Campus & Community

SURE HOUSE Construction Underway for 2015 Solar Decathlon

Things are heating up at the Griffith Building of Stevens Institute of Technology. It is here, right along the banks of the Hudson River, where a multidisciplinary team of Stevens students is intensely working on construction of the SURE HOUSE – the Stevens 2015 entry house that will compete in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon in Irvine, California October 8-18, 2015.

Directly inspired by Hurricane Sandy’s devastating impact on the New Jersey-New York coastline, Stevens’ third consecutive entry in the biannual competition addresses the growing need for sustainable, resilient homes for coastal communities. With the Earth Day holiday approaching on April 22, the Stevens Solar Decathlon team offered a progress report of the SURE HOUSE.

SURE HOUSE Drawings Receive DOE Seal of Approval

In March, the DOE fully approved the set of construction drawings submitted for the SURE HOUSE, along with a health and safety report and project manual. Competing against teams from the United States and around the world, Stevens was the only school to get fully approved by the DOE after the first submission. 

“The fact that we were the only team to get fully approved on the first go was huge,” says team member A.J. Elliott, a first year graduate student in the Stevens Product Architecture & Engineering program.

Aside from the noteworthy distinction, obtaining DOE approval early and before construction means the SURE HOUSE team can proceed knowing they will not have to go back and alter construction, a risk for those who begin construction before earning DOE approval. 

“It definitely affects the construction timeline because a lot of these deliverables have associated penalty points if you don’t meet deadlines. So you could be starting the competition already losing some points off of that,” Elliott explains.

SURE HOUSE Construction Fully in Progress on the Stevens Campus

With less than six months left before the October competition takes place in Irvine, construction on the SURE HOUSE is now in full swing. The building of the house’s foundations and framing is currently in progress and scheduled to be completed by the time of the Innovation Expo on April 29.

“We actually have a professional framing crew that we are working closely with side by side to get the house framed by the end of April,” says Elliott.

The house will be constructed to not only survive a storm, but be able to function after a storm. A resilient power and hot water system to be installed will allow the house to function even during a power outage.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that most solar electric powered homes, unless they have some sort of battery backup, don’t function when the power goes out. They’re out of luck just like everyone else,” says Elliott. “So we’re actually using a type of inverter to continue to supply emergency power even when power goes out. Our hot water is completely separated from the grid as well. So we can supply that even after a power outage occurs.”

The SURE HOUSE electric system, Elliott adds, can help neighbors stay connected as well through built-in exterior USB outlets.

“Community members can come over after a power outage, after a storm, and charge their devices so they can remain in communications during emergencies when you definitely want to have that.”

The USB outlets will all be marine grade, he says, like many aspects of the house.

“We’re taking the challenge of almost building a boat. And it’s certainly been helpful to have the expertise that is here at Stevens, especially those in the Davidson Lab, for some of our water proofing testing. They’ve definitely been helpful in offering their resources and their time to us.”

Windows are expected to be added by mid-June, with another 4-5 weeks devoted to the house’s interior. As for furnishings for the house, Elliott says the team is still seeking an interior designer/furniture maker to partner with.

Planned Dress Rehearsal Will Test SURE HOUSE Capabilities

Construction is scheduled to be completed around mid-July. Afterward, the completed house will remain intact on the Stevens campus for a roughly 10-day performance test.

"The Stevens community will see the ideas that have been discussed for the past year become reality," says John Nastasi, lead faculty for the Solar Decathlon project and director of Stevens' Product-Architecture & Engineering program,

During the testing phase, the team will observe how the SURE HOUSE performs to the day-by-day simulated requirements of the competition.

“Everything from hosting dinner parties to driving electric vehicles to doing routine hot water draws to simulating showers, as well as measuring our energy during this whole time to make sure we’re under that cap. All the AC power that’s used in the house has to total less than 175 kilowatt hours for the eight days of the competition,” Elliott explains.

Meeting that energy cap will be more of a challenge this year than in previous competitions. For the first time in the competition, teams must ensure that the competition house be able to charge an electric vehicle.

“The electric vehicle is going to take up about a third of that energy cap. So it’s pretty significant.”

To be able to test the electric vehicle accommodation, the SURE HOUSE team is relying on a loaner car – the BMWi3 – by Circle BMW in Eatontown, New Jersey.

“The vehicle has to be 100 percent electric and BMWi3 is one of the most efficient ones. And because Circle BMW has a relationship with Shelley BMW in Irvine, we’ll have the exact same car when we’re out in California.”

With the construction phase of the project picking up steam, Elliott says there is a mixture of relief and anxiety felt among the team members.

“A lot of the things we’ve been drawing and have been changing, once they’re built they kind of get locked in. There are less things we can tweak, which is both good and bad. It’s a relief, but also a little stressful.”

In late August, team members will disassemble the house for shipment to Irvine where they will conduct a site preparation and rebuild the house for the start of the 10-day competition in October.

To track the progress of the SURE HOUSE: