Meet Lance Waterman


Waterman holds his brown labrador, Jasper, in front of his barn on Weybridge Street. (Owen Teach)

By Owen Teach


In its mad dash to complete the 34 panels set to comprise the InSite house in the 2013 Solar Decathlon competition, the Middlebury team, while somewhat familiar with construction and carpentry, needed some outside help. Enter Lance Waterman, a Middlebury-born contractor and University of Vermont graduate, with his chocolate lab named Jasper. In order to get all of the panels done in time for the house’s first fabrication period (that is, putting together the panels in a sort of “test run” before shipping them by rail to Irvine, Calif. for assembly during the competition in early October) slated to take place during spring break later this month, the team has turned to Lance to expedite the panel construction process. While students on the team are tasked with developing and finalizing the plans and are also involved actively in panel construction, the team will lean heavily on Lance to ensure that all 34 panels are made in a manner that fits the project schedule. Construction of the panels began at the end of January, and the inside of his barn just 5.1 miles away from the College out on Weybridge Street (pictured behind Lance and Jasper) looks like an industrial lumber yard as the project is in full tilt. I caught up with Lance earlier this week chat about InSite.

Middlebury Campus: Why did you decide to get involved with Solar Decathlon?
Lance Waterman: I was invited to help finish the construction of the 2011 Solar Decathlon project, and the opportunity to work with the students [this year] is truly fantastic – a very ambitious, motivated bunch of people and on a neat project that you just don’t run across every day. So often, real budget and payback analysis and things limit projects, but a project like this, where it’s more about trying concepts and showing some of the cutting edge stuff that most people wouldn’t put in a house this size, is neat.

MC: What has been the most rewarding moment thus far?
LW: Meeting the different students. There’s a couple of students in my interaction with the project, [namely] Brandon Gell ’16 and Kate Eisemann ’15, that seem to be doing a lot of heavy lifting. I know that [Gell], for example, wanted to build, and in order to build someone has to draw the plans. So, he took it upon himself to learn the CAD program and draw the panels, which is just an enormous task. [While] Kate does management … and people throw everything at her and she manages to organize it – it’s amazing. As I was getting involved in it, people would say, ‘Hey, have you met Kate yet?’ and after the third or fourth person said that I started wonder ‘Who’s this person?’ Those two seem to just put it together. To meet people of that caliber is super fun.

MC: What has been the most frustrating moment thus far?
LW: The frustrating part only would be that the students are generally trying to learn a whole knew language: construction. In most construction projects where you build something, you frame it, you rough in plumbing and you rough in wiring, and there’s all these opportunities to get something fixed. You have all the walls and you lay out the circuits and if you need to add another wire, you add another wire. For InSite, trying to figure out which things I don’t know and the students don’t know about these panels’ specifics is sometimes challenging, because they know more about how overall it’s going to be put together. So, trying to identify the unknown is really the only frustrating part. It’s a whole different language and it’s a whole different way of looking at things. [It’s] certainly not a “keep me awake” frustrating part. There’s not one of those.

MC: With all that has to go on before the competition in October, do you think the team will have the house it wants at the Decathlon?
LW: It’s an evolving target, because you have a high turnover group and students of different ages coming in and out of the project at different times. Students who are involved in it in the very beginning aren’t involved in it at the end. So, you don’t have as much continuity and if a student conceives of an idea in the beginning and they leave and someone else picks it up, then their idea might just not end up in the final house. And, likewise, you have students coming on that want things in the house that, realistically, to realize that in the house you would’ve had to have them built in ahead of time. So, there will be pieces that won’t make it through, but the student group is certainly not one mind and different people are fascinated with different things.

MC: What do you like about the InSite design?
LW: Coming up with a whole design for a house that fits in shipping containers and is shippable that way: that is unique. They are making this house so that it ships by rail, and I think that’s one of the neatest things in the house. Overall, it’s cool that [the team] has a compact house that showcases a lot of technologies. There’s a lot of steel that goes into the frame, and there’s a lot that’s got to come together.

MC: What has been the biggest challenge for the project?
LW: It’s a small team with a big project, and people sign on and have no idea how big of a project it really is. When crunch time comes and people have other obligations, the biggest challenge is going to be that it needs to stay fun and challenging and not overwhelming. You don’t want the group of people who worked on this thing to, when [they] see each other in a year or five years, just go “Oh my god we knocked heads so bad” and look the other way. So the biggest challenge is keeping it fun and making people glad they did it.