UB to spend $1 million on solar house

February 24, 2014 Updated Feb 24, 2014 at 9:49 AM EDT

By Dan Miner, Reporter- Business First

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UB to spend $1 million on solar house

February 24, 2014 Updated Feb 24, 2014 at 9:49 AM EDT

Buffalo has an older housing stock that could benefit from new technologies, especially ones that help conserve energy.

That dynamic is one of the motivations for the University at Buffalo's "GRoW House" project, part of a national Solar Decathlon competition run by the U.S. Department of Energy.

University faculty and students have designed and are preparing to build a 1,400-square-foot solar-powered house, which will eventually have to be hauled out to Irvine, Calif. in 2015 for the competition and then back to Western New York.

The project is expected to cost roughly $1 million, paid for by a variety of grants, partners and institutional sources. That includes the expensive transportation required for the competition, along with the basic construction expenses.

The house takes into account the region's weather-dependent lifestyles, enjoying warmth and natural sunlight during spring, summer and fall, and requiring tight construction and a lot of insulation for the colder months, said Martha Bohm, UB assistant professor of architecture, who's developing the project with Brad Wales, a clinical assistant professor of architecture, and department chair Omar Khan.

More than 40 students have been involved in planning and designing the project thus far.

Ultimately, the house will likely be placed in a city neighborhood and be a model of the benefits of green technology for residential energy consumers, Bohm said. The UB School of Management will develop marketing and communications strategies for promoting the house to the public.

The home will consist of three main spaces, including the "garden box," a 649-square-foot greenhouse that will be heated by the sun in the colder months and generate electricity year-round via translucent solar panels on the glass roof; the "relax box," a small and highly insulated room that includes a bedroom and office space opening into a private patio area; and a "work box," another highly insulated space with a substantial kitchen, thick walls and concrete floors, rooftop solar panels and a system for catching and storing rain.

The house is designed to generate more electricity than is estimated to be required for typical residential uses. Its first phase will be constructed on campus, and organizers are considering whether to finish it there or possibly built the rest at Montante Solar's North Tonawanda warehouse. Montante Solar is one of UB's partners on the project. Other supporters include Watts Engineering and Architects, Buffalo Geothermal and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc. The U.S. Department of Energy will provide seed funding and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry will collaborate on the house design.

The Department of Energy announced earlier this month that UB was one of 20 colleges in the U.S. selected to participate in the decathlon, which will include judging on a variety of contests that include architecture, engineering and home appliance performance.

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