Sunday, June 7, 2015

Students build affordable, zero-net-energy home for farm workers

UC Davis students are kicking off a summer of design and construction to build “Aggie Sol,” a zero-net-energy home intended for farm workers.
Aggie Sol marks UCD’s first time participating in the Solar Decathlon, a competition hosted every two years by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Since 2002, the Solar Decathlon has invited university students from across the globe to apply their research skills to creating zero-net-energy homes. This October, 18 universities selected out of a pool of 150 applicants will compete in a weekend-long series of Solar Decathlon contests in Irvine.
At a construction kickoff ceremony Friday, UCD students and supporters met to showcase Aggie Sol as it moves into one its last phases. After more than a year of planning the house, the floorboards are bolted down and at least 50 students are ready to build through the summer so it will be ready for the competition in October.

Since UCD’s Solar Decathlon team was formed in March 2014, more than 300 students have participated, said Robert Good, the team’s project manager. While most are design and engineering majors, sociology, communications and English students have joined in.
At the center of the project are goals for sustainability and well-being. The planning stages included an analysis of farm worker housing by the sociology department, Good explained.

“They found that farmers tend to have a lack of public space, living quarters and energy efficiency,” Good said. “This is the first house of its kind.”

A rendering of the Aggie Sol house's interior shows an open kitchen, dining and living space. Designed with farm workers in mind, the zero-net-energy home is being built by UC Davis students competing this fall in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon in Irvine.

A rendering of the Aggie Sol house's interior shows an open kitchen, dining and living space. Designed with farm workers in mind, the zero-net-energy home is being built by UC Davis students competing this fall in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon in Irvine.

During the ceremony, Adela de la Torre, vice chancellor for student affairs, spoke about the wider importance of Aggie Sol to California’s agricultural communities.
“This can change the image of how we look at affordable housing,” de la Torre said. “One needs to have dignity where one lives.”
De la Torre recalled her research in the Central Valley, where she found herself in the home of a single mother.

“The windows were broken and they had no furniture. … I thought to myself, I’m trying to fight obesity and these individuals don’t have a dignified place to live.”
The Aggie Sol house is aimed at supporting health and dignity among these farm workers.
One of the component of these goals is reducing the amount of pesticides to which a farm home may be subject. Often, a farm worker may return home with clothing covered in pesticides from the field, explained Alex Perez, a fourth-year civil engineering student.

Robert Good, project manager for UC Davis' Solar Decathlon team, speaks at Friday's kickoff event. Since the team was formed in March 2014, more than 300 students have participated, Good said.

UC Davis students who are participating in the Aggie Sol project and supporters sign the floorboards at a public event Friday. From left are Brielle Mansell, a UCD history student who is not working on the project; Pedro Do Vale, a mechanical engineering major who is the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning team leader; and Elsa Lu, an art major working on the project's design.


In order to create a barrier for these pesticides, the home includes a “cleansing room” where workers can place their clothing and wash before entering the rest of the home.
Projects like Aggie Sol are important to Perez, who has been on the Solar Decathlon team for a year.
“I’m from a low-income area in L.A. and I want my home to be low-energy one day … but it’s just not affordable,” Perez said.

Contained in less than 1,000 square feet, Aggie Sol will include two bedrooms, a kitchen, dining area, living room, cleansing room and bathroom.

Aggie Sol’s zero-net-energy design has sustainable features in all areas of the home, including solar panels, rainwater collection and radiant floor piping that heats and cools the home from below.
Altogether, the home has sufficient temperature control and insulation so that it can remain between 71 and 76 degrees at all times.

Outside, the house will be lined with planters filled with drought-tolerant plants and “food menu” plants, such as basil and chilis, said Ben Hu, the project’s landscape lead. The landscaping is connected to the house so that greywater from sinks and showers is used to water the planters.
“The biggest thing is making sure it’s resilient … and that we can get food out of it,” Hu said.

A rendering of the Aggie Sol house's exterior shows solar panels and low-water-use landscaping that takes advantage of a greywater system. Designed with farm workers in mind, the zero-net-energy home is being built by UC Davis students competing this fall in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon in Irvine. UC Davis/Courtesy photo

Once the competition is over, Aggie Sol will return to UCD, where it may be used as student housing for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Good said. Other possibilities include using the building as a research station at Clearlake orLake Berryessa, or putting it up for sale for a landowner or farmer.

The team is aiming to have their work done by Sept. 1 so they can spend a month performing tests on the building. After that, the house will be transported down to Irvine via the trailers it’s built upon.
“It’s a big push to finish this summer,” Good said, “and we’re making the sprint.”

— Reach Felicia Alvarez at falvarez@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8052.

Article Link: http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/ag-environment/students-build-affordable-zero-net-energy-home-for-farm-workers/