The team poses on the front deck of the Roots House. | Photo Courtesy of Juintow Lin

CPP students construct sustainable house Orange County Sustainability Decathlon

By Fabiola Aceves, Oct.23, 2023

A group of Cal Poly Pomona students showcased a sustainable house they constructed at the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon Oct. 5-8 and Oct. 12-15. Participating students ranged from civil, chemical, environmental, mechanical, electrical and computer engineering, regenerative studies and business administration.

The Decathlon included 10 different categories from which the participants were judged. This included sustainability and resilience, architecture and interior design, engineering and construction, communication and marketing, innovation, energy efficiency, water use and conservation, health and comfort, lighting and appliances and market potential. The house was built by many students from across the majors.

One of the advisers on this project was civil engineering Assistant Professor Sunai Kim. Kim found it was important for students to participate in a project like this one because it allowed students to follow in Cal Poly Pomona’s learn by doing motto and to obtain real world experience.

“We thought that it would be really impactful for the students to bring something to life from design to reality,” said Kim.

A project as complicated as this one took as long as three semesters to come to fruition. The designs of the Roots House began in the fall semester of 2022.

Kim noted how the project originally started with 24 architecture students and 24 engineering students. Teams of three engineering students and three architecture students were made, and each team was to design a schematic of what the house would look like. Students, mentors and advisers then voted on the house design that would be used for the project.

To make the house sustainable, the team had to put in countless hours of research to find what materials were the best option to use and would give the best result. Some of this research that was guided by Kim included a lifecycle analysis and a literature review.

“Some of the most notable materials that are carbon negative are bamboo decks and hemp insulation. We also selected materials from the living building challenges red list free,” said Kim.

The red list is a list of chemicals harmful for both the environment and humans, so the team had to make sure their materials were free from any of these harmful chemicals.

The outside of the sustainable Roots House. | Juintow Lin

One of the main focuses of this project was how to create a sustainable home, which includes reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emissions when building a home, which is what sparked the interest of architecture student and Design Lead Kevin Chimpen.

“What brought my attention to this project was during second year of the architecture program, we start talking about sustainability in which we’re trying to minimize emissions from construction and in general,” said Chimpen.

The creation of the house was not only about making it sustainable but also marketable and appealing to fight the California housing crisis, which influenced the design of the house.

“We wanted to make it modern, we wanted to keep that style and break the idea of the house being old and farm style,”  Chimpen said.

The realization of the house was made possible, in part, by the substantial financial investments secured from sponsorships and donors. There were around 40 plus sponsorships that helped create this project. Pilar Cuadros-Arias, a chemical engineering student, oversaw this process. The job included talking to sponsors and providing different ideas for fundraising to achieve the goal.

“Every Friday we had a big important business meeting asking an investor for $20,000 or $100,000, it was very intense,” said Cuadros-Arias.

The creation of this project was not only a valuable learning experience to the students but to the advisers as well.

“The project was the epitome of learn by doing, from the business to the engineering to the architecture to the fundraising,” said Cuadros-Arias.

The project served as a great way for students to learn about teamwork and to find solutions to a common problem.

“I think the most valuable thing I learned is how different individuals with different backgrounds can gather together, work on the project and aware people about the California home crisis and global warming,” said Chimpen.

Kim credited the students for all their hard work.

“Students who persevered over the summer, our most challenging time for our time because we didn’t know if we were going to be able to execute the project,” said Kim.

During the duration of this project, the team had to overcome many difficult obstacles. However, the team was able to persevere and ultimately win awards at the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon. The team placed third overall; first place in communication and marketing along with a first place tie in energy efficiency and health and comfort; second place in architecture and interior design and lighting and appliances; third place in market potential, water use and conservation, sustainability and resilience along with a third place tie engineering and construction.

Students and faculty can learn more about the team on its website.

Feature Image Courtesy of Juintow Lin

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