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February 6, 2013

Solar House will move to new home

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Ted Wilson, of Troy, waits to greet visitors when the Solar House was first installed at the Troy Civic Center in May 2008.

It started out as a good idea. 

ALOeTERRA, the 750-square-foot solar home designed by the students at Lawrence Technological University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon has stood on the grounds of the Troy Civic Center since the Troy Chamber of Commerce gifted it to the city in 2007 after purchasing it with a federal grant of $150,000. 

The aim of moving the home to Troy was using it as a living laboratory on sustainability.

The two-bedroom home features a dining room, a living room, a bathroom designed as a large wet room with the shower open to use every bit of available space, and an outdoor courtyard in the middle of the home. The students’ assignment was to follow the principles of reduction, sustainability and energy conservation to construct and display a solar home that would benefit the surrounding environment without sacrificing aesthetics or comfort. LTU’s estimated cost for the project was $550,000.

LTU students constructed a foundation and assembled the home at the Troy Civic Center in fall of 2007. The city of Troy installed water and sanitary sewer lines, storm sewers and sidewalks for approximately $16,000.

However, the heating system failed and pipes froze in December 2008, damaging the floors. Repair costs were estimated at $16,000.  

Other costs to bring the home up to code, which was required for a certificate of occupancy needed to use the home as an educational facility, exceeded $22,250, according to city Building Department estimates, which was unfeasible due to limited city resources.

So the city was never able to issue a certificate of occupancy to allow public admission to the house, and the home was never used as an educational facility.

Troy Economic Development Specialist Glenn Lapin told the Troy City Council at its Jan. 28 meeting that maintenance costs on the house ranged from $2,000 to $5,000 a year.

But the house will have a new home this spring when it moves to the WARM Training Center at Focus HOPE in Detroit. 

“It will be part of our training center,” WARM Training Center Executive Director Robert Chapman said.

The Troy City Council unanimously approved the proposal to gift the home to WARM Jan. 28. WARM will use the house as part of its energy weatherization-training center with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

WARM, a 31-year-old nonprofit that aims to promote development of resource-efficient, healthy homes and communities, will absorb all moving costs.

“It seems like a good deal for us,” Troy Mayor Dane Slater said.

Mayor Pro Tem Wade Fleming said it was unfortunate that the house was never used for educational purposes.

“For you (WARM), I think it’s a good move,” he added. 

The Troy Chamber of Commerce and LTU have written letters in support of the plan.

Lapin added that restoration of the site where the house currently sits will be nominal and done by the Department of Public Works.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.