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UA faces tough competition at Solar Decathlon

Feelings were bittersweet as the UA solar decathlon team packed up their solar energy house on the National Mall in Washington D.C. on Wednesday after placing 18 out of 20 in the competition.


""Being an architecture student, I learned a lot from designing through building this thing and a lot more about teamwork than I thought,"" said recent UA architecture graduate Eddie Hall, student project architect.  ""For a first-time team, I think we did respectively well, but we have a lot of lessons to learn.""

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The Arizona Solar Energy Efficient Dwelling was developed by UA faculty, staff and students from the Colleges of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering over the past two years. The event was hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy. Team Germany won first place at the competition and Team Illinois finished second.


Construction of the dwelling began about five months ago at the UA.


""The rest of the time was planning the design process and getting things engineered,"" Hall said.


Architecture professor Larry Medlin, a principal investigator for the Solar Energy Efficient Dwelling, thought the competition wasn't geared toward warmer climates.


""I was disappointed,"" Medlin said. ""The competition was really biased for small, super-insulated houses that were more practical for northern climates, not a house in Arizona.""


For example, the house that won first place was a glass box with solar collectors on every surface, he said.


""If you did something like that in Arizona it would be a disaster because it would overheat.""


However, Medlin is very proud of his team and the work they've accomplished over the past two years.


""One thing I was extremely proud about is there were as many as 3,500 people coming to our house every day, and our students were fantastic at taking the time to explain things.""


Medlin is also proud of the research his team put into the house.


""One judge's comments about the house that won in engineering was that the house had everything you could go to Home Depot and buy,"" Medlin said. ""We took the opposite approach.""


For example, the team built a wall with water running through plastic, which contributes to solar heating and gives a diffused quality of daylight, Medlin said.


""We really tried to do this thing all ourselves,"" Hall said. ""Rather than going out and buying windows we assembled them from glass.""


Things didn't always run smoothly for the team. 


""We had a few technical difficulties and some mechanical failures that set us back,"" said UA architecture graduate Matt Gindlesparger, principal investigator and project manager for the UA Solar Decathlon team.


He said he was hoping to place higher in the competition.


""One failure was with our heating and air conditioning system,"" he said. ""It basically lost its refrigerant. It was pretty easily fixed, but that set us back.""


Medlin said he isn't sure where the dwelling will go but hopes it will be on display for UA students to see.


In addition to the water wall, the Solar Energy Efficient Dwelling featured a greywater filter that makes portable water for a greenhouse and an outdoor deck made of a permeable material which allows water to run through to the ground below, according to the team's website.


Team members said they hope UA will continue to compete in the future.


""I hope the 2011 team goes forth for our school and really gets out there,"" Hall said. ""The first time is always tough.""


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