By Robert Crowe

Dr. Alison Whittemore (sitting), Daniel Potter ’01 BA (back left) and engineering management students begin work at the site of the House of CARDS.

A modern home taking shape in a small plot of land in the middle of a UIW parking lot is launching the careers of engineering management graduates. It’s also earning the campus recognition for environmentally friendly design.

The project, known as the House of CARDS (Cardinals Achieve Renewable Design with Solar), evolved from a concept three years ago to become the first major construction job involving UIW engineering management students.

“So many people come up and say, ‘It’s being built so fast!’” said Dr. Alison Whittemore, chair of the Department of Engineering. “But it’s really been a few years of work to make this one summer project happen.”

The House of CARDS was well under way by the end of the Spring 2011 semester.

The House of CARDS also brings project manager Daniel Potter’s career full circle since the 32-year-old signed on to oversee construction on a patch of grass near the UIW Barshop Natatorium.

“I’m glad to come back to the place where I got my education,” said Potter, who earned a math degree from UIW in 2001, when the university was still in the early phases of developing the Bachelor of Science in engineering management. The program began in 2004.

“This is the perfect kind of project for that degree,” he said.

The foundation for the House of CARDS began in 2007 when a group of students suggested the school enter a Solar Decathlon competition. Starting in 2008, with Whittemore’s guidance, students began a three-year process of designing a home with solar power. The original project did not include a budget for constructing the house, however.

The project never made the final cut of the competition, but the students’ work impressed local engineering and construction firms. Dr. Glenn E. James, dean of the School of Mathematics, Science and Engineering, decided to fund construction with a grant so students would get greater exposure to real-world project management. The university is building the House of CARDS with funds from a grant through the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program.

“This is really a showcase so folks outside of UIW will be able to understand better what our engineering management grads can do for their companies,” James said.

Every semester, students worked in groups on particular sections of the house. They spent time researching sustainable building materials and turning over plans to incoming seniors. After choosing products, it was also the students’ responsibility to apply for permits, seek permits at City Hall, and interact with subcontractors.

“The design takes care of the engineering portion of the degree, but management is dealing with people and bureaucracy,” Whittemore said.

Construction, which began this spring, should be complete by Fall 2011.

Funding the House of CARDS, James said, has been one of the university’s safest bets, so to speak, for grant funds. Multiple engineering management graduates who helped in the design and planning of the home have been hired by companies whose representatives sat in on student presentations.

Daniel Potter and Dr. Alison Whittemore expect the House of CARDS will be finished by the beginning of the fall semester.

Whittemore and Potter hope the home will secure a platinum certification, the highest rating for LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The home’s green features include a seven-kilowatt solar photovoltaic power system and rainwater collection by way of its unique V-shaped roof. An energy efficient water heater and ductless mini-split HVAC are among features students helped to incorporate. The solar array and electrical systems will incorporate smart grid technology so students can monitor performance.

“It will generate real data so students can make objective decisions, and we can improve upon the system in later semesters,” Potter said.

The solar home will generate more power than it will consume, and the surplus energy will be stored at CPS Energy and credited to the university.

The walls, roof and floor consist of structural insulated panels (SIPs) that were prefabricated with environmentally friendly materials in Kerrville. The building sits on helical piers, which are essentially giant screws bolted up to 10 feet below ground. The home can be moved if necessary to leave a minimal environmental impact.

“I wish they would have had this when I was a student,” Potter said. “It bridges the gap between technical design and project managers.”

The house, which is being designed as an ADA-compliant residence with a bedroom, a kitchen and washer/dryer hookups, will be used as office space. Whittemore said the university will host visitations at the solar home to help teach the community about sustainable living.

For more information about the House of CARDS, including time-lapse photos of construction progress, visit