First Light signs off with a retrospective look at the year’s highlights

First Light signs off with a retrospective look at the year’s highlights

All good things must come to an end, and that includes our regular blog updates from the super successful First Light team, who finished an impressive third place out of 19 teams at the US Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon Competition.  The Victoria University team was the first team from the Southern Hemisphere to make it to the competition, an impressive feat in and of itself. In their final blog for Design Daily, the team looks back at the most memorable moments in what has been a very challenging and rewarding year.  

With the Solar Decathlon over and the Victoria team back home in New Zealand it seems like a good time to take a look back over the past year at some of the highlights for the team and the Meridian First Light house. 

Finishing the design process 

This time last year the design for the house was completed and we were getting ready to begin construction.  At that stage we were seeking funding and still not sure if we had the funds to get the house and the team to the US. 

House under construction in Lyall Bay shed 


Early in 2011 the First Light house became the Meridian First Light house. Meridian’s support gave us the security we needed to make it to the competition. 

Frank Kitts Park 

Construction of the house was complete (almost) and the student team along with builders from Mainzeal worked tirelessly in the mud down on Wellington’s waterfront to get the Meridian First Light house assembled in less than 7 days. 

While the assembly was a stressful time for the team (many members were juggling assignments with construction duty) it was well worth it.  The practice assembly gave us a huge amount of experience and meant the same process in the US went incredibly smoothly. Not only did we get to practice wielding a hammer (or drill), we also got to hone our tour guiding skills with 20,000 people passing through the house over the course of 18 days. 

Up for auction 

On the very same day the house left by ship from the port of Tauranga, bound for the US, it was sold by auction at Harcourts in Wellington.  

It was a moment of mixed emotions for the team who would be sorry to eventually say goodbye to the house but were happy the house would be lived in and made into a real home.

Reaching dry land 

The team had a slightly nerve racking month while the house was on the water, but once it arrived safely in the US and word was sent back that no damage was done, everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. 

The Solar Decathlon 

The competition in Washington, DC was what we had been working towards for so long. We had a great time during the competition in the US, with one highlight after the next. Here’s just a few of them: 

-  During assembly, being named the safest team of the bunch (while this was not part of the judging we took pride in the planning that had gone into place which allowed us to keep a very safe and orderly site).

-  Being the second team to get all of the sign off’s required, all with hours to spare before the deadline. 

-  Seeing the Meridian First Light house complete with the Washington Monument in the background.

-  Finally getting to take a look around the 18 other amazing houses and meeting the teams who were responsible for them.

-  Taking thousands of the US public through the house. Better yet, the public responded incredibly well to the house and to the team, even if the words ‘bach’ and ‘deck’ did illicit a few giggles.

-  Having a number of Kiwi expats and VIP’s through the house including Helen Clark.  One of the nicest things about taking the Kiwis through the house was their remarks that the house made them feel like they were back in New Zealand.  We may have inadvertently made a few people a wee bit homesick!

-  Placing 1st in the engineering section of the competition – a bit of a surprise to most of the team! Plus 1st equal in energy balance (proving the house is net zero!!) and hot water, 2nd in architecture and 3rd in market appeal.

-  Getting 3rd overall had to be the best moment of the competition. When the first results of the competition came out we were sitting at 9th place. But over the course of a week we inched our way up the ranks and to our joy made it to third place after the final results were announced. 

The team is back in New Zealand now and the house is due to return to Kiwi shores shortly. This has been an incredible experience for all those involved and we couldn’t have done it without the support of so many New Zealanders. 

Thank you to those who have followed our progress over the past months, we’ve had a blast! This will be our final blog, we hope you’ve enjoyed the ride!

Tours of the house in Washington, DC 

Washington Monument behind house

The team celebrates after placing 3rd  

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