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The Most Affordable Solar Decathlon House. Ever

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Construction Materials and Technologies

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1235.1 - 24.1235.18



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Paper Authors


Edwin R. Schmeckpeper P.E., Ph.D Norwich University

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Edwin Schmeckpeper, P.E., Ph.D., is the chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Norwich University. Norwich University was the first private school in the United States to offer engineering courses. In addition, Norwich University was the model used by Senator Justin Morrill for the Land-Grant colleges created by the 1862 Morrill Land Grant Act. Prior to joining the faculty at Norwich University, Dr. Schmeckpeper taught at the University of Idaho, the Land-Grant College for the State of Idaho, and worked as an engineer in design offices and at construction sites.

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Michael Puddicombe Norwich University


Matthew Paul Lutz Norwich University

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Matthew Lutz is an architect and certified Passive House consultant. In 2007 he became an Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture and Art at Norwich University. He has taught courses in passive environmental design, building systems, materials, and methods, intermediate and upper level design studios, and special study courses focusing on affordable, solar powered, mobile dwellings. In addition to these courses Mr. Lutz has focused on teaching hands-on design/build studios with a multidisciplinary group of faculty.

Mr. Lutz is the faculty leader in Norwich University’s entry in Solar Decathlon 2013, and the primary investigator in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon grant to Norwich University. Aligning with this is Mr. Lutz’s research interests in mobile, solar powered buildings, and research related to low-income housing alternatives. With teams of faculty he was twice recognized by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with Excalibur Awards for excellence in a comprehensive cross-disciplinary technology-enriched projects that focus on the design and construction of an environmentally sensitive mobile solar-powered dwellings. In 2006 /2007 he was honored with a Faculty Design Award from the ACSA (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture) and with a New Faculty Teaching Award from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. In 2010 he was awarded the Charles A. Dana Award from Norwich University for excellence in teaching. Past efforts have resulted in the design and construction of a portable bio-medical research station being used by scientists studying human-animal health issues in the remote Mahale Mountains of Tanzania, and with Jonathan King received an honorable mention from the SEED organization for their work in on the same project.

Mr. Lutz maintains a small consulting practice along side his teaching activities, enjoys doing forest management work, and developing a small farm with his family in East Calais, Vermont.

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Jeffrey R. Mountain Ph.D, P.E. Norwich University

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Jeffrey R. Mountain, Ph.D. P.E., is chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Norwich University. He has been an engineering educator for over 20 years and has expertise in Mechatronics, CAD and systems design. He has held full time faculty appointments at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Univeristy of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and The University of Texas at Tyler. Prior to his engineering education career, he was heavily involved with the construction industry in the Houston Texas area. He is a registered Professional Engineer and a licensed Master Plumber. Both of these credentials are with the State of Texas and are current. Most of his academic research has focused on engineering and design education. His technical research has focused on microfluidic applications and applied fuzzy logic and he has teaching interests in Mechatronics, HVAC Systems Design, and Sustainable and Alternative Energy Systems. He has published many papers in the conference proceedings of Frontiers in Education, ASME, and ASEE national and regional conferences, as well as in HVAC specific venues, such as the Hot and Humid Climates Symposium.

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John Edward Patterson Norwich University

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The Most Affordable Solar Decathlon House. Ever.The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a competition in which collegiate teams design, build,and operate solar-powered houses that are intended to be cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002; subsequent competitions took place in 2005, 2007, 2009,2011, and 2013. The 2013 event took place at the Orange County Great Park, in Irvine California. Allprevious events took place in Washington D.C.The Solar Decathlon is intended to educate students and the public about the economic and environmentalbenefits of energy efficient, solar powered homes. In addition, it serves as a venue to demonstrate thecomfort and affordability of homes that combine energy-efficiency with solar energy systems.Unfortunately, due to the scoring rubrics for the competition, the affordability aspect of the competition isoften given only superficial consideration. In the 2011 competition, the most affordable house cost $230per square foot while the 2011 overall winner’s cost exceeded $380 per square foot. In 2009, while theconstruction costs were tabulated for each of the entries, affordability was not a direct component of thecompetition. Prior to 2009, affordability was not officially calculated, and houses such as the 2007 winnerhad self-reported cost-estimates exceeding $400,000 for an 800 square foot house ($500 per square foot).In the 2013 the Norwich University Delta T-90 house officially won first place for the AffordabilityContest of the 2013 Solar Decathlon, with an estimated cost of $168,385 for a 988 square foot house($170 per square foot), while scoring 100% for the energy balance portion of the competition. Thoughtwo other schools were officially listed as tied for first place in affordability, at $234,000, one of thesetwo houses cost 39% more than the Norwich team’s house and at $248,000, the other cost 48% more thanNorwich team’s house. All other houses in the 2013 Solar Decathlon competition cost more than$250,000.Since 2009, when cost estimates became an official component of the Solar Decathlon competition, therehas been only one house that had a cost estimate that was less than the 988 square feet 2013 NorwichUniversity Delta T-90 house. However, since that house had an area of only 520 square feet,approximately one-half that of the 2013 Norwich University Delta T-90 house, its $270 cost per squarefoot greatly exceeded the cost per square foot of the Norwich house.The Norwich University team set a goal before design began to accomplish a high performance home thatis affordable to a household earning 20% below median income in Vermont. The Delta T-90 House isattuned not only to the climactic demands of the Northeast but also to the financial demands of thepopulation that lives there. The bio-based building envelope house is a cost-effective alternative tohousing built before 1950, which often had inefficient systems and inadequate insulation. It is designedfor a family of three that makes near or below the median income and is intended to be produced in highquantities. It maximizes comfort, efficiency, and spaciousness through two bedrooms, an office space,and an open living space for lounging, cooking, and gathering—offering a model for affordable andsustainable living.Design and Construction details were critically important in attaining the team’s cost goals for the house.This paper will present design and construction details of Norwich University Delta T-90 house, andcompare them to design and construction details of the other houses at the Solar Decathlon Competition.

Schmeckpeper, E. R., & Puddicombe, M., & Lutz, M. P., & Mountain, J. R., & Patterson, J. E. (2014, June), The Most Affordable Solar Decathlon House. Ever Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23168

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