InSite takes Eighth in Solar Decathlon

By Emily Singer

InSite, the College’s entry in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, finished eighth overall in the 2013 competition. Nineteen collegiate teams were selected to compete in the challenge, which required two years of planning, designing and building, culminating in Irvine, Calif. on Oct. 12.

InSite finished with a score of 920.262 out of a possible 1,000. Judging was divided into 10 categories with a total of 100 possible points per section. InSite earned a perfect score in the Energy Balance and Hot Water contests, ranked third in Communications, Affordability and Home Entertainment and finished in the top 10 in all rounds of judging.

In comparison, the College’s entry into the 2011 Solar Decathlon, Self Reliance, earned 914.809 points but finished in fourth place overall.

InSite began its journey to California in September, when it was broken down into 50 panels and hundreds of smaller parts and shipped to Los Angeles by train, and then transported by truck to Irvine.

Solar Decathlon faculty adviser Andrea Kerz-Murray said that reconstructing the house in fewer than nine days was a challenge, as the College’s construction teams had to ensure that all electrical and structural connections were fully-functioning and secure.

With regards to scoring, Kerz-Murray wrote in an email that “overall goals for sustainability were less important” in the case of InSite, which incorporated a number of energy factors that did not directly fit into a particular judging category.

“Our team proposed a project that promotes urban density and local sourcing of food and goods,” she said. “This kind of thing does not get judged.Another example is affordability. While we did quite well in this contest [earning third place], we made material decisions based on embodied energy, local sourcing, durability and longevity as well as up-front cost. The contest only looks at cost, not lifecycle.”

This big-picture approach to the Solar Decathlon, looking and thinking beyond contest categories, is a reflection of the College’s interdisciplinary approach to design and construction.

“Coming from our Liberal Arts background we are proud to be able to compete with the rest of the teams which are coming from architecture and engineering graduate programs,” InSite Team Manager Gwen Cook ’13 told Middlebury Magazine.

When the InSite house returns to the College it will be rebuilt and used as student housing, placed next to the duplex located at 107 Shannon Street, across from Saint Mary’s School.

The next Solar Decathlon competition will be held in 2015, and while it is too early to know whether the College will apply for entry into the competition, Kerz-Murray predicts that future Decathlons will become increasingly competitive.

“I believe that the design excellence and innovation in the homes represented continues to get better and much more interesting and innovative. The competition is getting harder,” she said, noting that many teams scored within fractions of a point of each other, in both individual contests and overall.