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Students at the Yale School of Architecture use hammers as well as T-squares in their daily education.

In an effort to fulfill the building project requirement of their first year of study, graduate students completed construction of a home Thursday. The welcome mat at 590 Orchard St. not only leads to the first home the architecture school’s Class of 2007 built, but also New Haven’s first home to use solar photovoltaic panels to produce electricity.

Since 1997, the School of Architecture and Neighborhood Housing Services have been working together to bring New Haven residents the opportunity to own homes, as well as giving first-year architecture students the prospect of designing and building a house. The YSOA Building Project is run as a contest, giving the students the chance to design and build a house themselves, with the exception of plumbing and electrical systems. Each of the five teams of students in the class submitted designs for the project and all first-years participated in building the winning entry.

Paul Brouard, the faculty member who oversees the annual building projects, said all this year’s designs incorporated photovoltaic systems.

“We’ve had a long history of energy conservation with our buildings and we have been given [an award] for the past six years on every building we have built,” Brouard said.

Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven is a nonprofit community development organization that is part of the national Neighborhood Housing Services of America. According to the organization’s Web site, its goal is to refurbish homes in blight and make them livable and marketable, resulting in increased home ownership in a city. The revitalized homes are usually sold to low to moderate-income residents, often with children.

What makes this house different than the homes previously sold by NHS is its green electrical source — photovoltaic panels.

Gabrielle Brainard ARCH ’07, who is interested in green architecture, explained photovoltaic systems as a cause and effect system.

The photovoltaic panels are made of a silicone semiconductor which absorbs sunlight and converts it to electricity. This electrical power is then run through the panels in a circuit-like manner. All the circuits are wired together, creating an entire electrically charged panel referred to as a “solar array.”

“With this system, you can produce three kilowatts of electricity instantaneously,” Brainard said. “That is between 25 and 50 percent of an average household’s daily use of electricity.”

In a house with a photovoltaic system, there are two electrical meters. In addition to the usual one measuring the expenditure of electricity, another measures the amount of power produced by the photovoltaic system.

The ultimate goal is for the two meters to be equal, or for a household to use as much power as is generated by the system, Brainard said.

“Of course, that doesn’t happen, but the energy bill is significantly offset,” she said.

Brouard said the photovoltaic system was used this year because an alumnus told the school about a new Connecticut state program that covers part of the cost of installing such a system.

This is the 10th year that the School of Architecture has worked with Neighborhood Housing Services. Brouard said when the building project originally started in 1968, first-year students were working on other sorts of buildings, but not houses. About 15 years ago when housing was in a “stark situation in New Haven,” the program switched over to homes, working with Habitat for Humanity.

“This was a good way to outreach to the community, which at that point was very significant since there was so much blight in New Haven,” Brouard said.

The role of Neighborhood Housing Services, said NHS rehabilitation specialist Collin Caplan, is a multi-faceted one. The organization has to ensure homes are marketable to low and moderate income residents, and the family or person buying the home is mortgage ready and able to settle on a price. This year, the student-built home sells for $150,000.

“The green architecture that we have been seeing is definitely a positive trend,” Caplan said. “The recently-built Pfizer building here in New Haven was the state’s first Leader in Energy and Efficiency Design certified building, and this is the second building. But we will be seeing a lot more.”

The LEED certification is a designation by the United States Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable building design and construction.
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