At the end of the Spring 2007 semester, team members from the ENCE489 courses were asked to comment on what they learned from their experiences while working on LEAFHouse. Their responses were so inspiring, everyone agreed those responses should be posted (anonymously) for everyone to view:
"The multitude of information that was discussed during class and meetings throughout the semester contributed to everything I learned in engineering, design, solar energy and architecture. Much of what I have learned was through observation and absorbing as much information as I could. The technical information that I retained from lectures and meetings proves to be extremely valuable as I continue to be asked questions about the house from people outside of the project and am able to explain things more clearly and concisely each time. I am very surprised at how interested I've become in green building and sustainable energy. I think that through triggering my interest in this class I will be much more inclined to learn more about these technologies above and beyond what I learned in [the class]. The team atmosphere that LEAFHouse has created between the engineering and architecture schools is extremely valuable as well. By making the class a part of the LEAFHouse team, I feel that I have been able to work and communicate better as a team member. Having experience working with members of other schools around campus is something that almost no one else on campus will be able to get."-- Civil & Environmental Engineering student
"It was nice to be in such a different environment where it wasn't simply about learning out of textbook but the practical application of my knowledge. It was interesting to see the process by which a project gets off the ground from being a concept in someone's mind, to a plan on paper, to a final product. Working in my landscape architecture studios I never got to experience this and it taught me a lot. The ... hardest part that I saw in it was the collaboration and communication of a group. It is surprisingly hard to organize 50+ people to work toward the same goal while working on different projects. I've never seen or thought about this before but without the proper organization it can be nearly impossible to communicate effectively. When working on the landscaping issues I learned about vegetative propagation through my own research and application, which was considerably more educational than doing ... an intro horticulture lab. I learned much more about native plants and [their] importance. It was fun being able to go out in the woods and simply clip plants to use in our site. I've learned from my experience on this project and consider it indispensable... because all of it was stuff you can't simply learn from reading a textbook but experiencing it first hand."
-- Landscape Architecture student
"What initially drew me to the class were the Engineering and Design aspects of LEAFHouse. I enjoyed learning about the different systems of the house and how they achieve multi-purposes. For example, how they are energy efficient, good for the environment, work with smart house and the owner, etc. These aspects of the design and engineering are the ones that really held my interest.
Working within the team dynamic and interacting with many different teams in order to reach a [single] purpose that is multidimensional ... was a critical factor.... I realized from the onset that the communications and interaction between teams was just as important as the components of the competition itself.
The current issues in relation to LEAFHouse that [I became aware of] involved the importance of green energy. What I thoroughly enjoyed was not only the "greeness" of the house, but how it could be viable from an economic standpoint -- in essence, the understanding that green energy is not only needed for the environmental condition but a practical means to solve the energy needs of the present."
-- Biological Sciences student
"I honestly feel that this class has tied together at least one aspect from almost every undergraduate class I have taken so far. Most of the time I found myself taking the fundamentals learned in class such as the basic heat transfer knowledge and applying them to an application associated with the LEAFHouse construction such as a solar collector. In most cases I needed these basic fundamentals in order to teach myself the more specialized aspects [of] solar design. The basic knowledge was ... vital for me to be able to reach and understand papers and books discussing current solar technology. In addition to the technical skills required, teamwork and collaboration [were] also a large part to this class. Not only do the systems have to be engineered to fill intended functions, but they must also be integrated into the aesthetics and architecture of the house. This required constant collaboration throughout the design process with the architecture and construction teams. One final unique aspect of this particular project is that the design and construction ... was interpreted and described to the general public." -- Mechanical Engineering student
"I learned how to work in a multi-disciplinary team, with a unified and coordinated goal. I learned about the design, funding, and promotion of a solar-powered building, which will help in my goal to become an architect specializing in environmental design. It was also helpful being involved in issues that affect architects, engineers, and communication specialists."-- Architecture student
"I learned how to deal with a wiki. I used CAD.... I also learned how to read a patent."-- Mechanical Engineering student
"While I learned a lot about the Solar Decathlon competition and enough about solar energy to answer people's questions at Maryland Day, what I learned this semester had a lot more to do with team dynamics, leadership, and communications. I discovered how important it is that everyone be connected and know what all other parts of the team are doing, because it is easy to get confused about who is responsible for what, resulting in things being done by multiple people or not getting done at all.-- Architecture student
"...[M]y ability to communicate concepts improved. I helped to design a system and components to meet the desired needs within the constraints of the project. I learned to appreciate the impact of engineering solutions in an environmental context. Solar energy does not pollute the environment. The course also got me involved with contemporary issues like environmental concerns and carbon footprint, etc. The course also allowed me to learn a little bit of CAD to create design schematics."-- Electrical Engineering student [referring to ABET accreditation criteria]
"This semester I was able to witness the flexibility of solar energy.... I learned of the many misconceptions the common population [has about] solar energy. Hearing these testimonies enhanced my ability to communicate with people and made me realize why this technology has yet to reach the market.... [T]his class has motivated me to design using sustainable energy sources throughout my profession, as solar technology is a perfectly viable and clean alternative."-- Architecture student
"[I] learned ... marketing of renewable energy in the context of entrepreneurship and selling the idea, ...how to communicate ideas effectively in front of a group of peers, ... the principles of energy finance, ... principles of solar design."-- Geography student
"The main reason I signed up for this class was to learn about the Solar Decathlon and how solar technology can be integrated into the construction of a house. Sustainable and ecologically efficient design has always been of interest to me and this class has given me the opportunity to indulge my curiosity. Learning the practical aspects of how a house is put together and how the various technologies [affect] its design was a very stimulating experience. I did not expect just how many different approaches can be pursued in the design of a desiccant wall, for instance. And when the engineers decided to change the mechanical system, thus triggering the need for two additional condensers, the design team had to find methods of integrating the boxes in an aesthetically pleasing way. Challenges like this added some excitement to the design process and made the experience that much more fun."-- Architecture student
"I learned the proper way to perform a [quantitative] take-off of a project. Putting together an estimate for such a multidisciplinary endeavor required constantly working simultaneously with several groups engaged in different projects and assignments. I was able to gain good experience in effectively communicating with many groups in order to create a centralized point of compiled information which pulls together the broader picture of each team's work. In the [previous] semester we learned about the devices which the DC and AC system will implement to convert solar energy into usable AC voltage. However, it was unclear how each of these pieces fit together in the process.... During this ... semester, I learned how to ... realize a solar powered electrical system and what precautions ... must be taken.... I was able to finally apply course work from my Electrical Engineering degree to a real-life application which will be actualized."-- Electrical Engineering student
"[I] learned a lot about how people in other majors use their skills obtained by their area of study, and it was neat to see how everyone with different knowledge presented their contributions. I learned a lot about ... the new technology ... that deals with homebuilding and energy efficiency.... I have gained a new experience that has taught me what it means to work on a huge project with a huge group, and I learned more about how we as landscape architects will deal with other fields in a real world situation."
-- Landscape Architecture student
"In all that I learned about solar energy and green building technologies, I feel that urban planning is probably the key factor to building an environmentally friendly society. While there are many exciting sustainable technologies that are emerging, there is no magic bullet that will solve all the problems. In particular, the American society is so focused on low-density development that require cars to get everywhere, that no matter how much we improve gas mileage or energy efficiency, we will still consume too many resources until we move closer together. Until Americans can adjust to this lifestyle change, we will always be behind the times. ... I have ... learned the importance of good project management. In seeing this project mostly from the construction side, I have experienced firsthand how important deadlines are in each stage of the process. On several occasions construction was either delayed or hindered due to incomplete designs or missing materials.... Another key takeaway from this experience is the importance of clear communication. When expectations are clearly set at the beginning, people can work together easier and ultimately the project will run better. Finally, I learned that with any major team project, it's important to remain flexible and keep an open mind. Often there are many factors that are beyond my control, the weather, schedules of teammates, etc. .... [W]e have to be able to adjust to those factors and be willing to work around them for the good of the team."
-- Civil & Environmental Engineering student
"I have learned about the many different aspects of solar technology..., as well as the design process and project management. As a leader I had to supply my team with usable information and tasks that would benefit the solar house.... I have become a connoisseur of solar technology."-- Pre-Engineering student
"I learned a great deal about the situation we are facing with solar energy. [A]n initial opinion of no concern ... quickly grew with an interest in the best way to change our lifestyles: start with the LEAFHouse. I have become significantly more aware of solar living and find myself telling anyone and everyone about our LEAFHouse, what it does, and the competition this year on the Mall. I have also learned a great deal about leadership and working with other students... and how to best communicate with them."
-- Architecture student
"...I learned much more than I ever expected. It was slightly intimidating coming into the project at this point.... However once we started working on our team projects it was very rewarding.... I learned about all the different systems in the house including the desiccant system and radiant heating. I also gained team skills.... my team had to design a solar generator and this was a great learning experience. We had no previous designs but we were able to come up with a design that we will be constructing.... I have also learned about a hot topic in engineering right now, and that is solar energy. This class sparked my interest in solar energy to such an extent that I decided to write my [Junior Professional Writing] final paper on this topic."
-- Civil & Environmental Engineering student
"This entire project has been a learning process -- from the initial stages of design of the house, to the completion of the Design Documentation..., to the integration of architecture and engineering, to Construction Documents, etc. The experience has been invaluable and has taught me a lot, not only about myself as a leader but also about coordination between disciplines and the management of people to complete or meet a common goal."
-- Architecture student
"Using solar energy in the form of electricity and thermal energy; coordinating with other trades (A, C, S, E); constructability issues regarding HVAC systems in residential applications; working with team members to successfully achieve a single goal; current building envelope products."-- Mechanical Engineering student
"This semester has been a constant learning process. Every day I am learning something new about construction, architecture and engineering in an integrated way. For example, last week I learned how radiant floor is installed. This learning experience encompassed the engineering aspects -- what calculations needed to be done, the architectural aspects -- how to choose a finish floor with radiant floor in mind, and the construction aspects -- what order the materials will be installed. I've also learned a great deal about leadership and myself in a leadership position particularly in the area of communication. I learned the need for constant, concise, and clear communication in all aspects of the project."
-- Architecture student