UMD Returns to the Solar Decathlon 2017 Hoping to Channel Their 2011 Victory

Emily Goo and Matt Lagomarsino in front of reACT

Image Credit: Edwin Remsberg

September 26, 2017 Samantha Watters

The Solar Decathlon is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and gives college teams a thrilling national platform to design, build, and showcase their own energy-efficient house. Students from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the School of Architecture, and the School of Engineering at the University of Maryland have been planning this house (called reACT) for 18 months, and it is just days away from completion.

From the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Emily Goo and Matt Lagomarsino are leading the efforts and showing their commitment to green technology and environmental health, in line with the college’s goals and values. They are both from the Department of Environmental Science and Technology, and are subteam leaders in charge of water systems and living systems, respectively.

What these two are doing for reACT is very innovative. The house will have a hydroponic wall in the kitchen to grow herbs and edible greens. This consists of a series of pots with no soil, only nutrients and water filtered down throughout the wall to conserve resources. They have also developed an intricate composting system, including a composting toilet to repurpose as much waste as possible and conserve additional water. The goal is to keep daily water use to 20 gallons per person per day, which is significantly less than the national average of about 100 gallons per person per day.

In addition to conserving water, water is constantly filtered and repurposed in this design. Light gray water as it is called, which comes from the shower, washing machines, and bathroom sinks among other places, is being heavily filtered through a complex system designed to remove particles, bacteria, and soap. According to Emily Goo, “The soap has been the biggest challenge, but the goal is to get this water back to potable standards for reuse in the shower, washing machines, and for irrigation.” This is cutting-edge, and it would help UMD showcase its skills in green water technology. It was water efficiency that led UMD’s entry into the 2011 Solar Decathlon to win first place (WaterShed house), and has contributed to the addition of a separate water contest in the competition, which our team hopes to win.

This year’s house also has a “green court” or indoor courtyard encased in glass that contains two living green walls, with one external green wall that can be rotated into the green court depending on the season. These walls have a built-in irrigation system and are going to contain many kinds of greenery. Since the competition takes place in Denver, Colorado this year, the green walls will feature native Colorado plant life to model the ecology of the area. This ensures that the house is as integrated into the environment around it as possible, helping it react to its surroundings. The aptly named reACT house will be donated to two Native American reservations after the competition, so Matt Lagomarsino chose a “diverse plant palette” that has had historically medicinal, herbal, or edible value for these tribes to honor their traditions and commitment to sustainable living. 

Both students are excited to be a part of this competition, and relish the opportunity to have a truly hands on experience designing and building something like this from scratch. It is the culmination of their academic training in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology, and they have gained valuable knowledge that they are so grateful for. Matt Lagomarsino said, “The collaboration is inspiring, working with people from all walks of life and volunteers that are here out of nothing but commitment to a good cause. I have learned so much.”

The house will be shipped out to Denver next week and reassembled prior to the competition, running from October 5th through the 15th. Both Emily Goo and Matt Lagomarsino will be attending and taking judges through the house for the competition. The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is proud to have such great students and environmental advocates representing the university and committing to sustainable and green technology.