High-Performance Homes in the Mile-High City of Denver

The Solar Decathlon is a competition where college teams combine beauty and technology to build high-performance houses powered by the sun. Held every other year, this international competition is the place where we become collectively smarter about high-performance solar homes - thanks to the best and brightest college students from around the world. 

At the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture, I first got the itch for sustainable, high-performance design. I was taught that architecture should be a machine for living in balance with nature, and a marriage between ecology and technology.

Although the Solar Decathlon began while I was in college, it was usually held in far-away Washington D.C. and it was just too far away to attend. This year the U.S. Department of Energy moved the Solar Decathlon in Denver, Colorado for the first time. I mentioned it once to my wife while feeding our toddler twins, and she must have seen something in my eye when I said that I would love to go and see the event. She later surprised me with airplane tickets and my heart leaped at the chance to go. 

Missouri S&T house greeted visitors

Relay and Recap

This week I want to share some of the basics of the event. The United States Department of Energy has done a great job of cataloging each year's proceedings. I want to give you a quick tour of the rich content that they already offer. Next time I will share more of my own photos and some deeper insights into what I found at the decathlon that is on the cutting edge of sustainable design. 

Photos of Past Events

Gallery of Houses

2017 Team Videos

Swiss Team's plywood foosball table built from scraps

Decathlon = 10 Contests

For each of the 10 events, there is a maximum of 100 points (1,000 points total). For each contest, the points fall into three kinds of activities, as listed below:  

  • Task Completion: The first way to earning points is completing the required typical daily tasks. Tasks range from cooking and laundry to hosting dinner parties and logging miles in a house-charged electric vehicle. 
  • Monitored Performance: Each team’s house and appliances are monitored to ensure they continue to operate within set ranges in all conditions. This year Denver’s climate put the teams’ high-performance homes to the test with rain, snow, and lots of sun. 
  • Jury Evaluation: Experts in architecture, engineering, home construction, water efficiency and communications, award points for features that cannot be measured. This is where the teams can charm the jurors to win points for innovation, inspiration, and design aesthetics.

Learn more about the 10 Solar Decathlon 2017 contests.

University of Nevada Las Vegas's car made everyone jealous

Swiss team's operable solar walls were a highlight

University of Maryland's equipment room

Washington University St. Louis used beautiful precast panels

Final Standings

Solar Decathlon Rules

Thinking about building your own high-performance home? A good place to begin would be reviewing rules put in place for the competition. There are bits of wisdom to draw from in the philosophy created by the U.S. Department of Energy for this event. 

High-performance Products for Your Home

Team Alabama's solar electrical service

Want to learn about the materials and equipment used in each project?

Visit the Solar Decathlon 2017 Product Directory

University of Maryland's house was a favorite

Next Time

I plan to dive into a few projects in detail and share the most innovative thoughts on the cutting edge of solar high-performance homes today. 

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Do you think living in a solar powered home is something you would enjoy? What, if anything is holding you back?