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UNLV Team Readies Solar House For Worldwide Competition

An aerial view of "Sinatra Living," the aging-in-place, solar-powered home being built by a team of students at UNLV to take to the worldwide solar decathlon competition in October.
Courtesy/UNLV solar decathlon team

An aerial view of "Sinatra Living," the aging-in-place, solar-powered home being built by a team of students at UNLV to take to the worldwide solar decathlon competition in October.

If any group of people should know about the sun and how to live in it, its Nevadans.

Probably not as much as a team of students at UNLV, however, who are using the power of the sun to create a fully solar powered house.

These students from a wide array of undergraduate studies will take the house to Denver, Colo. for an upcoming Solar Decathlon

It’s a competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy that challenges collegiate teams from all over the world to build full-size, solar-powered houses.

UNLV will try to defend its title, winning first in the United States and second in the world during the 2013 decathlon.

"We're hoping to go for gold this time," Adam Betemedhin, the project engineer for the Solar Decathlon team, said. 

Betemedhin said they want to win first in the United States and the overall grand prize this year.

They've been building the home since March, but the whole process started two years ago.

Betemedhin said students from several different disciplines are part of the effort.

“This is a full university effort," he said, "So we have students from every department that you can think of. We have people from fine arts, who are going through and designing the home, as well as looking at the energy efficiency of the home from the school of architecture. We have students from the college of engineering who are working one on one with students from the architecture team to help design the home and make sure the home is very energy efficient.”

There are also students from the communication department working on marketing and business students working to raise money for the project. 

The project is also using students from the university's health sciences department because the focus of the home is aging in place. So, students are looking at making sure the home is accessible for people with mobility issues.

“We wanted to design a home that allowed these people to stay and live in their home without having to move out into a nursing home,” Betemedhin said.

Betemedhin said the team wanted to focus on aging in place because they are hoping to design a home for the future. They called the project "Sinatra Living," both for the demographic they're aiming for and for the design style, which is decidedly mid-century modern. 

The home is American with Disabilities Act compliant and it is a smart home.

“We designed our own little home automation system that controls very broad features," Betemedhin said, "So, something as simple as turning off and on a light to adjusting the temperature in the home to larger scale features like looking at the overall energy consumption that the home might have this month compared to last month or water usage this month compared to last month.”

The automation system can also move the shade partitions and the adjustable shelves.

The home must also be fully furnished.

“This home has to be fully accessible, fully furnished," he said, "Fortunately, for us, we have some really great interior designers from UNLV that have gone through and looked at every single detail and really designed the home for the target market.”

The home will soon be moved in pieces to Colorado where it will be reassembled for the competition. 

Adam Betemedhin, project engineer, UNLV solar decathlon team  

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.