UMass Lowell, MassArt Students Place Ninth in Solar Decathlon

Team’s Solar-Powered Home Showcases Affordability, Energy Efficiency

10/07/2011
By Edwin L. Aguirre

Team Massachusetts — made up of energy engineering students from UMass Lowell and architecture students from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design — won ninth place in the U.S. Department of Energy’s biennial Solar Decathlon competition held in late September in Washington, D.C. The team beat 10 other collegiate teams from the United States, Canada, Belgium and China.

The team’s entry — called the 4D Home — finished fourth in the Affordability category, second in Energy Balance and fourth in Market Appeal (three of the 10 individual contests that formed the overall “decathlon”).

“This is the best showing ever by any Massachusetts team, public or private, in the history of the Solar Decathlon,” says Engineering Dean John Ting. “Team Boston, composed of Tufts University and Boston Architecture College students, placed 15th in 2009. MIT placed 13th in 2007, while UMass Dartmouth placed 18th in 2005.”

The Decathlon challenges students to design, construct and operate solar-powered houses that are innovative, affordable, ultra energy-efficient and attractive.

“The competition featured our capabilities in Solar Energy Engineering Program and is a strong signal of our strength in this area,” says Ting.

The University of Maryland garnered first place at this year’s event, followed by Purdue University and Victoria University in New Zealand.

“The Solar Decathlon was a great learning experience for all of us,” says Walter Thomas, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and UMass Lowell doctoral candidate in solar energy engineering who was the Team Massachusetts’s project engineer. 

“We learned how to design and build an actual home from scratch. The energy engineering students on Team Massachusetts learned about architecture, the management students learned about solar technology, and so on.” 

In addition to Thomas, other members of the UMass Lowell team included Julianne Rhoads, Milo DiPaola, John Connor, Abdelwahed Nabat, Kemmeng Peng, Tim Lee, Erik Jordan, Matthew Polese, Christopher Bradley, Apurav Jain, Raam Perumal, Anant Wadalkar and Srilakshmi Kurmana. Their faculty adviser is Prof. Robert Parkin of Mechanical Engineering.

A Green Home

“We had a very cute house!” says Ting. “I think we had one of the most livable, energy-efficient, thoughtfully designed and executed homes — one that works very well in the New England environment, both aesthetically and practically. As proof, we were the first home I believe to be sold to a private owner, with the proceeds going to help defray the institutional costs of this project.”
The 1,000-square-foot 4D Home was designed to house a family of three and to be completely powered by the sun. The goal was to eliminate energy costs for its inhabitants and maybe even create a surplus of power. 

The 4D Home featured photovoltaic panels to generate electricity, a solar-thermal water heater to provide hot water, thick walls to allow for more efficient insulation, a heat pump and exchanger for cooling/heating the house in summer and winter, and super energy-efficient windows, appliances and lighting. The students hope the 4D Home will serve as a model for home builders and designers creating sustainable dwellings in the Northeast.

“The best part was that the 4D Home was student-driven,” says Parkin. “There were a number of innovations incorporated into the design. Problems discovered were problems solved by the two teams of students. I am proud to be the UMass Lowell faculty adviser.”

A number of donors and sponsors contributed materials and services to the project, including Epoch Homes, which fabricated the house at the company’s factory in Pembroke, N.H., as well as Nordic Engineered Wood and Saint-Gobain North America. Louise Griffin of the Office of University Advancement also helped with the fundraising efforts.

For more information about Team Massachusetts, visit www.4dhome.us or the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon website.

You can see photos of the 4D Home in the UML Photo Gallery and on the Solar Decathlon facebook page. Read a review of the house by Inhabitat.com.