Getting a Glimpse of Your Future Home

Have you ever been to one of the big auto shows in Detroit, Chicago, L.A., or New York?  What's the most fascinating thing you remember from those shows?  I hope you were thinking about the future concept cars, of course! 

Applying that same level of coolness, excitement and enthusiasm that auto shows provide for cars is the aim of the Dept of Energy organizers of the Solar Decathlon want to bring to single family home energy performance.  The competition is held every two years in the on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  Twenty teams representing public and private universities and colleges throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe competed in this year's event. Despite the cold, damp and rainy weather on the day I visited, I was absolutely amazed at both the creative ingenuity and downright tenacity of these student teams toward developing, constructing and living in these highly advanced - yet affordable - homes.

This competition is important for two reasons:

  • (1) It educates you and me on energy efficiency measures and renewable energy investments we can do for own our homes.
  • (2) It is spurring a whole new crop of young professional architects, engineers, clean energy businesses and real estate representatives to be green job leaders in our new clean energy economy.

Student teams who create these homes must go above and beyond the idea of just putting together technological "stuff" to show-off technologies to the competition judges and general public.  Additional parameters that the student teams had to include were:


All teams must stay under a $200k cap to design, build and populate with furniture and appliances.  For example, on the design front, these teams must give very careful thought upfront to the balance of materials to purchase, insulation value, HVAC system, window placement, etc. to optimize for the most efficient use of energy and keep home occupants safe and comfortable.


A large percentage of points go toward the "livability" of the home.  This includes occupant comfort and importantly, what that comfort stems from - systems reliability (e.g., solar PV and thermal systems supplying reliable energy, HVAC systems keeping temperatures comfortable).

Resiliency and Long-Term Value

Homes must meet and exceed building safety codes and withstand outdoor environmental conditions (high winds, etc.)

So who won?  The competition ended with Team Germany taking first place and my alma mater, the University of Illinois, "Gable Home", taking second (way to go team!).

Finally, don't forget to save the date - October 2011 for the next Solar Decathlon!