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Designing the Future

ESF students collaborate to design affordable, energy-efficient home

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Area college students could hold the key to making energy-efficient homes affordable.

Students from ESF, Onondaga Community College and Syracuse University are collaborating to design an energy-efficient affordable house based on the median family income of the area. They are participating in the Challenge Home Student Design competition sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Association of Homebuilders.

"We're bringing down to local level an energy-efficient affordable design for a building based on the median income of the Syracuse area," said Paul Crovella, an instructor in ESF's Department of Sustainable Construction Management and Engineering.

For the multi-college group, the goal is to design a home with an extremely energy-efficient shell that has the potential to be turned into a net-zero building.

"If the owner wanted to put a photovoltaic or other alternative energy system on it," said Covella, "it could be completely self-sufficient for energy."

Another aspect being incorporated into the design is "visitability," said team leader Michelle Tinner, an ESF graduate student. "This allows people with various physical abilities to enter the house and take part in cooking a dinner and have all their needs met in all the house." Such a design includes wide doorways, zero-step entry and accessible bathrooms, said Tinner, who is studying sustainable construction management.

The median income in the Syracuse area is $65,000, said Crovella. Based on mortgage guidelines, that gives the team a budget of approximately $190,000. "Some of it's consumed by site and other soft costs so they're working with a little less than that when it comes to the actual costs for building," he said.

The DOE has long sponsored a solar decathalon geared toward architectural schools to build a structure based on solar energy. That international competition requires millions of dollars in fundraising and the technologies used are often two or three steps away from what can be done today, said Crovella. "It's very forward searching."

Challenge Home Student Design is looking for "the sweet spot" between the best of the technology in a format that can be easily implemented by today's builders. "It's more practical," said Crovella.

"When we saw the initial request for proposals (about the competition) we knew it would be an excellent opportunity for our students," said Crovella.

"In school we learn a lot about what it takes to make buildings energy efficient and positive for the environment so to actually apply what we're learning to a real project adds a real richness to the experience," said Tinner.

"Much of what we do in construction management is make students aware of the types of construction being done today and help them adapt to changes in the industry," Crovella said. Because a project like this can't be done by any one discipline, students from neighboring colleges, including architecture and engineering students from SU and architectural technology students from OCC, were invited to participate.

The team, which calls itself Montage Builders - Northern Forest, is working with Home Headquarters of Syracuse and Central New York, a not-for profit organization that works to improve the lives of underserved area residents and revitalize communities, and has support from the technical staff at the Syracuse Center of Excellence.

"We've got quite a team that we've put together in terms of students from a wide variety of disciplines and folks from the building community who help advise us," said Crovella.

When the design is complete, the team will have a set of "deliverables" that will include a set of documents that will allow a builder to pick up the plans, get estimates and come up with hard numbers for the home.

To create the plans, the team started with vision statement and goals for the project based on the DOE program Building America which sets of goal of trying to reduce home energy use by 50 percent.

If you can reduce the energy use by half within the basic design, you can eliminate the remaining energy use post-build with available technologies, according to Crovella. With the price of photovoltaics coming down, he said, it becomes more and more attractive to try to building something that would be well suited for that technology."

The team will be competing against about 25 to 30 schools nationwide including past winners of the Solar Decathalon. "It's a competitive field," said Crovella.

Montage Builders will submit their design by the end of March and make their presentation at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., in April. The weekend-long event includes the 20-minute presentations along with technical sessions.

While only four team members will be involved in making the presentation, the group is working to raise enough money for everyone to attend as it's an opportunity to meet with national leaders in the industry. Team fundraising is at the halfway point, according to Crovella. Those wanting to help the team can contact Crovella at plcrovella@esf.edu.

"We'll be out there with the folks you want to talk to if you want to change way things are happening in the world," Crovella said.

Tinner is confident the team will do well.

"I think regardless of what the judges decide, for us it's a winning experience," she said. "Especially if the house gets built or if the plans can be used by local builders in Syracuse, that's really what the motivation is. Winning the competition would be great, but we also as a team recognize that that's not really the important part. The important part is doing the work trying to come up with a way to provide efficient housing at a reasonable cost."

Members of Montage Builders - Northern Forest


Michelle Tinner, masters student, sustainable construction management

Michael Walczyk, junior, construction management

Peter Lacongo, junior, construction management

Sarnai Davaadagva, senior, environmental science

Gamika Korale, senior, construction management

Brent Crump, senior, construction management

Adam Scalisi, senior, landscape architecture

From Onondaga Community College

Andrew Kenneally, A.A.S. candidate, architectural technology

David Wallace, A.A.S. candidate, architectural technology

Jacek Bartczak, A.A.S. candidate, architectural technology

Krystal Tyrrell, A.A.S. candidate, architectural technology and interior design

From Syracuse University

Jeff Chen, graduate student, civil/construction engineering and sustainable infrastructure management, Ph.D. candidate

Zhauzhou Meng, graduate student, mechanical and aerospace engineering, Ph.D. candidate

Talia Horner, B.I.D. candidate, industrial and interaction design