By January, Chad Corbin was the project manager. A Cornell grad, he'd come to CU after working in the real world for seven years. He had a graduate research assistant position at NREL and wanted to be a part of the solar-house project; he wound up leading it. "It became obvious that we needed somebody taking responsibility, just making sure things got done," he says. "I was nominated." As the Solar Decathlon took over his life, he gave up the NREL slot. And while other teammates claimed not to care about winning a third time, Corbin made no such statements. "I definitely feel a lot of pressure — not just on myself, because I put a lot of pressure on myself anyway, but because the team has won twice in a row," he said back in May. "It's definitely something to live up to, and I'd like to be able to sit here and say however we do, it's a victory. But there's some part of me that doesn't exactly feel that way. Maybe that's why I'm so freaked out."
Wanting to do well wasn't the only reason Corbin was freaked out. From the moment he took on his leadership role, money was a constant worry for a team that needed $600,000 to build and move the house it had designed. The only guaranteed funds coming in were $100,000 from DOE and $14,000 from students each semester; the team needed to raise everything else. But in March, Xcel Energy agreed to purchase the finished house for $200,000. And a lot of companies stepped up with products and other donations, including the site where McStain Neighborhoods let the team build. Still, there was a shortfall. "Designing and building a house was hard enough, but when you're trying to go out and scrimp money to make it happen, you just don't have the time," Corbin says. "It's an additional burden we all have to take on to try to get products donated and private donors to give us money. That's the only way this project could happen. We lost a lot of time, and it contributed to delays, just not having those funds."
When construction finally began this summer — two months later than Corbin had wanted — he started spending sixty, eighty, a hundred hours a week not just managing the project, but doing actual construction that he feared wouldn't get done in time otherwise. It didn't help that in August, work stopped for a week when the team realized it was spending more money than was coming in. All purchasing was halted, and the team didn't have the materials to continue. When Xcel promised another $100,000 toward the house, construction resumed.
Aside from a small construction crew hired by the team, Corbin, Toby Lewis and Jack Baum were the constants on site.
Lewis was back at CU for a master's degree in civil engineering, with an emphasis in construction management, when she got involved with the Solar Decathlon this past spring. She hadn't even been to a construction-management class, or on a construction site, when she was named the project's construction manager, and she had just weeks to familiarize herself with the design and the team dynamics before she was barking orders. "It's been really fun and entertaining to be a woman directing subcontractors," she says. "These old-timer roofers and truck drivers, they all get a kick out of it. This whole project is pretty unusual as is. We had some rough welders come to modify the garage. They got a kick out of talking about my motorcycle. I like surprising people, and this role has been a really good way to do that."
An electrician for six years, Baum had quit the trades and enrolled at CU in hopes of becoming an architect. "I wanted to have a complete education on everything within building," he says. "So I figured I had my construction education, and now I want to get an engineering education. Then I want to get an architecture education." For Baum, the Solar Decathlon was a dream project because he got to take part in both the design and the actual building. For the rest of the team, Baum was a perfect fit because not only could he wire the house and drive a forklift, but he owned his own tool belt; he'd never been on a site where nobody had tools and everybody had a laptop. Lewis's only gripe with Baum was that he wouldn't let her bring in a contractor to help with the electrical installation. "That was my problem," he says. "I didn't want to have an electrician. I should have realized that I was not enough. I just kind of take things over and don't let anybody else in on them, and that's dangerous, because you have to sleep and eat occasionally."