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DesertSol Solar Decathalon Home

You’ve probably heard of an academic decathlon. How about a solar decathlon? Every year, the U.S. Department of Energy holds an international solar decathlon, inviting 20 teams from universities around the world to design and build solar-powered homes. The goal of the program is to educate the public about energy-saving residential designs.

This year RedBuilt™ is mentoring UNLV’s Team Las Vegas, helping the students build their home’s structural frame. For the decathlon, the team is building “DesertSol”, a 754-square-foot prototype home designed to maintain a comfortable interior climate solely through the use of water and solar energy.

Grad student Iani Batilov, DesertSol’s structural lead, says Team Las Vegas chose RedBuilt’s RedLam™ LVL for wall framing studs, beams and headers, and Red-I65™ I-joists for the roof because they wanted quality, sustainable materials with advantages in strength and dimensional accuracy.

“DesertSol is unique because of its highly irregular geometry and demanding energy-efficient design,” says Batilov. “We needed a solid, cost-effective solution that would contribute to the energy performance expected of the home. Conventional lumber and framing techniques would have resulted in wasted material and taken away valuable insulation space.”

Batilov also says there’s another reason the team needed RedBuilt’s strong LVL: DesertSol has to be transported from Las Vegas to Irvine, California, for the competition in October. “Our goal is to construct sturdy yet lightweight framing for DesertSol. The material we’re using has to be exceptionally rigid,” he says. “While on the road, the home will be subjected to all kinds of irregular forces.”

To date, RedBuilt™ representatives have provided Team Las Vegas with a full set of engineered shop drawings, counted all parts and pieces, and assisted with installation. “We provide a lifetime warranty for the products we manufacture for our customers,” says RedBuilt™ representative Gary Collinsworth. “And since the home is being built here in Las Vegas, traveling to California for competition, and returning to Las Vegas for permanent display, it needs a professional engineer’s stamp for both states—an unusual requirement for one of our projects.”

This year’s decathlon features nine returning teams and 11 new teams, from as far away as the Czech Republic and Austria. Ten point-driven contests—based on categories such as architecture, affordability, energy balance and hot water—will determine the winner.

Team Las Vegas is comprised of UNLV’s brightest architectural and engineering students, as well as faculty staff and other local professionals. Because DesertSol is student-driven, the participants are serving as general contractors, architects, framers and engineers.

UNLV student and project manager Alexia Hsin Chen is confident her team will do well this year. “We set out to create a structure that would promote harmony among the house, the people who live in it and the desert environment,” she says. “DesertSol is all about the responsible use of the sun and water. We are poised to score high.”

Some of the home’s highlights include retractable solar shade screens, a cooling tower, a steel chassis foundation and environmental controls, including a system that allows lights, appliances and the thermostat to be controlled by a smartphone or tablet.

Designed as a second home for desert explorers in search of an escape, vacation or retirement retreat, DesertSol will cost $320,000 to build. The project has an overall budget of $750,000, which includes transport and travel.

“The students are sizing all the materials,” says Collinsworth. “We’re just helping to check their numbers and make sure all of our products work for each specific application. RedLam™ LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber) is one of our specialties—after all, RedBuilt™ pioneered its use back in the ‘70s.”

Chen says her team hopes to wrap up construction in Las Vegas at the beginning of July, and they plan to transport DesertSol to California in late September. “We’re ready to show the world that a solar home is a reality, and not just a dream,” she says.

After the competition, DesertSol will return to Las Vegas, finding a home at the Springs Preserve, a 180-acre attraction designed to educate visitors about life in the Mojave Desert. At the Preserve, the home will serve as an exhibit for sustainable desert living, and Chen hopes it will eventually receive net-zero certification.

Undoubtedly, the 2013 solar decathlon is teaching tomorrow’s leaders like Chen and Batilov how to build an ultra-efficient solar-powered home. Along the way, it’s also teaching them how to build the foundation for a promising career.

DesertSol in the news:

UNLV students compete to build energy-efficient home

UNLV Students Prepare For Solar Decathlon

UNLV student design projects seek to solve practical problems

Introducing Team Las Vegas