Solar Cycle: Deconstructing The CMU Solar House

Blog | Posted on: October 5, 2018

Greetings Reuse Fans,

Way back in 2005, the CMU School of Architecture, in partnership with the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, approached CJ with a request to use our parking lot as the site to build a solar house. That’s right, a whole house in our parking lot! Sounds cool, let’s do it!

The house was to be an official entry in the 2nd annual Solar Decathlon (SD).  The SD is a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy in which teams design and build an energy-efficient, solar-powered house. The houses were reconstructed in a “solar village” on the National Mall in Washington DC where they were viewed by the public and judges of the competition. So after the house was constructed in CJ’s parking lot, it was then moved and reassembled on the mall. The building itself was actually designed to be disassembled, with no nails or adhesives used. This also helps in the deconstruction process, assuring that the maximum amount of material is reclaimed in a usable state. The solar house’s journey did not end at the mall, it came back to Pittsburgh where is was reassembled on CMU’s campus.

In 2018, the decision was made to remove the house. Respecting the environmental and educational roots of the project the house is being deconstructed. Construction Junction, the Urban Design Build Studio (UDBS) students from CMU, and 5 trainees from Landforce are working under the instruction of John Folan (head of the UDBS), Brian Swearingen (CJ’s Deconstruction Manager), and Dave Bennink of Reuse Consulting. Dave has deconstructed more than 1,000 buildings over his 25 year career in reuse. Rycon Construction is the construction manager on the site. In all there are 30 CMU students and workforce development trainees working together to learn the skills to take apart a building in a manner that maximizes its reuse and minimizes waste! A fitting goal for any structure, but particularly appropriate for a house that was designed to operate 100% on solar energy. We appreciate the support of CMU in the decision to deconstruct the house, creating a unique learning experience for the students and trainees. It’s pretty amazing that once these materials arrive back at CJ, they will have made a full 13 year journey back where to where the house was originally assembled!

By the way, a second Solar Decathlon House was built at Construction Junction in 2007. You can see  it being worked on during the very first Steel City Big Pour! That building now resides at the Powdermill Nature Reservewhere it is used as a lab facility.

More news to come as the house comes apart!

Mike Gable

Executive Director