On the rise

On the rise
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You may have seen these guys regularly featured on Idealog’s blog. First Light is a young team of bright and innovative student minds from Wellington’s Victoria University who have been hard at work over the past year designing the best little Kiwi bach, with a solar twist. But what should make you really sit up and take notice is that this is the first team from the southern hemisphere to make it to the finals of the prestigious US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon.

The competition challenges 20 global teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that will be judged in a series of ten contests, on criteria such as market appeal, architecture, affordability and energy efficiency.

It’s a massive undertaking, and required a jump in team size from four to over 40 members. As well as enduring a number of trial-and-error attempts to determine how best to ship a house halfway around the globe, the team must ensure the house contains all the build and design features required to meet the competition’s strict criteria. Come September, the team will hopefully see all of its hard work realised when it launches into the intensive seven-day event.

–Deirdre Robert

first light exploded

To compete in the US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, the solar-powered First Light bach must be cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. Here’s an inside look:

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1 Cladding is being fixed to the modules using an innovative detachable cladding system designed by the team’s Brendan Laurence.

2 A timber canopy houses the solar array. A multi-purpose design feature, it provides shade, gives aesthetic appeal and acts to support and cool the solar array.

3 The large transparent glazed skylight allows sunlight to penetrate the space to provide heat and light during winter. As with the windows, overheating in the summer can be a problem so a shading system for the skylight has been introduced to allow for total control of the interior climate.

4 Large windows have been positioned along the side of the house—north-facing during its time in the Northern Hemisphere and south-facing here in New Zealand. The windows allow light to flood the interior space in winter and heat the thermal mass floor. In summer, these windows would cause the house to overheat if left exposed but the team has solved this problem by extending the solar canopy to provide shade for the windows during summer.

5 A passive solar design principle, the concrete flooring takes in heat and releases it, helping maintain a stable temperature inside the house.

6 Four layers of wool insulation gives the house an R-value (used by the building and construction industry to measure thermal resistance) almost three times greater than building codes require in New Zealand.

7 The heart of the house design is the glazed middle section which acts as a bridge between the natural environment and the indoors. As well as being perfect for socialising and entertaining, it also acts as the comfort control centre for the house. Large doors on both sides can be opened to allow passive cooling of the house during summer.

To transport the house to the US, the team decided on slicing the building into five equal modules or ‘rings’, each within dimensions which can fit onto flat racks—shipping containers with no sides or top—allowing more flexibility. The option allows the team to prefabricate all of the modules with finishes, fixtures, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical equipment for simple connection onsite in Washington, DC.

The house has been designed to withstand up to 180 kilometres per hour.

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