GroWlarium.”

Then, the home will be tested rigorously to see how much energy it uses and produces.

All of this must be done by September, when the GRoW Home will be shipped to Irvine, California for the Solar Decathlon, which takes place in October. The students, led by Assistant Professor of Architecture Nicholas Rajkovich, even designed furniture such as a solar textile dryer and rolling planting tables that will also head to the West Coast for the contest day.

“It’s exciting to see 2-plus years of work taking concrete form in these last few weeks,” Bohm said. “It’s going to be a lot of hours; I wouldn’t say round-the-clock, but 12 hours a day, six days a week.”

A huge, interdisciplinary team

The warehouse door was less than three inches wider than the pieces of the house that needed to be moved. Photo: Douglas Levere

Led by the UB School of Architecture and Planning, the GRoW Home team includes the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; UB School of Management; UB College of Arts and Sciences; and Department of Landscape Architecture at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Since UB began pursuing the competition in 2012, the highly collaborative effort has involved 14 departments, nearly 250 students and dozens of faculty members.

The project has also received incredible support from the community, receiving gifts from more than 300 individuals and organizations. The U.S. Department of Energy supplied seed funding, and corporate partners — local and national — have donated materials, services and cash.

Sponsors include LPCiminelli Inc., New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Montante Solar, Alegria Fresh, ALP Steel Corporation Inc., Armstrong Pumps, ASHRAE Niagara Frontier Chapter, CannonDesign, Caplugs, Carlisle SynTec, D.V. Brown & Associates Inc., Davis-Ulmer Sprinkler Co. Inc., Ecology and Environment Inc., Euro-Wall, Fastenal, Frey Electric Construction Co. Inc., Gerster Solutions, Guard Contracting Corporation, H&V Sales Inc., Hamister Group Inc., Intigral Inc., Jameson Roofing Co. Inc., Kee Safety Inc., LaBella Associates PC, National Gypsum, Northeast Mechanical Inc., Parksite, Pella Corporation, Pittcon Industries, R-Control SIPs, Thermal Foams Inc., Rigidized Metals Corporation, S-5!, Schneider Electric, SolarCity, Stix Inc., TapeSolar, Watts Architecture & Engineering, Weather Analytics, Whirlpool and Whole Foods.