Gable Home makes trip from C-U to D.C.

ECE News

Susan Kantor, ECE ILLINOIS

Story Highlights

  • Gable Home is the product of students and faculty across campus.
  • The house is moving from the Illinois campus to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the Solar Decathlon.
  • ECE students were instrumental in preparing the house.

A view of the Illinois Gable Home being set up on the National Mall. Photo by Richard King/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.
A view of the Illinois Gable Home being set up on the National Mall. Photo by Richard King/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

It took students from departments across the Illinois campus working for countless hours over nearly two years, but the Gable Home has made its move from south campus to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The 700-ft. Gable Home is the product of the Illinois Solar Decathlon team. Illinois is one of 20 teams selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to participate in a contest that judges teams on their ability to build a 100% functional solar-powered home. After being accepted into the contest, the Department of Energy gives the team seed money. But from there, raising funds, designing, building, innovating--that was all up to the students.

"I don’t think people appreciate the fact nearly well enough that this is a student project," said ECE graduate student Sairaj Dhople. "We had a contractor who built the shell of the house, but that was about it. Everything from there on in was entirely done by the students."

And a ECE students were instrumental in getting the house ready. Along with Dhople, ECE graduate student Charles Murray and ECE senior Stanton Cady helped install the house's solar photovoltaic (PV) power system. Each of the 40 panels that cover the roof produce 225 watts of power that can be pumped back into the grid. The system can produce a total of 9 kilowatts for the house to use. A typical single-person dwelling will use between 3 and 5 kilowatts at maximum. So, if the sun is shining very brightly, the house produces much more power than what is needed. The excess power goes into the grid, the meter spins backward, and a power credit is built.

Dhople said he is most proud of the PV system. Working on a budget, the team had to decide which company to use that would perform the best while working with the architects to ensure that it is still aesthetically pleasing.

“Any one of the students who has worked on this can walk into a company and manage a group of people because they have been there, done that, and are now fairly used to making quick, educated decisions.” Dhople said. "These are all traits that you maybe won’t pick up in the classroom, but this project has given us the opportunity to do so.”

ECE graduate student Jon Ehlmann, who worked on the house for his senior design project as an undergraduate, worked on the simulation of power from the solar panels and the home automation system. The home automation system consists of Insteon switches and outlets, and Ehlmann figured out how to control the switches.

“We chose to use Insteon switches because they have a really great feature,” Ehlmann said. “All the communication between the switches and the control unit is done over the power lines. This allows us to switch out a normal switch with an Insteon switch and be able to control it. We put it in a new house, but it’s very easy to put into any house.”

The team held an open house September 12-13 to show the community Gable Home’s features.

"Everything came together in these last few weeks," Murray said. "It was no longer people split up in their different groups trying to get different things accomplished. It's really turned into a team effort.”

All the components of the Gable Home--from the solar panels to appliances to the plants--were shipped to Washington, D.C., for the competition. Different crews of students will travel to D.C. for the set up, competition, and dismantling of the house.

The competition begins on Oct. 9 and has 10 categories teams will be judged on: architecture, market viability, engineering, lighting design, communications, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment, and net metering. The team with the most points at the end of the competition week wins.

Illinois also participated in the Solar Decathlon in 2007, where it came in ninth place overall and came in first in the market viability and comfort zone categories.

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