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Team Tidewater Working Feverishly on Solar Decathlon; Fundraiser Set for Aug. 2

Solar Decathalon Solar Decathlon team members give Daily Press reporter Sarah Pawlowski a tour of the construction site.

The pressure is on for Team Tidewater, the joint Old Dominion University-Hampton University entry in the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

At the construction site on the Hampton University campus, teams of students from the two schools are working feverishly to bring the Team Tidewater home design, called Canopy House, to life. By early September, construction must be completed on the house, which must then be taken apart and shipped cross country to the Solar Decathlon site at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif.

"We have eight weeks, then we're going to have to start disassembling the house," said David Peronnet, assistant professor of architecture at Hampton University and the project's principal investigator. "It's going to be busy."

Some logistical issues have pushed the construction schedule back, but once the final material for the walls arrives on site by July 20, construction should move quickly, Peronnet said.

Mike O'Toole, who graduated from ODU in May with a degree in mechanical engineering, said the all-hands-on-deck aspect of the project has surprised him. "I knew it was going to be a lot of work. I wasn't expecting how much intensive labor it was going to be," said O'Toole, 24, the health and safety manager for Team Tidewater. "I've had to show volunteers how to use things like this," the Virginia Beach resident said, brandishing an electric nail gun.

Tabita Daolio, a Hampton University student in the architecture master's program, had an idea what awaited team members. Daolio, 22, from Brazil, was a frequent volunteer for Team Tidewater's 2011 Solar Decathlon entry, which was constructed on the ODU campus.

"It's very never-ending," said Daolio, architecture project manager for Canopy House. "I used to go three times a week (in 2011), but now it seems like I'm here all the time - nights, weekends. There's so much work to be done, but it's fun, too. I don't think I've learned this much in anything else since I've been here."

The Solar Decathlon challenges university teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are affordable, energy-efficient and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends cost-effectiveness, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

Team Tidewater's entry in the 2011 Solar Decathlon, known as Unit 6 Unplugged, finished 14th in the worldwide competition. The architecture students from Hampton University and engineering students from Old Dominion earned a spot in the 2013 finals with their Canopy House design.

Using the inspiration of the canopy of a tree, Canopy House is envisioned as a safe, universally designed, solar-powered home. With smart home technology, including a tablet-based program through which homeowners can monitor and control all the electrical functions in the house, the home is designed to facilitate an independent lifestyle, including accommodating residents who may have mobility or vision impairments.

Project engineer Taylor McLemore, 19, an ODU sophomore civil engineering major from Chesapeake, said a central, light-up wall in the home, known as the DIEM Wall, shows the homeowner everything going on inside the house, such as energy consumption and production during the day and throughout the month. This information allows the user to make educated decisions regarding daily energy-consuming activities such as cooking, washing clothes or watching TV.

"It's done in the shape of a tree, as well, which grows lighter and dimmer, depending on energy levels," McLemore said. "It's on the central wall of the house, so it will be a really attractive feature when people first walk in."

The promise of an award-winning, sustainable, attractive home keeps Team Tidewater members working their hardest through the time crunch. The finances for their Solar Decathlon entry have proven challenging for Team Tidewater as well. The cost to break apart and load Canopy House onto seven trucks and ship it across the United States and back is approximately $200,000.

On Friday, Aug. 2, Team Tidewater will host a "Benefit of Sustainability," an evening to honor the team and support the Canopy House effort. The event will be held from 7-11 p.m. in the HU Student Center Ballroom.

The program, which features dinner, music and a fundraising auction, costs $75 to attend. For more information about the Team Tidewater Benefit of Sustainability, contact Carlton Copeland at 330-423-7891 or ccopeland@canopyhouse.org. Supporters of the project who are unable to attend can pledge their support by visiting www.canopyhouse.org and clicking the donate button.