December 2005

CU’s championship solar house features many waste-reduction elements

The University of Colorado’s international champion Solar Decathlon house included many waste-reduction features, including the use of vermicomposting, recycling, a composting toilet and biodegradable cornstarch and bamboo dishes.

The zero-energy, solar powered home – named BioS(h)IP – featured an area for recycling, composting and trash built into the kitchen cabinets. Three large recycling bins were also placed outside the home. CU Recycling Development director Jack DeBell worked with students to “design for recycling,” making recycling as easy and convenient as traditional trash disposal.

Along with the recycling bins outside, the house featured a vermiculture bin to use worms to produce rich compost and nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Nearly 50,000 people waiting in line to tour the house over the week long Solar Decathlon Contest in Washington, D.C. were able to see the worms in the vermiculture bin and learn the vermicomposting process.

“Recycling and vermiculture composting are key ingredients in the proper functioning of the BioS(h)IP and any healthy, ecologically friendly home,” said Julee Herdt, professor of architecture and faculty advisor of the CU Solar Decathlon team. “We were very pleased to have had the opportunity to work with CU Recycling in the design of our system.”

The solar house also featured a composting toilet from Envirolet that comes with a natural substance that helps to break down waste quickly. There is a small motor attached that turns the waste and a vent so the smell goes out through the roof. The waste can then be used as garden compost.

“It sounds scary and gross, but it actually works quite well,” said Jon Previtali, a master’s student in student in CU’S Building Systems Program working on the project.

The City of Longmont will work with the CU Solar Decathlon Team to demonstrate the city’s first example of a composting toilet through the BioS(h)IP project. The house will be located permanently in Prospect New Town in Longmont, with the Envirolet composting toilet included in the home.

The use of cornstarch and bamboo plants and utensils also demonstrates the team’s commitment to waste reduction and minimal petroleum usage. The cornstarch plastic plates are just like plastic, but can decompose more quickly. Bamboo was used because it is a rapidly growing plant and an extremely sustainable wood choice.

The house was towed to Washington, D.C. and back with a truck fueled by biodiesel made from waste vegetable oils.

CU was one of 18 universities competing in the Department of Energy’s annual Solar Decathlon, which challenged students to design, build and operate the most attractive, efficient and comfortable solar home. CU picked up the first-place trophy at the Washington, D.C. competition for the second year in a row.

The house is open for tours.

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