How do you ship a house from Wellington to Washington?

Welcome to first blog entry by First Light, the Kiwi team competing on the world stage against some of the world’s brightest student minds in the US Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon competition. The team won a place in the competition with a unique, solar-powered concept inspired by the “Kiwi Bach, making them the only team from the Southern Hemisphere to have ever reached the finals of the competition. In this entry, they explain how they’re planning on overcoming the challenge of shipping a whole house halfway round the world.

We have been selected as one of 20 finalists to compete in the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011, which takes place on the National Mall in Washington DC. The competition challenges us to design and build a solar-powered house which can be constructed in a week. Its performance is then tested in a series of 10 competitions.

One of the biggest challenges faced by all teams is transportation; this is a huge hurdle for us as it means getting our house from Wellington to Washington. The first question we asked was: how do we get our house to the US all in one piece?  Short answer: we won’t—it will be in pieces. The next question was: how many pieces? 

When we first applied for the competition the plan was to use a “flat-pack” method to ship the house. This would mean that the walls, floor, roof elements and utility cores containing the services could all be dismantled and fit into standard shipping containers. 

After we were selected as finalists we took a second look at our plans and found that with a time constraint of 7 days to construct the house, it was not feasible to erect the flat-packed components on site and on time. The flat pack process would require a large pre-assembly period in the US which would be a strain on our time and resources. The savings that we could have made in shipping were not worth the additional costs we would face during the time in the US. 

With the flat pack option looking less than ideal, we explored a variety of transport options, from shipping the entire house oversize in one piece to air freighting it in by Hercules. Obviously cost, practicality and time were all factors in our decision making process and we feel that the option we have settled on addresses all of these concerns. 

Our solution is to slice the building transversely into 5 equal modules or "rings", each within dimensions which can fit onto “Flat Racks”. We are still using the Flat Pack method where we can; the foundations, glazed middle section and solar canopy will all be shipped in standard containers. Flat Racks allow more flexibility as they are shipping containers with no sides or top.  This option allows us to prefabricate all of the modules with finishes, fixtures, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical equipment for simple connection on site in Washington, DC.

Now that we have the basic method decided we are working on the detailing of the modular structure to ensure a quick, reliable, and watertight assembly in Washington.

The transportation of the house accounts for one of the greatest risks surrounding this project, however we are making the most of the expertise we have been offered from a range of industry professionals to minimise these risks. Now that we have a method of shipping determined we need to make sure we have the funds to get it there!

From left to right, the First Light team: Nick Officer, Ben Jagersma, Anna Farrow, Eli Nuttall

For more Design Daily stories on First Light, see these stories:

Big backing for Kiwi solar bach 

Kiwi bach ingenuity thrust into limelight

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