Students Develop Innovative Home Solutions at the 2019 Solar Decathlon Design Challenge

Filed in Sustainability & Green Building by on May 2, 2019 0 Comments

U.S. Military Academy at West Point team with its winning design. Credit: John DeLa Rosa/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

This post was updated on May 15.

The 2019 Solar Decathlon Design Challenge emphasizes the importance of innovation in the building industry and gives college students real-world experience in designing single-family and multifamily housing, as well as other building types. The biennial program is funded through the Department of Energy, with partners and affiliates such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

For the challenge, college students team up to design highly efficient homes with renewable energy. Since its inception in 2002, more than 18,000 students have participated. This year’s program, held in mid-April, attracted more than 300 students and faculty, with 45 finalist teams representing 37 collegiate institutions.

The program brings together students from various disciplines — architecture, landscape design, business, engineering, and more — to create innovative solutions for renewable energy and sustainable home building. With U.S. households spending more than $200 billion per year on energy, the program’s emphasis on innovation will hopefully help end-users save money in the long run.

There are six categories in the competition: suburban single family, urban single family, attached housing, mixed-use multifamily, elementary schools and office buildings.

Ray Tonjes, the immediate past chairman of NAHB’s Sustainability & Green Building Subcommittee, judged the suburban single-family category for this year’s competition. Tonjes is the president and founder of Ray Tonjes Builder, Inc., an Austin, Texas-based company that focuses on mainstream, sustainable and high-performance custom homes and renovations.

The caliber of the student presentations was phenomenal and gets notably better each year, Tonjes shared about this year’s program. The program is valuable, he added, because the students are solving real-world problems in such a well-organized format that the projects have a chance of being implemented.

Each division awards a winner, with one overall winner selected. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University’s ecologic treeHAUS — a net-positive, regenerative attached housing project — took top prize this year. Building Systems Councils (BSC) member Southland Log Homes provided guidance on timber fabrication and construction techniques to the student design team.

In the suburban single-family housing division, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point won first place with an affordable, net-zero home design to be built at Fort Bragg,  N.C., one of the largest military bases in the world.

The design challenge can also lead to partnerships between students and local builders, and other organizations. For instance, Appalachian State University and the Watauga County chapter of Habitat for Humanity collaborated to develop the Catalog Home. Part of this project involved designing different modules that could be added to Habitat’s stock home to adjust livability based on the consumer’s family size. The partnerships encourage workforce development as well, as some undergraduate students participate multiple times and may receive job offers from industry partners as a result.

NAHB is dedicated to enriching the educational experience of students by offering them first-hand exposure to the real world of the building industry through the NAHB Student Chapter program. Eight of the finalist institutions have NAHB Student Chapters on their campus:

  • Appalachian State University (Boone, N.C.)
  • Ball State University (Muncie, Ind.)
  • Eastern Michigan University (Ypsilanti, Mich.)
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing, Mich.)
  • The Pennsylvania State University (Centre County, Penn.)
  • The University of Arizona (Tucson, Ariz.)
  • University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio)
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Va.)

For more information on the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge, visit the Department of Energy’s website.

For more information about NAHB’s sustainable and green building programs, contact Program Manager Anna Stern. To stay current on the high-performance residential building sector, follow NAHB’s Sustainability and Green Building team on Twitter.

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