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Solar Decathlon 2015: Clemson University ‘Joins’ Indigo Pine

Originally published on 1Sun4All.

Clemson University from South Carolina is benefiting from the past by using a classic construction technique to build their net-zero energy Indigo Pine competition house for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015. The team says the house embodies the history of South Carolina while looking to the future of sustainability. Like a traditional Southern house, the house will have a porch, it will be an integrated part of the whole and the ceilings are gabled, even though the roof is flat.

Indigo Pine will look unlike any house before; however, it will be as welcoming and familiar as any traditional South Carolina home. Ernie Tucker, a member of the Energy Department’s Solar Decathlon communications team brings us the rest of the story.

In South Carolina and much of the United States, homes are typically constructed using lightwood stick-framing methods that use small, light pieces. We looked at these techniques but found they required experienced labor and created potential safety hazards with nail guns and construction high on ladders. –Lauren Kenner, an architecture graduate student who was part of the group’s early design team.

solar decathlon Clemson

Members of the Clemson University team gather at the Orange County Great Park on January 9. | Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

So the team came up with a unique solution. It created a construction system called SimPly, which uses a computer numerical control, or CNC, wood router to cut pieces. The SimPly construction method employs traditional mortise and tenon joinery—with the tenon tongue fitting into the mortise cavity. It’s a widely used application to join pieces of wood, particularly at 90° angles.

As a result, the structure of the house can be assembled without the use of power tools or cranes—something the team believes is an environmental benefit. Hazards are also minimized.

It looks like a 3-D puzzle when the pieces are laid out. –Lauren Kenner.

solar decathlon Clemson

Clemson University’s Indigo Pine house will be created using a computerized construction system that enables the team to email files to a partner in California, who will cut the pieces. The house can then be assembled onsite, with no shipping required. | Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Clemson University team.

The 1,000-ft2, three-bedroom house reflects the team’s Clemson, South Carolina, heritage—indigo is a famous dye from the state, and pine is a plentiful material used in the state for generations.

The team will construct Indigo Pine “East” in early spring. Yet, because of the SimPly system, computer plans for the house—rather than building materials—can be shipped anywhere. Parts can then be manufactured at any site using local materials.

That’s how the Clemson team will assemble its house—Indigo Pine “West”—at the Solar Decathlon 2015 competition site in Irvine, California. Working with a partner company in California, the decathletes will email their files and then pick up the pieces in the Golden State—no shipping required. Although they won’t have to truck wood across the country, South Carolina’s yellow pine will be there in spirit.

solar decathlon Clemson

Indigo Pine has all the traditional elements of a Southern home but rewrites the vernacular to create a house for modern, sustainable living. | Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Clemson University team.

Other parts, such as windows and fixtures, will be the kind you can get from a store like Home Depot. –Lauren Kenner.

To secure the structure of the house, the team will use stainless steel zip ties. Teammates at Clemson’s Charleston campus will design and craft custom cabinets to define space within the open interior of Indigo Pine and reflect traditional South Carolina vernacular style.

The concept for SimPly sustainable housing won’t end when Solar Decathlon 2015 is over. Kenner says one of the team’s ideas is to develop kits so that people all over the world can buy ready-to-assemble housing from stores in their own country.

Thinking about attending Solar Decathlon? This year’s competition is scheduled to take place at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California from October 8 through October 18.

The Solar Decathlon competition houses will be open to visitors — free of charge — from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily on eight days over two weekends:

  • Thursday, October 8–Sunday, October 11, 2015.
  • Thursday, October 15–Sunday, October 18, 2015.
 
 
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Written By

-- I am an artist, painter, writer, interior designer, graphic designer, and constant student of many studies. Living with respect for the environment close at hand, the food chain, natural remedies for healing the earth, people and animals is a life-long expression and commitment. As half of a home-building team, I helped design and build harmonious, sustainable and net-zero homes that incorporate clean air systems, passive and active solar energy as well as rainwater collection systems. Private aviation stirs a special appeal, I would love to fly in the solar airplane and install a wind turbine in my yard. I am a peace-loving, courageous soul, and I am passionate about contributing to the clean energy revolution. I formerly designed and managed a clean energy website, 1Sun4All.com.

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