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Solar-Powered House Under Construction At UNC Charlotte

For almost a year, students at UNC Charlotte have been hard at work designing a solar house that is both affordable and energy-efficient. That hard work has paid off. Their design qualified for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon's biannual competition.  

For the next eight months, UNC Charlotte engineering and architecture students will be busy building the house. UNC Charlotte is one of only 20 teams to qualify for the competition.   

Sophomore Sean Lanier heads up the team's plumbing division. But it's the overall design that makes him confident.

"Primarily because of three reasons," Lanier says. "One, the geopolymer concrete. Two, the capillary design. And three, the design features that are built into the house. Such as its modularity, open space living and its urban design."

The solar house is called Urban Eden. It's kind of boxy. Half of the three-room house is outdoors and glass walls line the back of the rooms. It looks on to a spacious back porch, a vertical garden that provides privacy, a small pond and waterproof furniture that easily moves outside. And of course, there are 36 solar panels on the top of the roof, because the house must be 100 percent solar-powered. And all this for a price tag of $250-300,000.

"The schedule's pretty crazy right now," says senior Jacob Wittmer. "Just trying to meet with everybody is probably the biggest time consumption."

Wittmer, a mechanical engineering major, says he's been spending about 20 hours a week working with the architecture students to design the technology behind the sliding solar panels on the top of the building. So it's not just about utilizing solar energy but making sure everything is at maximum efficiency.

"I'm working on the PV rack, the frame that's going to support all the solar panels and it's going to translate across the roof to provide shade in the summer time and in the winter time it'll retract back and the sunlight will come in and heat the house," Wittmer says. 

The team began construction on the house this week. Once assembled, they will then take it apart so that they can ship it to Irvine, California in October. There, they'll have about a week to put the house back together again.