Explore UAB’s off-grid Sustainable Community Oct. 1

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solar house from fb inside

Want to explore a corner of campus that’s entirely off the electrical grid? Join UAB Sustainability for free tours of the UAB Sustainable Community 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 1. Located at the corner of 11th Avenue South and 17th Street, the community features the UAB Solar House, which is powered by an adjacent microgrid, plus a monarch butterfly waystation.

UAB Solar House Tours and Monarch Butterfly Celebration

  • 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 1
  • Corner of 11th Avenue South and 17th Street
More details online.

During the event, visitors can take tours of the Solar House and Solar Community, plus shop a vintage market, purchase plants from local shops House Plant Collective and Recreative Natives, paint birdhouse gourds with ArtPlay, hear music from the UAB Jazz Combo and snack on treats from Birmingham bakery Hero Donuts. Plus, attendees have a chance to take home seeds for milkweed — a native Alabama plant that provides monarch butterflies nutrition, a home for newly laid eggs, and a sap that, when ingested, makes them poisonous to predators.

On display inside the Solar House will be monarch butterfly-themed multimedia art created by Shannon Thomason, a media specialist in UAB University Relations, in ARS 300, a course taught by Doug Baulos, associate professor of drawing and bookmaking in the Department of Art and Art History.

“UAB’s Solar Community is one of the most unique areas of our campus,” said Bambi Ingram, manager of UAB Sustainability. “It may seem small from the sidewalk, but it’s teeming with opportunities for knowledge — to learn about sustainable construction and solar power, to explore how science and art can overlap and to discover the importance of native flora and fauna for the Alabama ecosystem.”

Story continues after photos.

Butterfly   Lexi   Square
Bee   Square   Lexi
Radishes   Square   Mabry
Solar House Mural   Steve   Square

LEXI COON, ANDREA MABRY and STEVE WOOD / University Relations

Building the community

The Solar House was built in 2017 as part of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, an annual collegiate competition that challenges students to design and build high-performance, low-carbon buildings that mitigate climate change and improve quality of life through affordability, resilience and energy efficiency.

“UAB’s Solar Community may seem small from the sidewalk, but it’s teeming with opportunities for knowledge — to learn about sustainable construction and solar power, to explore how science and art can overlap and to discover the importance of native flora and fauna for the Alabama ecosystem.”

Inspired by the 2011 Alabama tornadoes, the 1,000-square-foot Solar House features a built-in tornado shelter that can withstand winds up to 250 mph, and its rooftop solar panels and backyard microgrid run all the usual residential appliances and amenities at the same level as a comparable modern house on a conventional power grid — including air conditioning, a must during a hot Southern summer. The microgrid is housed in a shipping container featuring a mural designed and painted by students in the Department of Art and Art History as part of the spring 2020 Bloom Studio course, also taught by Doug Baulos.

Adjacent to the Solar House is one of campus’ monarch butterfly waystations, opened in winter 2020. UAB is certified as a Monarch Waystation — a designated, intentionally planted space to provide food and shelter for monarch butterflies as they migrate yearly from Mexico to Canada. Another waystation is located at the corner of 10th Avenue South and 14th Street near Honors Hall, built as part of a collaboration between UAB Sustainability and the Science and Technology Honors Program.

Also nearby are the UAB Gardens along 12th Avenue South at 17th Street, which house a collection of plots that grow produce for UAB’s on-campus food pantry, Blazer Kitchen, and a beehive habitat for honeybees, which are a threatened population in the United States.

The Sustainable Community section of campus exemplifies both the UAB shared value of stewardship and the Sustainability Strategic Plan, which was adopted by the UAB Sustainability in 2019 and aims to establish a clean energy standard of 20% renewable energy sourcing by 2025, plus reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve resiliency and increase overall energy efficiency.

shannon photo RT inside 2Finding connections

Shannon Thomason, a media specialist in University Relations who has covered the arts at UAB for more than two decades, decided this year to take a course in a department she has written about countless times. During Doug Baulos’ ARS 300 course, she crafted monarch butterflies using paper, colored pencils and markers. She also used those same materials alongside old calendar pages, odd pieces of gift wrap, cut-outs from gardening and fashion catalogs, foil candy wrappers, scraps of ribbons and other found materials to create mixed-media flowers, which also are on display inside the Solar House.

Thomason credits her affinity to butterflies and moths to her relationships with her late sister and mother. The summer before her sister’s death in 1997, she and Thomason each released a monarch butterfly her sister had raised in an enclosure — a special memory during the last time they saw each other, Thomason says.

“It was such an incredible experience to share — each of us delicately releasing a butterfly,” she explained. “A few weeks later, she died, and it was as if the sun stopped shining. It was a heart-breaking, life-changing tragedy for me. When our family gathered for her funeral, there were butterflies everywhere on the Gulf Coast, and that really made an impact on me. My mom and I always looked for signs — it may be a butterfly that visited us, a hawk feather on the ground, a giant dragonfly, a magnolia blossom on the path.”