The Seeds of Building – Ball State Daily
Ball State’s R. Wayne Estopinal College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) hosted a premiere for their entry titled the Alley House in the 2023 Solar Decathlon hosted by the United States Department of Energy on July 13. Solar Decathlon’s goal is to design and build a net-zero energy home within two years.
Groundbreaking is a ceremony that celebrates the start of construction.
“A net-zero home will produce as much electricity on-site as it will consume in a year,” according to the Architectural summary.
CAP is partnering with Englewood Community Development Corporation (CDC) and Gratus Development for the project, said Tom Collins, assistant professor of architecture, via email.
Englewood CDC is focused on creating affordable housing in Indianapolis. The Alley House is part of Englewood CDC’s plan to develop 20 duplex-style homes on vacant land in the Englewood neighborhood.
Construction of the duplex is expected to be completed in February 2023, said Emily Rheinheimer, a student responsible for the project.
CAP began preparing for the competition during the summer of 2021 and was given the go-ahead to begin construction of the duplex in April 2022. The Department of Energy gave each group involved in the competition $50,000 for building the house, Pam Harwood, professor of architecture, said.
Each half of the duplex will feature three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a kitchen and living space totaling 1,350 square feet.
The Alley House is expected to have a lease to own – after 15 years of tenancy, tenants can purchase the house. A community land bank is also on the house to make it affordable housing.
Rheinheimer began working on the Alley House in the fall 2021 semester in a studio class. She stayed there for the spring semester of 2022, then was hired as a student during the summer.
Rheinheimer’s responsibilities as student leader were to organize and focus on community outreach both in Ball State and in the neighborhood. She had the opportunity to organize the first groundbreaking and manage the project website.
Since Rheinheimer has been part of the project from the start, she has the ability to learn and grow with him.
“I was very excited about designing this type of house, especially in our type of climate in the Midwest,” Rehinheimer said, “because it’s so tough, and it’s a little bit harder to design net-zero homes in the Midwest, but that’s in… the warmer climates of the Southwest.
For the house to be net zero, CAP must take into consideration the energy spent on shipping. Their main goal is to stay as local as possible.
CAP starts by looking for companies and products that follow guidelines set by the Indiana Department of Energy. If not found in Indiana, they expand the search to the Midwest and the entire country.
“It’s always a challenge, always, to balance affordability with the best product you can use,” Harwood said.
One practice CAP uses to save energy in the home is a technique called continuous insulation (CI), which is more typically used in northern regions like Canada, Harwood said.
CI is basically like rolling a blanket over and over the house, which helps keep the heat or cold in, Hardwood said. For this type of insulation, CAP uses mineral wool from Byhalia, Mississippi, and cellulose from Pennsylvania.
Cellulose is made from wood fibers and mineral wool is made from spun stone. This form of insulation makes the wall about 42.6 inches, Hardwood said. The standard wall in Indiana is 18 inches.
Another technique that CAP focuses on is sealing and taping, which is tied to the house IC. CAP tries to have an airtight seal and not let heat or cold escape from the house, creating a thermal envelope.
Other aspects of the house that make it a net zero are the solar panels on the roof, the ventilation system and the direction of rainwater to the gardens.
To help save energy and money for transportation, CAP students built the cabinets and counters in the house from recycled materials. The students also plan to participate in other aspects of the construction, such as helping with the foundation.
“From a student perspective, learning is really important because they often think it all stops at the design,” Hardwood said.
She said the construction actually allows students to see the decision-making throughout the process.
CAP students will not be the only ones able to help and learn from this construction. There are plans to involve a local college and Purdue Polytechnic High School in the design and construction process of the net zero duplex.
There will also be Community Building Days on campus and onsite in Indianapolis.
CAP uses “community carts” for its constructions. A “community charrette” involves people interacting – physically or mentally – with the designs they have created to see how they work.
When they built their full-scale cabinet prototype, CAP took it to a preschool center for families to try out the product, and they talked to middle schoolers to see how they would interact with the living space, Harwood said.
“Community reach is really important to us,” Harwood said. “The more we can do to involve people, the better.”