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First Light team travels the earthquake and hurricane road

Shipping a flat-packed house to the US and constructing it in mere days is a challenge in and of itself. But when the First Light team recently touched down in the U.S to compete in the prestigious US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011, it hadn't counted on the challenge posed by hurricanes and earthquakes.  

The first contingent of the Victoria University team arrived in Washington, D.C. to begin pre-assembly of the house earlier this month. The group of 10 were delayed slightly due to an unscheduled stopover in Los Angeles following hurricane warnings for the East Coast of the US The house, sitting in containers in a D.C. crane yard, had a shaky couple of weeks. The area, not known for tremors, was rocked by a 5.8 magnitude quake just a week before hurricane Irene bowled on through.

The team was disappointed to have the pre-assembly schedule put behind before they had even started, but they were more than happy to stay out of the way of the winds. After hours of sorting out flights, the group were all booked through to Washington, albeit on different flights and different days.

A few days later the group all made it to D.C. and were very relieved to see that not only had the house survived the trip across the Pacific, it had also stood up to an earthquake and Irene.

The group got right to work unpacking containers, assembling the central module (which was wider than the other five modules meaning it had to be flat packed), and putting together landscape elements.

The weather was incredibly hot and humid — a big change from Wellington where just a couple of weeks prior it snowed! Sitting in the hot sun, the metal containers started to feel a lot like ovens. The work was physically exhausting but incredibly rewarding and, despite the delay to the assembly, the group managed to get back on track within a few days.

Tired and hot, the group were incredibly happy to be able to go ‘home’ at the end of a long day to a very comfortable house and a cold swim. The entire student team is being housed by Joe Manelski, a former US Navy commissary officer who lives in McLean, Virginia — a short drive from the competition site in D.C. Joe and his dog Maggie welcomed the group with open arms and the team say the house feels like home.

Back at the crane yard the group worked to get things ready for the start of the competition. There were more challenges, especially by way of electricity. But with a little help from an American electrician, and calls from Hayley (our electrician from Harding Electrical) to her fiancé back home in New Zealand (also an electrician), the house has power and is running like a dream.

The rest of the team (20 more students and staff) arrived on Saturday the 10th and the entire team will be launched into the competition on the 13th. Assembly starts at 11pm on the 13th and the team will work around the clock for six and a half days to fully assemble the Meridian First Light house.