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When Your Best Is Not Good Enough: Building on Lessons Learned in the Solar Decathlon Competition to Create Housing that is Actually Affordable

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Construction Education Topics

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1733.1 - 26.1733.12



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Paper Authors


Edwin R. Schmeckpeper PE Norwich University

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Edwin Schmeckpeper, P.E., Ph.D., is the chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Construction Management at Norwich University, the first private school in the United States to offer engineering courses. 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 a land-grant college, the University of Idaho, and worked as an engineer in design offices and at construction sites.

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John Edward Patterson Norwich University

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PhD – Heriot-Watt University
The School of the Built Environment
Edinburgh, Scotland

MSCM – Masters of Science – Construction Management
School of Architecture
Clemson University

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Michael Puddicombe Norwich University

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Daniel Amos Sagan AIA Norwich University, School of Architecture and Art

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When Your Best Is Not Good Enough: Building On Lessons Learned in the Solar Decathlon Competition to Create Housing that is Actually AffordableThe U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a competition in which collegiate teamsdesign, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are intended to be affordable, cost-effective,energy-efficient, and attractive. Unfortunately, due to the scoring rubrics for the competition, theaffordability aspect of the competition has been given only superficial consideration. In the 2011competition, the most affordable house cost $230 per square foot. In 2009, while theconstruction costs were tabulated for each of the entries, affordability was not a directcomponent of the competition. Prior to 2009, affordability was not officially calculated, andhouses such as the 2007 winner had self-reported cost-estimates exceeding $400,000 for an 800square foot house ($500 per square foot).In the 2013 competition, the University’s entry placed first in the Affordability Contest of the2013 Solar Decathlon, with an estimated cost of $168,385 for a 994 square foot house(approximately $170 per square foot), while scoring 100% for the energy balance portion of thecompetition. While this was the most affordable solar decathlon house in the history of thecompetition, based upon findings of the “2010 Housing Needs Assessment” of the state’sHousing and Finance Agency, even this house is beyond the reach of the majority of newhouseholds.This paper shows how teams of students from the University’s Architecture, Engineering, andConstruction Management programs are using lessons from the Solar Decathlon Competition todevelop a regionally derived, solar powered, affordable housing model. Toward these ends, thestudent teams are working to design a series of modular micro-houses (approximately 200 SFeach) that can stand alone or be combined to create a larger, cohesive structure (similar to how aNew England ½ Cape was first constructed, then as the family grew, the house was enlarged intoa ¾ Cape or a Full Cape, etc.) Additional room modules could be added to the house over time.The core micro-house module is designed to contain basic amenities, such as kitchen andbathrooms. Two walls of the core module are designed so that additional room modules can bereadily attached. These “add-in” modules can be designed to be more flexible and less expensiveto manufacture than the core module, and can vary depending on the needs of the occupant.This project will serve to demonstrate how houses could be constructed in stages from micro-houses, with the micro-houses being combined, over time, to create a larger house. The designteams will explore non-conventional structural framing for the micro-houses and optimize themechanical and electrical integration process by designing standardized, modular systems. Theproject teams will also integrate the photovoltaic systems into the building structure, consideringinnovations such as the use of DC current to eliminate the dc to ac conversion.The student teams will construct the first core micro-house module during 2015. Lessons fromthe construction of the first module will be incorporated into the construction of subsequentmodules.

Schmeckpeper, E. R., & Patterson, J. E., & Puddicombe, M., & Sagan, D. A. (2015, June), When Your Best Is Not Good Enough: Building on Lessons Learned in the Solar Decathlon Competition to Create Housing that is Actually Affordable Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25069

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