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GRoW Home journey begins

The GRoW Home pictured in Tonawanda on Sept. 10, the day before students began disassembling it in preparation for its cross-country move. Finishing touches, such as staining the deck, will be made in California, where the house will compete in the U.S. Department of Solar Energy Decathlon in October. Photo: Douglas Levere

By DAVID J. HILL

Published September 24, 2015

Bright and early Wednesday morning, two flatbed tractor trailers left Buffalo, embarking upon a 2,500-mile journey across the country to Irvine, California. The trucks are each hauling a section of the 1,100-square-foot GRoW Home that UB is entering in the Solar Decathlon, a biennial event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

UB is one of 14 collegiate teams competing in this year’s Solar Decathlon, taking place Oct. 8-18 at Orange County Great Park. The GRoW Home has been a labor of love for more than 200 UB students, under the direction of faculty adviser Martha Bohm, for the past two years. Now comes the fun — but also nerve-racking — part as the UB team soon will find out how its entry stacks up against competitors from Clemson, University of Florida and Texas, among others.

The Solar Decathlon began in 2002 as a way to challenge collegiate teams to design, build and operate cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive solar-powered homes. Each home will be evaluated by a panel of experts in 10 contest categories: architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort zone, appliances, home life, commuting and energy balance. The homes will be on display for the public in Orange County Great Park Oct. 8-11 and 15-18. Contest winners in each of the 10 categories will be announced throughout the week, with the overall winner crowned on Oct. 17.

A section of GRoW Home is hoisted onto a flat-bed tractor trailer in preparation for the 2,500-mile journey to Irvine, California, for the Solar Decathlon. Photo: Douglas Levere

UB has high hopes for the Solar Decathlon. “It is a competition and we want to win,” said Bohm, assistant professor of architecture, School of Architecture and Planning.

“I’m nervous. We’ve spent all our time getting the house done and we’ve done a really good job, but when you go and experience the real thing and give tours to these judges who are the top people in their field, it’s nerve-racking,” added Stephanie Acquario, a sophomore who is helping manage communications for the GRoW Home. “I think we’ll do really well. This is such a big deal.”

While the GRoW Home will attract attention in California, plenty of people back home will also be keeping tabs on the contest. Western New York has rallied behind the project, with more than 450 people and organizations donating money, materials and services. In addition, a new crowdfunding campaign is underway to raise another $15,000 to support the GRoW Home’s cross-country journey and student teams that will travel to California to participate in the Solar Decathlon.

In all, four trucks left this week for Irvine: the two carrying sections of the GRoW Home — one weighing 25,000 pounds, the other 15,000 — along with a 53-foot enclosed trailer that contains much of the contents of the home. That one is scheduled to arrive in Irvine this weekend. The two pieces of the home should be there on Sept. 29. Another truck is hauling the 9,000 pounds of steel that form the GRoW Home’s superstructure, as well as pieces of the deck and six large water tanks.

Approximately 40 students, along with several faculty members and consultants, will make the trip to the West Coast, beginning with the construction team on Sunday. They’ll begin putting the house back together for display Monday at 7 a.m. The operations crew, which will lead the public tours, arrives Oct. 6. The disassembly crew, which will prepare the GRoW Home for the trip back to Buffalo, will arrive a day or two before the competition ends.

Both sections of the house that are being transported by truck were shrink-wrapped and made to look like packages, complete with mock shipping labels that read “From: University at Buffalo” and “To: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.” It also includes the hashtag #UBGRoWHome to encourage everyone who sees the structure on its cross-country journey to post about it on social media.

“It’s exciting to see it wrapped up and loaded. It means it’s ready,” Bohm said as she watched the first section of the home loaded onto the truck. “Now it really starts.”