Solar Decathlon student team prepares Iowa State's solar house for a road trip

AMES, Iowa -- How long does it take to disassemble a house, transport it halfway across the country and reconstruct it to exact specifications?

For traditional homes, the answer might be months or even years. Thanks to the Interlock House's unique design, the Iowa State University Solar Decathlon Team will accomplish this feat in the span of about three weeks, in time for the Oct. 8 start of the Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon competition on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The team will begin deconstructing the Interlock House during the week of Sept. 14, when four trailer trucks used for transporting the house to Washington will arrive at the construction site. Among the first tasks will be packing up the house's energy-efficient appliances and specially designed wooden furniture, much of which will be placed into crates.

Galley kitchen with energy-efficient appliances. Photo by Bob Elbert.

After that, the real fun begins.

Led by Project Manager Aaron Brncich, the team will then commence to strategically -- and carefully -- take apart the house itself. In order to reduce the risk of fracturing during the trip, the team will remove the majority of the house's windows -- along with the adjustable, paneled glass Nanawall surrounding the sun porch. Team members will also disconnect and store the roof's photovoltaic panels and evacuated-tube thermal energy collectors to ensure that they are not damaged during transport.

And, they will remove the house's roof and siding before detaching the dwelling's walls from the ceilings, floors and each another. The Interlock House's forward-thinking, modular design will allow many demarcated segments of the house to be separated, using nothing more than a simple utility knife.

Although faculty leader Ulrike Passe anticipates that surprises will inevitably arise during these final stages before the competition, she believes the team will clear any hurdles in stride.

"It will be a very interesting and challenging process, because none of us have ever had to tackle an assignment like this," said Passe, who is an assistant professor of architecture. "But I think we are well prepared, and the students who are doing this have always, while they were building the house, thought about how to take it apart."

Throughout the week of Sept. 21, a crane will lift pairs of the Interlock House's six primary modules -- essentially the left, middle and right sections of the structure -- onto separate trailers. Because the modules measure between 13 and 14 feet wide, and will overhang the eight-by-six-foot trailers, the drivers must exercise caution while navigating the 1,000-mile trek to the nation's capital. The modules will be strapped down and wrapped in waterproof tarps to prevent movement and damage. The house's decking will be loaded onto the final trailer.

On Monday, Sept. 28, the four trucks will depart Ames on what is expected to be a three-day journey to Washington. The team will be given a week to rebuild the Interlock House on the National Mall, where it will compete against 19 other homes and be viewed by tens of thousands of spectators, as well as media worldwide.