UPDATE: Virginia Tech FutureHAUS, other projects, destroyed in major fire

Published: Feb. 12, 2017 at 9:47 PM EST
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Virginia Tech estimates the loss caused by a fire Sunday night at $800,000 to $1.3 million.

The fire destroyed the construction and fabrication shop for Virginia Tech’s FutureHAUS. The university describes the program as "a multidisciplinary research project involving students, faculty, and industry partners that produced an innovative prototype that defined the future of smart, sustainable housing."

Here is the complete update from Virginia Tech:
A Virginia Tech research facility, part of the Prices Fork Research Station located at 4076 Prices Fork Road and approximately four miles from the main Blacksburg campus, was destroyed by fire Sunday evening. According to Virginia Tech Police, the fire was reported to 911 at 8:51 p.m. Sunday and was 95 percent contained by 10:30 p.m. The Blacksburg Fire Department and Longshop McCoy Fire Department responded to the call. No one was hurt in the fire. The building burned was the construction and fabrication shop for Virginia Tech’s FutureHAUS, a multidisciplinary research project involving students, faculty, and industry partners that produced an innovative prototype that defined the future of smart, sustainable housing. The FutureHAUS prototype, as well as building material and tools used on the project, were lost in the fire. The project showcased integrated advanced technologies, energy efficient design, and sustainable construction. In January, the FutureHAUS team exhibited its work at an international trade show in Florida. Virginia Tech is working with the FutureHAUS group, industry partners, and leadership in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the College of Engineering to find short and long term solutions for the continuous development of this important project. “While this is a devastating loss, it renews our commitment to build the world’s smartest, most sustainable home, said Joe Wheeler, professor of architecture and co-director of the Center for Design Research at Virginia Tech. "Our plan is to take the research and innovation from FutureHAUS, combine it with what we learned on our winning 2010 Solar Decathlon home, LumenHAUS, and carry it forward to create the best solar home for the 2018 Solar Decathlon Middle East.” A preliminary estimate of the value of the research building, the FutureHAUS project, and equipment and supplies lost in the fire is between $800,000 and $1.3 million. The research building lost in the fire was built in three phases starting in 1960. The Prices Fork Research Station includes several other research buildings with a wide range of research projects. No other buildings or research projects appear to have been affected by the fire. Cause of the fire is under investigation.


Robert Schubert, Associate Dean for Research at the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech, identified the building that burned to the ground as the Environmental Systems Laboratory. Schubert said the building is an active research facility, that among other things, was home to the Virginia Tech FutureHAUS.

The research facility is located off-campus near Prices Fork Road. The fire came in just before 9 p.m. Sunday night and dozens of crews responded and found the facility fully engulfed. Fire crews said at one point high winds were blowing embers across the field and into the parking lot of nearby Prices Fork Elementary School.

"It was just a wind-driven fire, the wind is blowing 40 to 50 miles per hour," Blacksburg Fire Chief Bobby Carner said, "The building was gone when we got here and my biggest concern was the safety of the firefighters...It was just too dangerous, too big of a fire to do anything with, we just tried to protect the exposures and keep everybody safe."

By 11 p.m. Sunday night a majority of the fire was extinguished with a few remaining hot spots flaring up due to the wind from time to time. No one was injured.

Schubert and other staff were on scene Sunday night assessing the damage and figuring out a plan. He said the facility was more than just storage, it was an active research and fabrication lab where students and faculty worked.

"While it may have looked like a dilapidated building on the outside, inside there are some very sophisticated things going on," Schubert said. "Computer controlled plasma cutters, the FutureHAUS project which is our most recent project is being built in there."

The FutureHAUS is a smart home project that students and faculty developed with the hope of eventual mainstream use. The project was recently on display at the world's largest kitchen and bath expo show in Orlando a few weeks ago.

"It's a total loss and so it's connected to some research projects that we're going to be doing in the near future and so now we have to figure out a strategy on what to do," Shubert said. "It's a tremendous loss and a lot of energy from faculty and students went into this and I'm sure they're going to be disappointed and we'll have to figure out what we can do to re-create it."

Fire investigators will work with Virginia Tech on their investigation. Crews will remain on scene throughout the night to monitor for any flare ups.

"The fire did start on the West end of the building, and just moved quickly through the building, we are going to have to wait until daylight for the investigation," Carner said. "Right now we do not know what caused it. Right now it looks to be accidental but it's still too early to tell, but it doesn't look like any foul play or arson."

Virginia Tech staff on scene said they will have a better idea of where they go from here after a re-group meeting Monday morning.

"It's definitely over a million dollar loss,"Schubert said. "We've learned a lot from what we've done so I guess the strategy is to build an even bigger and better one."


Blacksburg officials confirm crews are at the scene of a fire at a Virginia Tech building off campus.

It's happening off Prices Fork Road.

Authorities say the call came in at 8:52 p.m. and right now crews are working to protect surrounding structures.

We have a crew on the way to the scene.