by Dana Santasiero
The GROW House is a dream for urban gardeners, especially in Western New York. Imagine being able to grow food during our harsh winters in our own homes.
This is the idea of a team of students at the University at Buffalo who built the GROW House, an energy-efficient house that includes a greenhouse, which recently won second place in a national competition for solar energy called U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015. Being such an original house, this GROW House was able to sweep away 15 out of the 17 teams in the competition.
The concept and design of the GROW House was different from the other houses in the competition because it was based around food.
The GROW House was the only entry that had a greenhouse, explained Amanda Mumford, a student and the public relations manager of the project.
Being able to grow food inside all year round can conserve energy. If a family grew their own produce it could save them a trip to the grocery store and could save the resources that it takes for produce to be delivered to stores. It could also reduce the amount of plastic involved with packaging produce, which cuts down on fossil fuels.
The competitions showcased different aspects of the house: architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort zone, appliances, home life, commuting and energy balance. Out of the 10 competitions, the UB team received a perfect score in energy balance and commuting.
The energy balance competition measured energy used by the house vs. energy created by the house. The GROW House came in first place because it created more energy than it used. Solar panels were used to create energy for the house.
There are several steps that the students took to reduce the amount of energy used inside of the house.
A strong passive design was created that included thick insulation and a strategic placement of the windows. Mumford used the term “super window” to describe the windows installed in the house. They are triple paned and contain argon in the middle. They do not open, but the thickness of the windows helps maintain a constant temperature inside of the house.
The greenhouse also acts as a thermal buffer which allows the heat of the house to stay inside.
The students did not add a heater to the greenhouse. The abundance of windows allows the room to heat on its own. In the winter the greenhouse will heat up enough to be able to grow cold weather vegetables, such as kale. Since these windows open, they can be used for cooling.
The home life competition aimed to get the full experience of the house and to determine if it is truly livable. The team had to cook dinner and host a movie night to prove how one can live in the house.
The GROW House is currently in storage for the winter, but in spring, when a foundation can be poured, the GROW House will be permanently set up on the UB South Campus, next to Diefendorf Hall, the building that houses the School of Architecture and Planning.
There are going to be several uses for this house. One of the most interesting uses will be for the public. The team is hoping that the public will be able to tour the greenhouse and learn tips on how to grow their own food inside of a greenhouse, along with classes on canning and preserving food.
Students at UB will also be able to experience the GROW House. Lectures and graduate seminars will be held in there as well.