NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry

Field Trip!

Posted on Oct 12, 2011 by Adrianne Gracias

NECA Transmissions features posts from CEO John Grau and other NECA staff and leaders about industry projects or issues they are following. Today’s post comes from: Adrianne Gracias, NECA's Online Communications Manager

Since I’ve lived in the D.C. area most of my life, it’s rare that I get to be a tourist in my own town. But this past Friday, I took at field trip to the Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon, where 20 university-led student teams from around the world, were given two years to design, build and operate an affordable energy-efficient single-family home powered by the sun.

The DOE developed 10 contests for grading team submissions to determine their successfulness in the real world. The “off-grid” homes were graded on: affordability, attractiveness, in-and-outdoor environmental conditions, practical living spaces, power production for home appliances, lighting, and the ability to produce hot water.

The unfortunate timing of this event landed it during a week with barely any sun, which made the competition extremely hard. Go figure, the Solar Decathlon, without any sun! I immediately noticed just how much these homes depended on natural or ambient light. When asked why the insides of the homes appeared dark and dreary, over and over I heard students patiently answer, “Well, it is pretty cloudy today.”

The University of Maryland team didn’t require cloudy excuses; their home was well lit and nicely landscaped. The WaterShed home was designed to promote a sustainable lifestyle, while protecting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed through a holistic approach.

UMD Students tackled this obstacle by incorporating a modular constructed wetland to filter and recycle rain and graywater, a green roof improves energy efficiency and slows runoff, and an edible wall garden system and composter to encourage organic living practices.  WaterShed is a split-living design, with angled “butterfly” roofs that direct rainfall into the constructed wetland. Separate public and private living areas are connected by the bathroom and water axis. Having grown up in Maryland, I was particularly interested in this house, and after taking the tour I wasn’t at all surprised they took home this year’s top prize – Go Terps!

While touring new technologies and listening to students’ worldly interpretations of the “green market” is fun, it’s also my job. Since I work for electrical contractors, I know how our members are closely following these new markets. Energy efficiency upgrades and renewable power installations are becoming the bread and butter for some electrical contractors. The innovative strategies I saw at the Solar Decathlon will directly influence the future of commercial, industrial and residential electrical construction.

It’s imperative that we keep a close watch on these new technologies and develops training that keeps up with market innovation and customer demand. NECA works with the DOE and the NFPA to ensure that these new markets are implemented in a safe, effective and knowledgeable manner. The reassurance of hiring a qualified electrical contractor is what sets NECA contractors apart.

So, what’s my actual reason for loving Maryland’s award-winning WaterShed home? It closely follows my personal ambitions, by promoting a clean, renewable, organic and healthy lifestyle, right in my backyard. That, and crab cakes.

View all of my photos from the event on Flickr >>

About NECA Transmissions

NECA Transmissions is a collaborative effort from CEO John Grau and NECA staff to provide insight and feedback on key issues from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry.

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