Tiny House Blog
In October 2016, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is hosting the Tiny House Competition. Santa Clara University is one of ten teams competing in the inaugural contest patterned after the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. For the past two years an interdisciplinary undergraduate team has been researching, designing, and building rEvolve House, SCU’s 238-sq- ft entry in the competition, which will be judged in four categories: architecture, energy efficiency, communications, and home life. All are welcome on to visit the competition at Cosumnes River College on Saturday, October 15, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., to tour the entries, attend workshops, visit exhibits, and more.
October 15, 2016
WE WON!!!! Excitement was brewing this morning as the teams gathered for the announcement of the winners of the competition’s sub-categories and main categories. But we were trying to keep our hopes in check. We’ve learned from our Solar Decathlon experiences that you never know how the subjective judging is going to go. So, though we’d won outright in the measured contests, we couldn’t be sure of the outcome.
Of the 20 judged sub-categories, SCU won 6: day lighting, integrated lighting, interior design, best kitchen, best program, and best tour. We started to let ourselves believe. Next, the four main categories were announced. Energy: Santa Clara University. YES!! Architecture: Laney College. That’s okay. Communication: Santa Clara University. YES!!!!! Homelife: Berkeley. Champion: SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY!!!!!!!!
Hugs, tears, joy. Then the team gathered on their beautiful deck for photos and held Papa Reites’ green hardhat high. Congratulations, Tim Hight for leading this team to victory. Congratulations, team; you bring such pride to SCU!
October 14, 2016
It’s a beautiful day for a solar contest…not! Gray skies and downpours make power generation problematic, but rEvolve House’s batteries were fully charged as of last night, so the team is feeling good about their ability to meet the competition’s needs.
This morning the architecture judges did their walk-through of rEvolve House with teammates George Giannos (environmental science), Anna Harris (civil engineering), and Samantha Morehead (electrical engineering). While teams were required to follow recreational vehicle standards for construction, SCU’s students took it to the next level, building to California Building Codes as much as possible. “They asked a lot of questions about the code. I told them we put seismic ties on our SIPs [structural insulated panels] to make it as structurally sound as possible,” said Anna.
A few minutes later the reporter from local television news, Good Day Sacramento, coaxed the team into mixing it up (without music!) for their “Friday Morning Dance Party.” Looks like we are educating the whole person—these Broncos have the moves!
During a break in the action, I had a conversation with Gregorio Garcia Portero, Technical Manager for Colossun and longtime solar energy developer. Colossun is the company that makes the solar tracking system used on rEvolve House. I asked how his company’s relationship with Santa Clara University came about. Here’s the scoop:
“I’ve been involved with Solar Decathlon in Spain through the Universidad de Zaragoza,” he said [Gregorio is a mechanical engineering master’s student there], “and I’ve followed the international competitions, as well. I saw that Santa Clara had done well in the 2007, 2009 and 2013 competitions, but had never taken first place, so I contacted James Reites in January of this year to see if we could work with SCU on an entry for Solar Decathlon 2017. Jim told me SCU wasn’t a participant in that contest, but that they were entered in this Tiny House Competition in California. My company offered to build a tracking system for rEvolve House and we’ve been collaborating for months on the project. Two weeks ago, when the ring was delivered to Santa Clara, I came and installed it, assisted by the SCU students. After testing, we took it down, transported it to Sacramento and installed it again. This is the first time we have built a system for a tiny house and we’re excited to help Santa Clara—hopefully to first place!”
We hope so, too, Gregorio!
October 13, 2016
After three days of frenzied hyperactivity getting rEvolve House ready for competition in Sacramento, the atmosphere in the Tiny House Village appears positively sluggish today by comparison. rEvolve House teammates lolling on the deck look a bit like the sea lions stretched out on the docks in Santa Cruz or San Francisco. But appearances can be deceiving.
Though they’re not wielding hammers, drills, and screwdrivers, they have been tweaking a pesky Raspberry Pi that reset during the night and kept lights blazing for hours, checking the heating system which seems a bit off, and managing a slew of officially-measured contest tasks: Heat 8 gallons of water to 110 ° F, heat 5 gallons of water on a stovetop to 212° F, keep the refrigerator between 34° and 40° F and the freezer between -20 and -5° F; maintain a constant comfort level in the house between 70-78° F (“Close the door!”), fully charge a depleted cell phone and tablet, run a hairdryer for 7 minutes, provide lighting of at least 800 lumens in the kitchen and safe and sufficient lighting elsewhere…. These are some of the daily measurements being taken in all of the tiny homes this week.
The team remains upbeat and confident. As of this writing, they are ahead in the official standings. Everyone here does feel there’s an angel on our shoulders. Fr. Jim Reites’ signature green hardhat is lovingly displayed on a top shelf in the kitchen—friend and mentor watching over the team that misses him dearly.
Tomorrow is Media Day and your Broncos will be on their toes—polished, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about rEvolve House. This is where they really shine; great spokespersons for the project and awesome representatives of Santa Clara University!
October 12, 2016
Today is the day all the houses had to be ready for judging. Luckily, SMUD gave the teams some extra time to get ready. As long as they were onsite by 6:30 a.m., they could have until noon to construct their houses. While the rEvolve House team didn't need every minute of that bonus time, they were glad to have it!
Judging began at 9:20 a.m. with a toilet test. "We passed—figuratively speaking!" joked Tim Hight, faculty advisor. Next came the shower test and JJ Galvin, student team leader, reports that they reached 98 degrees on the hot water, enough to score two out of four possible points. "We've made some adjustments so we'll be good for the next hot water test, and we also heard that only two teams scored any points at all in this morning's test, so we're feeling good," he said.
As the final touches were made and the site was nearly all cleaned up, student construction lead George Giannos was circling the site, hugging his teammates. Others were heard saying, "This house looks sick!" or "Our house is dope!" Couldn’t agree more; rEvolve House IS dope!
Hope you can come out and see it for yourself: Saturday, October 15, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Cosumnes River College. Go, Broncos!
October 11, 2016
Today has been a flurry of activity! There are so many last-minute finishes being made to rEvolve House: paint touch-ups, plants planted, window coverings hung, furniture placed, pillows plumped, and books tucked onto shelves—all the things that make a house a home. A bag of groceries sits among the construction materials on the worksite. The team will stage the kitchen with these. Among the items, Milk Bone dog biscuits. It’s a sweet reminder of who the team is building their tiny house for. The motto printed on the back of the team’s work shirts is another reminder: “rEvolve House. Turning lives around.”
The team is honored to be creating this home for the folks at Operation Freedom Paws (OFP) in San Martin, California. Following the competition, rEvolve House will be installed at this nonprofit organization that empowers military veterans and others with disabilities to restore their independence by teaming them up with a service dog. OFP founder, Mary Cortani is a Certified Army Master of Canine Education; she prepared dogs for work in sentry and explosive detection during the Vietnam era. She does much the same thing through OFP, training dog-and-veteran teams to deal with the daily minefields encountered by those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and/or any number of other physical, neurological, or psychological challenges. Cortani reports that for many clients just going to the grocery store or talking with strangers can be overwhelming, but a dog can help.
Cortani matches the client with a dog (most come from shelters and rescue groups) and together they train two to four times a week for 48 weeks. The dog learns how to help the client stay calm and focused in potentially dangerous or stressful situations. As trust is built, the veteran is able to venture out into the world.
While the cost of a service dog ranges from $10,000 to $60,000, all of OFP’s services are provided to veterans and others with disabilities at no cost. In support of this work, Santa Clara University is donating rEvolve House to OFP following the competition. The tiny house will serve as temporary accommodation for trainers and as a space for clients to work together. Now, if that’s not Engineering with a Mission, I don’t know what is!
October 10, 2016
Monday morning and the team is in full swing getting rEvolve House ready for competition. Everyone is intent on their tasks. Some are unloading decking material from a truck and laying it on top of the solar tracking system, others are checking the saltwater energy storage batteries, a handful are inside the house working on the plumbing problem, the control system, or cleaning scuff marks off the walls, and one is phoning local vendors looking to fill some unexpected, last-minute need. Every now and then, punctuating the sawing, drilling, and hammering, you hear a laugh, some playful banter, or a call for "an extra pair of hands over here, please!" But mostly, they work quietly, purposefully, and diligently.
Noontime and work pauses for just a moment as the tiny house entry from Cosumnes River College cruises majestically into the parking lot like an ocean liner on wheels and passes slowly by rEvolve House on its way to its assigned spot in the Tiny House Village. Everyone on our team turns to check out the competition, assessing its aesthetic appeal as best they can from this cursory look, then…back to work. Saws, drills, and hammers start up again and focus is trained on the tasks in front of them.
And there’s a lot to do! Deck, appliances, and the spiral staircase leading to the rooftop space need to be installed, the toilet hasn’t been tested yet, and the solar tracking system has never been tested with the decking installed. But there's good news: the plumbing problem is fixed!
SMUD officials stop by to consult with team members on how best to install the data acquisition monitors that will be used in the energy contest, team members make a run to Lowe's and Home Depot, and work continues throughout the afternoon.
Late afternoon; the sun is sinking low and the planter boxes have been installed in the wall garden that will be irrigated using grey water. Nine pairs of hands are working together to muscle the spiral staircase into position. Meanwhile, two other teammates are on the ground directly beneath them, lying on their backs and hammering the underside of the deck, which is really shaping up. One teammate is on the phone arranging for a late pickup of materials because her teammate is stuck in traffic. Five of the ten competing teams still haven't checked in, but our crew is grateful for every single minute they’ve had to work on rEvolve House over the past two days.
It's been a great day; a lot of progress has been made, and they'll be back at it early tomorrow morning. By 5 p.m. Tuesday the houses are to be “one hundred percent ready for testing, measuring, and visits by judges."
The Tiny House Competition is open to the public on Saturday, October 15, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Cosumnes River College. Come on out and see it all for yourself!
October 9, 2016
Greetings from Sacramento, where SCU’s Tiny House team is readying for competition in California’s inaugural Tiny House Competition. After several looooong nights in Santa Clara this week, the team, their house, and three large rented trucks filled with decking and all sorts of gear arrived in Sacramento around 4 a.m. Saturday.
The road to get here was not exactly drama-free. One of the most innovative features of SCU's rEvolve House is it's solar tracking system. This rotating ring was designed and built to the team's specifications by a company in Spain and was ready to be dispatched when Hanjin Shipping declared bankruptcy, leaving delivery in jeopardy. Tim Hight, faculty advisor, reports that our friends at The Pasha Group saved the day by arranging for it to be put on an alternate ship and then transporting it on their truck across country from New York, delaying final arrival by only about a week.
Once it arrived in Santa Clara, the team had just days to install and test the system. Attached to the trailer on which the 238-sq- ft house is built, the 40 ft.-diameter metal ring is programmed to follow the sun. (Watch a CBS report on it.) The house's design uses a minimum number of solar panels, so capturing as much energy as possible during daylight hours is crucial to the team's success in the energy contest. An added bonus: The large expanse of the tracking system creates a great space for an outdoor deck, nearly doubling the living area and capitalizing on California's love of being outdoors (which will hopefully pay off in the home life contest).
After attending their classes during the day, the team burned the midnight oil working on the tiny house last week and got the ring rotating and the deck decked-out just in time to tear it all down, pack it up, and hit the road for the competition. But first, a layover at the house where the team will headquarter throughout the week. After catching a few hours' sleep, the students were up and at 'em before noon on Saturday. One of their first tasks was testing how well the plumbing fared during the 100+ mile trip. Sadly, not so well. How did they know there was a problem? "When we hooked up a garden hose to our system and water started pouring out from beneath the bedroom," student team leader JJ Galvin said with a sheepish grin. "We think something happened when the house was jacked up or when we took the ring down," he said. "It appears to be two problems; one was easily fixed by tightening a connection, but we think a pipe is broken. We'll redo that line and test it."
At the end of the day, the solar tracking system was nearly completely installed, the solar panels were up and already lighting the house, and the team was looking forward to another long day on Monday, starting at 6 a.m. and working until 7 p.m.
Having watched this team come together and work on this project for the past two years, I'm moved and honored to have this front-row seat as their hard work comes to fruition. If you ever wanted to see a Santa Clara engineering education in action, this is it: A hands-on, open-ended project; problem-solving on the fly, teamwork to the nth degree, and yes, some drama along the way. But what a sight to see—students from multiple disciplines working together, keeping cool under pressure, interacting with respect for one another and for the task at hand.