If at first you don’t succeed – so the adage goes – try, try again. Which is exactly the mantra from West Virginia University’s first-ever foray into the Solar Decathlon.

The Mountaineers hope to see you back in 2015!

While the WVU Solar Decathlon team did not win the competition, it did bring home first place in the Integration of Nature and Technology category.

More importantly, however, the team fulfilled what it set out to accomplish: building a solar-powered, energy-efficient house from the ground up.

The Solar Decathlon is a design-and-build contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Team Austria, consisting of the Vienna University of Technology, claimed the top spot in the international competition.

Still, WVU students learned a valuable lesson or two from the experience, and being selected to participate in the competition alone is an accolade itself.

“We feel accomplished,” said Sharrafti Kuzmar, a computer science student and member of the 2013 WVU team. “We got the house done. We represented WVU. That was our full intent.”

The team got off to a sluggish start in California, where the contest was held this year, as it was penalized for plumbing issues and trucks hauling materials from West Virginia arrived out of order.

Students still managed to top the house off with some Mountaineer charm. The WVU house was the first log-style home accepted into the Decathlon. It relied on natural resources to control temperature and incorporated a smart home system that utilized sensors for various features.

Plus, it was “homey” and smelled like white pine. In other words, it didn’t resemble what you would envision as a futuristic home – or something out of the Jetsons.

“People walked in and said, ‘I could live here,’” Kuzmar said. “This actually looks like a house.”

The WVU team consisted of about 50 students across multiple disciplines, including the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the College of Creative Arts, the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism and the College of Business & Economics.

Provost Michele Wheatly, who joined the team in California, said the University is proud of the students.

“What they designed – and what they executed – was an extraordinary achievement,” she said. “All of the teams in the Solar Decathlon should be congratulated, but our team, who constructed entirely on site, really stood out. Even many of their competitors were cheering them on during the competition, marveling at the from-the-ground-up construction they achieved.”

Several teams’ houses had prefabricated sections – making assembly generally easier.

Count that as one of the things the WVU team learned. They’ll have even more time to learn and relearn from their own experiences as they plan to rebuild the house at a location yet to be determined on campus. A National Science Foundation grant will enable the rebuilt house to be used as a test-bed for the use of nanotechnology in developing sustainable, healthy and smart indoor environments.

Kuzmar expects students will rebuild it by the end of the academic year.

“Come next competition, we’ll have a different mindset,” she said. “We’ll be ready.”

Wheatly believes this will give students valuable practice – and allow them to continue working among a diverse group.

“Our students want hands-on, practical, goal-driven learning,” Wheatly said. “This is real-world learning, and it’s the future of learning. With the Solar Decathlon they worked the way they will their careers, in a diverse team from a wide variety of intellectual and personal backgrounds, with a series of looming deadlines – and they excelled.

“I feel compelled – and energized – by the impetus that this event provided to WVU, to generate more learning opportunities like the Solar Decathlon for all our students,” she said.

To view a video on the WVU Solar Decathlon team’s journey, go here.



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