Lawmaker Moves Into Solar-Powered House

The Associated Press
Friday, January 26, 2007; 6:15 PM

RICHMOND, Va. -- Senator Frank Wagner is staying warm at his temporary address, despite below-freezing weather and without a traditional power supply or fireplace.

The Virginia Beach Republican, a proponent of alternative energy sources, is living for a week outside the Science Museum of Virginia in a solar-powered house designed and built by Virginia Tech students. He moved in Wednesday.

Using a remote control and a computer, Wagner is testing whether the award-winning home can generate enough electricity from the sun to run everyday home appliances, and still have enough left over to send to Richmond's power grid or charge an electric car.

"The house is designed to be self-sufficient, but there's a lot of things that could be adapted into existing houses today," he said Friday, after spending his second almost glitch-free night in the 800 square-foot home.

The house is warmed by heat that comes up through the floor, and has a rainwater harvesting system and automated mood lighting. It also features a wide-screen television and kitchen appliances chosen for their energy efficiency.

All of it can be manipulated while sitting on a couch and tapping on a tablet computer connected to the building's control system. And all of it is powered by the sun's energy, gathered by rooftop photovoltaic panels and stored in the home's battery system.

"We call it the non-compromise solar house," said Robert Schubert, associate dean of research for the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech.

"We want to show that you don't have to huddle around candles and be dressed in all your clothes to be comfortable in a house powered by solar energy," he said.

The home was built by 80 Virginia Tech engineering and architecture students and eight faculty members over two and half years.

It won fourth place overall at the 2005 Solar Decathlon, an international competition on Washington's National Mall sponsored by the Department of Energy. The home won first place recognition for its design and electric lighting and has since been featured on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and HGTV's "I Want That!"

Students at Virginia Tech designed a house in 2002 that won awards at the Solar Decathlon for its engineering innovation, Schubert said. For the 2005 competition, they focused on livability.

"When you came right down to it, the 2002 house would have been hard to live in for awhile," he said.

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