Solar House of CARDS prepares to open doors

By Aisha Rodriguez


Nearing completion on campus is a water-efficient house with the ability to save energy, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, maintain and preserve earth’s resources, and improve indoor environmental quality.

The solar-powered House of CARDS, built near Alice P. McDermott Convocation Center, not only sounds like President Barack Obama’s “green” dream home, but an environmental superhero in itself.

The House of CARDS, an acronym for Cardinals Active Renewable Design with Solar, is a sustainable home operating solely off of photovoltaic cells. The solar (photovoltaic) panels atop the roof’s home create the home’s electricity.

A project of the Department of Engineering Management, the house plan was first conceived a few years ago when Kevin Moriarty, a former business administration student and student government president, told Dr. Alison Whittemore, the department’s chair, about a national solar decathlon contest.

When Whittemore did some further investigation, she said, she realized participating in a contest such as this could allow students to showcase their capabilities as engineers, as well as exercise their management skill. So the house became a project at first to create a 100-square-foot home design with a budget and timeline.

The 2008 Senior Project team took on the challenge, abiding by the solar decathlon’s rules and regulations, which insisted the constructed home must be environmentally conscious throughout the entire building process. The building’s design, construction, operation, and maintenance had to be entirely environmentally friendly.

Never imagining their creation would be built, the class presented the project in May 2008. The Spring 2009 Senior Project class later then decided to take this project a step further, developing a proposal to send in December 2009 for the 2011 decathlon. Accepted into the second round of judging, the spring 2010 seniors worked on the needed requirements for the semifinals. Although the home did not make the final cut for the 2011 Decathlon, a U.S. Department of Education grant allowed the students to proceed to construct the solar home on the campus. The latest group of seniors, however, has decided to completely redesign the home with plans of obtaining a Platinum LEED certification.

LEED, short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally recognized green building certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Receiving this type of certification is a very high goal for the seniors of this project, but one the students plan on obtaining with hard work and dedication.

“We have essentially over-engineered every system in the house,” Whittemore said. “The systems could easily handle a full 3,000-square-foot home. The platinum level, the highest one there is, requires 90 points. We should have over 100 points, with all our very efficient systems.”

Working with Project Manager Daniel Potter, who has helped oversee the students’ progress, the seniors have worked through all the complex processes needed to complete the project. Their dream of having the House of CARDS completely constructed is fulfilled a little more day by day and expected to be finished this fall.

For now, future Senior Project teams will oversee the project continuing to provide research, manage its construction, and oversee its use.

“While it is designed as a fully functional residence, with a bedroom, living room, dining, kitchen, office, and bath, it will likely be used as office space,” Whittemore said. Even though its use will be ultimately decided by the UIW administration, Whittemore would like to see the building “be used as a visitors center for people interested in green building. I hope that we will be a public center to inform and demonstrate efficient and green building techniques.”

She also suggested the solar home may be useful as a “learning laboratory where students could investigate the green systems in the house.”

As of now the future of the House of CARDS shines bright. It is again being considered to run the future 2013 Solar Decathlon, held biannually in Washington, D.C. Teaching students leadership and management skills, as well as the importance of teamwork and research, it has already fulfilled its purpose.

“Students have learned the complicated rules and regulations to get permits for a home, plus have learned to apply the technical training they received in their classes,” Whittemore said.


Upcoming House of CARDS projects including painting and the adding of a deck will allow students an opportunity to earn off-campus community service hours.

For more information, e-mail Dr. Alison Whittemore at


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