2021 Solar Decathlon Design Challenge Highlights Creative, High-Performance Building Solutions


The 2021 Solar Decathlon Design Challenge — a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) collegiate competition that tasks students with designing low-carbon, high-performance buildings powered by renewable energy — marked the competition's 19th year, with the first ever Virtual Village on the National Mall featuring nine builds with 3D renderings, diagrams and videos for each university's project.

Of the 72 competing teams, representing 12 countries, the University of Oregon was named the grand winner of the Commercial Divisions, and Northwestern University was named the grand winner for the Residential Divisions. Northwestern University's NuHome is a delicately balanced design that accounts for site challenges such as harsh winters and humid summers in Chicago, and a narrow footprint shaded by three-story buildings on both sides (making solar access more difficult for residential solar photovoltaics).

Despite these constraints, the student team was able to incorporate high-performance features such as a tight thermal envelope, highly efficient HVAC system, natural lighting and graywater reuse system. The design strategically reduces thermal bridging and effectively manages moisture (preventing mold and improving indoor air quality), and achieves a remarkable EUI rating of 12 and a HERS score of -22.

"The Solar Decathlon experience has no equal in terms of acquiring knowledge, and I absorbed so many fantastic design ideas from the student teams who presented throughout the weekend," noted Ray Tonjes, a seasoned juror and NAHB Sustainability and Green Building subcommittee past chairman. "It's an extremely worthwhile endeavor to have the opportunity to participate purely for the knowledge and interactions with like-minded participants."

As a proud sponsor of the Solar Decathlon, NAHB congratulates all the student teams and faculty for their hard work, innovative solutions, outstanding projects and, most of all, for leading the charge in the next generation of housing.

See DOE's press release for a full list of winners from this year's competition. To stay current on the high-performance residential building sector, with tips on water efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and other building science strategies, follow NAHB’s Sustainability and Green Building efforts on Twitter.

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