Andrew Eubanks gets a bit choked up when he talks about the work being done by the Solar Decathlon team at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
As an entrant in the inaugural Orange County Sustainability Decathlon, the 20-member team’s first challenge is to design and build—in the Engel Stadium outfield—an 1,800-square-foot, energy-efficient house. The second is to break it apart and send it to California for the October competition.
The final step is to break it apart again, ship it back to Chattanooga and rebuild it as low-income housing. That’s the part that gets to Eubanks, a senior in chemical engineering and project manager for the Solar Decathlon team.
“To be able to build a community around something that came out of my mind and to be able to build that and … and … and, sorry, it gets me a little emotional,” he said, finding it a bit hard to talk for a moment.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, for sure,” said Eubanks, who grew up in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta and graduated from North Cobb High School. “We need to be able to get it done and show that it can be done, then be able to put it out into the community. That sense of pride makes me want to just go out and shake somebody and say, ‘We can do this!’”
Dr. Sungwoo Yang, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Chemical Engineering and faculty sponsor for the Solar Decathlon team, has the same goal.
“That is my vision. That is where we are going, and this is just beginning,” he said. “We are making a great, positive impact for the community.”
Based on conceptual designs, 18 college teams are competing in the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon. Building materials for the two-bedroom, one-bath home are being purchased and about $75,000 is needed to finish the job, Yang said.
Getting ready for the competition began in early 2022 with intensive research into building materials and how to build the home step-by-step. In May 2022, Eubanks began designing the house using energy-efficient criteria issued by the Home Energy Rating System (HERS), the industry’s gold standard.
The housing design is modular. A central section will hold the “heart” of the house—kitchen, heating and air conditioning equipment, bathroom—then sections with bedrooms, living areas and other features are added one at a time.
“It’s like a Lego where you can connect pieces. The benefit of being modular means it is shippable,” Yang said.
Most team members are students in departments of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, but the team is not limited to engineering students.
“Any student who wants to join now is welcome, and you don’t have to be an engineering major to join,” Yang said.
Grant Fetters, a junior majoring in accounting and finance in the Gary W. Rollins College of Business, is conducting cost analysis on building materials for the house, among other tasks.
“Just figuring out what would be best for the house, what makes the most sense with our design with the costs relatively the cheapest and had the best quality,” said Fetters, who graduated from Wilson Central High School near Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.
His analysis also must factor in the energy efficiency and sustainability of each building material, he said.
“When I was specifically looking at the flooring, I was looking at what material is going to last a while and is also carbon neutral, so when it was produced, it didn’t take a lot of energy to make.”
His work on the Solar Decathlon team will help him after he graduates and heads into the business world, he said.
“It’s the real-world application. It’s working with a big group of people and trying to stay organized and everyone on task.
“I think it’s the managerial side of things as well as the specifics of making a project over a long span of time. How we can make it efficient and everyone to be engaged throughout the whole process.”
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In the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon, each project will be judged in 10 areas:
- Sustainability and resilience
- Architecture and interior design
- Engineering and construction
- Communications and marketing
- Energy efficiency
- Water use and
- Health and comfort
- Lighting and appliances
- Market potential