UK design students help economy, environment

By Jen Taylor

Design graduate students get to be on the forefront of affordable, energy-efficient housing development while helping the Kentucky economy.

The UK College of Design has been working with the Kentucky Highlands Community Development Corporation since 2009, researching and building prototypes for energy-efficient houses.

An energy-efficient, low-cost home, which was designed by UK students, was constructed and put into place in late August by the company Stardust Cruisers.

The development corporation presented the problem of out-of-work houseboat manufacturers to the college. Houseboats used to be an upscale commodity, but with the downed economy, the industry has dwindled, said David Biagi, a faculty member on the project. The realization of a skilled workforce out of jobs and the need for energy-efficient housing has served as inspiration for this project.

This project helps Kentucky by using an 85 percent Kentucky supply chain, which means 85 percent of the materials used came from Kentucky, Biagi said. Kentucky’s job market will also be strengthened by employing many houseboat manufacturers without work.

Students spend a semester researching, brainstorming and looking at prototypes and the next semester designing these module homes.

Josh Ayoroa, a recent graduate who worked on the project as a student and now professionally, described the project as being on the leading edge of energy-efficient homes and described it as an “invaluable experience.”

“Some of the techniques are the first to be tried in this part of the country,” Ayoroa said.

This semester, students have been asked to study multiple family housing units and classrooms that can be similar to the single family housing units made earlier. Grants have already been received in order to complete this research.

“The students start out with the ‘anything is possible’ idea to try and encourage thought outside the box,” said Michael Jacobs, a faculty member working on the project.

Jacobs said a big part of each student’s work is understanding the market — what has worked, what has not and why.

This has been a way to create green jobs and design a product with a predictable energy cost, Biagi said.

Jacobs thinks that they have met their energy-efficient goals with the modular houses they have built. “We set a high bar for efficiency, but we have probably doubled the efficiency of a conventional house,” he said.

Jacobs partly attributed this to using insulation materials with less heat loss than conventional materials.