NAHB Student Chapter Partners with Local Firm to Win ‘Race to Zero’

Penn State Students work on their zero-energy home plans

Penn State Student Chapter members strategize on their net-zero house plans. Ellen Jaskol/NREL, DOE Race to Zero

The NAHB Student Chapter program from Pennsylvania State University took first place in the Suburban Single Family category of the 2018 Race to Zero Competition.

Run by the Department of Energy, this competition challenges students to design cost-effective, zero-energy ready homes. NAHB is a program sponsor.

The winning Penn State team partnered with a local production home builder, NAHB member S&A Homes in State College, on the single-family design. Two groups met on several occasions as the project came together. S&A Homes shared its best-selling models and a lot of helpful, real-world advice about residential construction.

“The building firm had specific needs,” said Sarah Klinetob Lowe, a housing systems specialist and faculty member at Penn State. “They emphasized that building materials needed to be very readily available, and this made students think carefully about their material choice.”

She added that students were encouraged to design the house with simplicity in mind, and that “communication with subcontractors would make or break a systems choice.”

In today’s world of rapidly increasing building material costs, perhaps the most important lesson the students learned was sticking to a budget.

“Everything needed to meet the bottom line,” Lowe said.

Bob Shoemaker, a technical services manager at S&A Homes, enjoyed how seriously the students took the partnership.

“The students were very focused,” he said. “Every meeting I had with them was direct, to the point.”

Shoemaker said that S&A Homes gave them models as reference points, but that the students essentially designed their own home.

“They scaled the house down and wanted to create multi-generational space with places for children,” he said. “They added flex space on the first floor and changed it from a four-bedroom to a three-bedroom house. The students came up with all the ideas, they get all the credit.”

Ray Tonjes, an Austin, Texas builder and chairman of NAHB’s Sustainability and Green Building Subcommittee, served as a judge for the competition. He was impressed with the Penn State-S&A Home partnership.

“Penn State really nailed it, both because they had vision and a really, really good industry partner who gave them criteria and incentive that ‘if you can make this happen, we can build it,” he said.

For additional information about the Race to Zero and similar NAHB initiatives, contact Megan Carroll.

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