UC Davis’ “Aggie Sol” Net-Zero Home

Jun 16, 2015
Aggie Sol - Team Photo square

On June 4th, 2015, Bob Massaro and Stephanie Price met with a student panel from the Aggie Sol project, UC Davis’ team competing the in prestigious Solar Decathalon.  We were very impressed by the design and by the enthusiasm of the students involved, and asked them to write up a blog describing the project.

By Robert Good - Project Manager, UC Davis Aggie Sol Team

For the first time since its inception in 2002, the students and faculty of UC Davis has chosen to participate in the world-renowned U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. The competition challenges participants to design, build, and operate a zero-net-energy home that is cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. This 2-year task would be the largest and most comprehensive student-led project ever tackled by the University. This is not, however, Davis’ first venture into zero-net-energy housing; the university has already built two significant projects that achieve that goal. In 2011 the university built the largest planned zero-net-energy community in America, West Village, at cost to similar housing units. Following up in 2013, the Honda Smart Home US achieved zero carbon living using advanced technologies at an above-market-rate cost

In 2014, UC Davis was one of 20 universities selected out of over 100 applicants for the 2015 Solar Decathlon competition. Naming our team the Aggie Sol, students have demonstrated the resourcefulness, innovation, and spirit that UC Davis is renowned for. The first action of our students was to dedicate their house design towards addressing the unique needs of agricultural workers and other low-income families across America. To achieve this ambitious goal, students consulted on-campus resources and research centers including the Energy Efficiency Center, Center for Water-Energy Efficiency, Institute of Transportation Studies, and more.

The completed design features several innovations which allow the home to be affordable, efficient, and fit the needs of the target audience.  To start, the architecture of the house is purposefully split between a large public space and an isolated private space giving occupants the comfort to participate in gatherings or to relax privately. An attractive design with conventional materials provides dignity and comfort to families who may not always enjoy such luxuries. Exterior window shades, a combined mudroom and laundry, and an ADA accessible floorplan elevate the design to something greater than any agricultural housing that has come before.

The engineering of the home features technologies and research unique to UC Davis, and innovations to existing construction techniques. These include a night-sky cooling system that captures the ambient night temperatures to cool the house in a radiant floor system during the day or hot summer months. This system benefits from an economy-of-scale and can be applied to multiple housing units without much added cost. Additionally, the home features an efficient, custom structural design called “balloon framing” which reduces material usage, increases the energy efficiency, and lower the man-hours required to build the home. Lastly, a brand new third-party technology is being introduced through our home which utilizes the greywater created through the use of the house to pre-heat incoming water, thereby reducing heating loads and energy fees.

Since UC Davis began this ambitious project, over 300 students have participated with backgrounds ranging from sociology, engineering, design, communications, English, and more. Dozens of faculty, staff, industry professionals, and federal employees have donated their time, knowledge, and resources to the project to guarantee its success and quality. On Friday, June 5th we made our progress public by presenting the sub-floor construction of our home to the media and press. Leaders at the university spoke of the importance and significance of the project, including Vice Chancellor de la Torre, saying “this [project] can change the image of how we look at affordable housing.”

It is the hope of the Aggie Sol team to leave a lasting impact. Our work into affordable zero net energy housing has sparked interest and talk about the quality of life of agricultural workers, and the general public. A generation of graduates are proudly announcing their newfound interest for sustainability and residential housing design. All participants have benefited from the education and knowledge they received by challenging themselves and their university to accomplish the difficult task of designing and building a structure of this scope. Additionally, this project further establishes UC Davis as the premier zero-net-energy housing research facility in America. Having paved the path, the Aggie Sol team hopes to see this project continue into the future with a strong presence and eventually become part of the curriculum at UC Davis.

Aggie Sol - Birdseye Rendering

Screen shot 2015-06-15 at 3.32.17 PM