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OSU Solar Decathlon house finds home at Columbus Zoo

Dimitry Burdjalov / The Lantern

Despite the rain, the 2009 Solar Decathlon house received a warm reception in front of Polar Frontier at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

“What you’re seeing here is undoubtedly one of the more beautiful homes … out of the 20 that participated,” said Gregory Washington, dean of the Ohio State College of Engineering, at Monday’s dedication.

OSU students built the solar home to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2009 Solar Decathlon. At the international competition, held every two years in Washington, D.C., universities are invited to design and build a solar-powered home. OSU’s was one of only 20 proposals selected for the competition.

The decathlon is named for 10 specific areas of competition. For the 2009 competition, these areas included architecture, market viability, engineering, lighting design, communication, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment and net metering.

OSU’s house was constructed on three trailers near the stadium. It was then transported to Washington, D.C., and reassembled on the National Mall for the competition, which began Oct. 9.

“We came in 10th overall in the competition, which is a really great accomplishment for a first-year team,” said Kara Shell, recent OSU alumna, decathlon project manager and project engineer for Replex.

At the dedication, OSU President E. Gordon Gee reminded Washington of a promise he made about the decathlon house.

“I said if they went on and won that I would move into the house,” he said. “Now I don’t know what will happen here, but I think I’ll move into the house and drive the Buckeye Bullet to work.”

The exterior of the decathlon house juxtaposes weathered wood with technology. Large window and door panels stand open, welcoming visitors inside.

The interior was designed to take one, large space and enable it to transform into different rooms for different uses. The living space can be converted from kitchen to dining room to bedroom by opening and closing doors within the house, said Mark Walter, faculty adviser and associate professor in mechanical engineering.

The team scored highly in several categories, including comfort zone and market viability.

“I visited it on the mall,” Gee said. “I saw the competition and I want all of you to know it was very competitive.”

Although some competitors hired contractors to build their homes, Washington credits OSU students with completing their house with little outside help.

“Our house was built, designed, fundraised, everything by students and that was one of the things that set us apart,” Washington said.

Students from more than 18 majors and several colleges were represented in this project, he said.

Undergraduate and graduate students worked side-by-side on the project.

“I started working on it when I was a freshman in college,” said Alison Cerrato, team leader and civil engineering student. “So it was a big jump from being in high school to being on a pretty large-scale engineering project.”

The idea to compete in the decathlon came to Lucas Dixon, a political science student at the time, from an episode of “This Old House.”

Dixon helped organize several students to approach Washington about entering the competition.

“They had such a fire in their eyes and they really believed that we can do this and do this well,” Washington said.

Dixon, outreach team leader, 2009 OSU alumnus and sales and marketing associate for Plug Smart, was one of two students selected to give a presentation with U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu at the final ceremony of the competition, Washington said.

“It has been the most important thing in my life that I’ve been a part,” Dixon said at the dedication.

In the original proposal submitted to the 2009 Solar Decathlon, students said they wanted to use the solar home to educate the public about sustainability and showcase the house’s technology, Walter said.

But after the competition, the students decided to ask the zoo if it would exhibit the decathlon house.

“We loved the idea to be able to pair up with OSU and we love the shared conservation message,” said Terri Kepes, vice president of planning and design at the zoo.

The decathlon house will remain on display at the zoo at least through January 2012.

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