Norwich Students Build Affordable, Solar Home

Jul 18, 2013

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon will showcase affordable solar homes in California this Fall. An elite group of 20 collegiate teams have designed, built, and operated solar-powered houses that are cost-effective and energy-efficient. Of the 20, two teams are from Vermont. Along with Middlebury College, Norwich University is in the running this year.

The team from Norwich University hopes to do well with their solar-powered, affordable home.  Matt Lutz is a professor of architecture at Norwich who led the student team.

"The students really came up with this notion of doing a super-affordable but also super-high performance house."

He says though the competition’s guidelines asked contestants to design homes under $250,000, Norwich students wanted to hit an even lower price point.

“The students really came up with this notion of doing a super-affordable but also super-high performance house,” he says. “Trying to meet those two criteria is a challenge.”

Lutz says good design elements like an open floor plan, high ceilings and effective window placement helped the team design an energy efficient home at a lower cost.

“We put our resources where they count in terms of energy expenditure,” says Lutz.

The team used Vermont median income of $53,000 and subtracted 20 percent from that in order to come up with a figure that would be affordable to the most Vermonters. The home comes in at $150,000 and is already available commercially.

“If the house was put on a $20,000 site, someone with an annual income of 20 percent less than the median income could afford the house,” says Lutz.

Lutz said the home is also meant to cut down energy costs considerably, even with Vermont winters.

“We estimated it to be under snow cover for 128 days annually, and sized it appropriately,” Lutz says. “But because of our Northern latitude in the Summer, we’re actually getting quite a bit of solar gain.”

The home travels to Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California, for the 2013 Solar Decathlon and Expo.

On Friday, July 26, the University will hold a send-off party with live music and free ice cream from 3 to 6 p.m. That will be last day to tour the house on the Norwich campus before it is broken down and packed up. The event takes place at Disney Field.

You can see more updates on the house at the team’s website.