This Is How They Did It

Ultimately, the jury isn’t sold on Middlebury’s passive approach. Self-Reliance finishes in 11th place, with 82 points. The disappointment is assuaged soon enough. Early the next morning, the DOE comes back with a revised cost estimate from the affordability contest. After reviewing Middlebury’s appeal, Self-Reliance’s estimated build cost has been lowered to just $282,570. The point gain is minimal, but the moral victory is sweet, all the same.

With just two days of competition left, Godine is now fixated on the home’s energy balance. A string of cloudy days has left Self-Reliance using slightly more energy than it’s capable of producing.

The meter shows the house pulling electricity from the grid. Worse, Middlebury’s main competitors have larger PV arrays and will have an easier time earning full points. He and Brown spend several hours crunching numbers and debating competition strategy. Is it worse to lose “comfort zone” points or blow the energy balance? Tomorrow’s forecast looks grim. The spread among the top five teams is narrow. It’s likely they’ll have to choose.


August 2011
Less than a month before Self-Reliance would roll down to D.C., I stopped by campus for a few days. Except for a bunch of little things and a few big ones, the home was finished. Folks still rose each morning at sunrise and haunted the farmhouse headquarters until well past midnight, but the pace wasn’t so frenetic.

During the past week, the team had been giving tours to local media and people from campus, and late one afternoon, Abe Bendheim led Liz Robinson ’84, who had graciously offered a converted barn on her property as summer living quarters for the recent grad, a stroll through Self-Reliance.

Stepping through the front door, she marveled at the delicate woodwork and ran her hand along the stainless steel appliances, as if she could see them in her own kitchen. “Is everything working? Any little snafus?”

“Everything works,” said Bendheim, laughing. “And nothing runs smoothly.”

He shared the story of the house through its details—the sheep’s wool insulation, the tap holes in the maple desk, the barn door closets. The books were on loan from architectural studies, the canned goods from the environmental studies house. For now, everything was artfully in place. In 16 days, it would all be torn apart and on trucks, headed south.

“How do you transport this? Aren’t you a little scared?”

“Oh, terrified.”

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