Solar house work begins behind Westcott

Project designed to show benefits of green energy.

When students at Norwich University set out to make an affordable solar house, they figured out what a median household could afford, and then cut that by 20 percent.

“Solar power housing isn’t something of the future, it’s actually something of yesterday,” said Matt Lutz, assistant professor of architecture at Norwood University in Vermont. “It worked a long time ago, but it’s really available now.”

Lutz and students at the university designed the award-winning solar house now situated on the lawn of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Westcott House near the intersection of Greenmount Avenue and Main Street.

The winner of the “most affordable” solar housing in the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Irvine, Calif., the 1,000-square-foot home’s electric system is completely run on solar energy. A slim solar film on the roof isn’t flashy, but harnesses 5.8 kilowatts. In tests, Lutz said it generated 15.5 kilowatt hours above the needs to power the house.

“We expect that this house in this environment is going to be net positive, meaning it’s going to produce more energy that it consumes,” he said. “That includes hot water, that includes space heating, that includes cooking. It’s the total energy package.”

Donated to the Westcott House, it would cost $168,000 to build the same house somewhere else. But knowing you would have an energy surplus makes it an endeavor that would eventually pay you back, said Marta Wojcik, executive director.

The house includes two bedrooms, a living area and kitchen. The only utility not covered through solar power is a water hook-up. Tours will be set up through the home, and Wojcik said it will be used as a teaching tool for how “green” energy is attainable and affordable.

“I think that we all know of solar energy. It’s been around for awhile now. But to actually see it in person and walk through the space, I think it’s going to be quite an eye-opening experience,” she said.

A crane was used to set the home in place. Work is being completed on the interior, and Wojcik said they expect to celebrate the solar house’s grand opening in the spring 2014.

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