EEBA's High Performance Home Blog

Why I Love the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge!

A Former Competitor’s Take on the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge
Why I Love the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge!

by Nathan Kahre

Long nights, worrying over designs, stressing over deadlines, and more work than I have ever been put through before, this is what I remember from when I competed in what was Race to Zero, now the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge.  What I also remember is the time spent working with a team, iterations of energy models, and the joy of getting to present all my hard work.

I thank Solar Decathlon Design Challenge for the opportunities that I have had in the high-performance home industry.  The competition forced me to take the theoretical and make it real.  It also put me in connection with experts across the country and landed me my first job in the industry.  After spending a day of stressing over the competition, I ended up meeting this crazy production builder that was focusing on net zero homes and wanted to implement new products and techniques to improve the indoor air quality in their homes and hopefully impact the health of the occupants.  That twenty-minute conversation completely changed my perspective on what a production home builder could be, landed me a successful internship, and now 3 years later I have turned into that crazy production builder myself.  Finding ways to enable these types of conversations and connect students to all the great builders across the country is a passion of mine.  

 

 

I am lucky enough that the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge happens in my backyard and getting to attend the competition is a highlight of my year.  I am constantly impressed by the time commitment and skill each of the teams portrays.  This year was no exception with 45 teams competing from 37 collegiate institutions from across the United States, along with teams from England, India, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Panama, and Brazil.  The diversity of projects and solutions employed were thoughtful and showed a group of caring hardworking students excited about net zero construction.  The Solar Decathlon is truly developing the next generation of building scientists, architects, and construction professionals; and equipping them with the skills necessary to build high performance homes, apartments, office buildings, and schools.

Now in its sixth year, the design competition challenges students to develop market-ready net zero home designs across a variety of design divisions (single family urban and suburban, attached housing, small multifamily, office buildings, and schools).  Students can’t just develop a pretty home, but must also integrate building science knowledge, market analysis, and construction management skills, and wrap it up into a 20-minute presentation in front a panel of experts.  This leads to 6 division winners and one grand winner.  Take a look at this year’s winners and their presentations here.

What happens next?  There is a pool of talented students, many of whom are ready to enter the workforce, ready to contribute to the high-performance construction industry. Last year, for the first time, EEBA provided scholarships to representatives from each of the winning teams to come and experience the High Performance Home Summit in San Diego.  EEBA’s Next Generation Development Committee is working hard to make this happen again and bring team representatives from the winning residential teams to the 2019 Summit in Denver, CO.


View the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge Overview 

Donate to EEBA's Student Scholarship Fund and help us connect the 2019 Solar Decathlon winners with the EEBA homebuilding community.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nathan Kahre is High Performance and Healthy Home Manager at Thrive Home Builders, a production home builder focusing on Net Zero and Net Zero Ready construction in Denver, Colorado. 


 

Upcoming EEBA Educational Courses

Looking to refresh your knowledge and grab some CEUs? Attend an upcoming EEBA educational course and receive both!
Upcoming EEBA Educational Courses

Mike Barcik, Senior Engineer at Southface Institute, will be leading The HERS Associate & Taking the Performance Path: An Introduction to the HERS Index & IECC Compliance in Orlando, FL on May 14, 2019.

The HERS Associate & Taking the Performance Path: An Introduction to the HERS Index & IECC Compliance course is a one-day event that reviews the HERS Index, RESNET, and Building Science principles as they relate to the Performance Path option in the IECC.

Participants will learn about the strategies and tools used by HERS Raters to perform analysis of a house to produce a HERS Index Score. The last part of the session will be spent reviewing energy rating software that is most often used by HERS professionals, and manipulating various construction assemblies to see the effect of HERS Index scores.

CEUs are available for AIA/CES (HSW), BPI, ICC, NAHB, NARI and NATE. The course will be held at Trane North Florida DSO, 3401 WD Judge Road, Suite 110, Orlando FL 32808 from 8:30am to 4pm (check-in begins at 8am).

In addition to The HERS Associate class, the ever-popular course, Houses That Work, will be offered in Davidson, NC on June 4. And for those of you who have been patiently waiting for the High Performance Mechanicals class, you can attend that on June 13 in Carrollton, TX.

On June 5, we will be rolling out a brand new course, The EEBA Path to Zero Energy Homes in Denver. Participants in this class will learn design principles, equipment options, emerging technologies, materials selections, and construction practices that can be integrated into their building process. Strong emphasis is placed on ways to make the final product affordable for homebuyers.

We’ll also be announcing more courses in 2019, including our brand new Zero Energy course, so keep an eye out for announcements on our website or in our newsletter.

EEBA Recap of the Design Challenge

Students involved with the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge produce some amazing projects and prove why they are invaluable to the future of our industry.
EEBA Recap of the Design Challenge

Last weekend EEBA Executive Director, Nancy Bakeman, had the privilege of attending the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon Design Challenge in Golden, Colorado. Over 400 people with a wide variety of backgrounds were in attendance at what Bakeman says was an “energizing and inspiring” event. “These kids are brilliant, and it was such a cool experience to see,” says Bakeman.

Before the event even began, teams had to produce a 60+ page report outlining all the details of their project. The weekend itself was packed with events, tours of the National Renewable Energy Lab, presentations and some fun team challenges. On Saturday Bakeman listened to many of the amazing presentations and had a chance to talk with the students.                            

First place awards were handed out to the Design Challenge teams in six different categories on Sunday morning during breakfast. In addition, 11 teams in the Build Challenge were announced that are able to move forward with their project (the next phase of the Solar Decathlon) as they were awarded their funding. Then each first place Design Challenge team had to present their winning project to the full audience and the Grand Jurors - in just 10 minutes. The Grand Jurors then selected the overall Grand Winner - Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Breakfast was followed by the Career Connections where over 20 companies, including EEBA, had tables set up for students to ask questions and network. Scholarships for October’s High Performance Home Summit in Denver will be awarded to the following winning teams:

  • Urban Single-Family: Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Georgia)
  • Suburban Single-Family: United States Military Academy at West Point (West Point, New York)
  • Mixed-Use Multifamily: State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (Syracuse, New York) and Syracuse University (Syracuse, New York)
  • Attached Housing: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Virginia)

 

 

 

                

At one point during the weekend, Bakeman recalls members of the audience being asked to raise their hand if they were over a certain age. As she looked around, she noticed, similar to many industry events, the number of hands in the air accompanied by graying hair. “The industry is getting older,” she says. “There is a big need for a younger generation to get into building science and keep pushing it even further.”

Bakeman says she is looking forward to developing the partnership between EEBA and the Solar Decathlon to get more students involved in building science and energy efficiency careers. She hopes to recruit more students for the training sessions EEBA holds across the country throughout the year, the High Performance Home Summit, and various development activities.

                        

Next week, keep a lookout for another perspective of the Design Challenge from Thrive Home Builders’ Nathan Kahre - a former participant of the Solar Decathlon who has a great story for how he ended up at Thrive.

Photos courtesy NREL

In Honor or Earth Day, We’re Giving You a High Performance Offer

For a limited time, EEBA is offering a deep discount on the 2019 High Performance Home Summit.
In Honor or Earth Day, We’re Giving You a High Performance Offer

From October 1-3 builders, architects, educators, manufacturers and energy geeks from around the country will descend upon Denver, Colorado for the 37th Annual High Performance Home Summit. EEBA is offering a 25% discount on the already reduced rate - but only through Earth Day, Monday, April 22nd!

This year’s theme, Reach for the Summit: A Future Where Every Home is High Performing, Healthy & Resilient, is appropriately titled - Colorado is home to over 50 fourteeners (mountain peaks exceeding 14,000 feet). The conference theme will focus on the following goals:

  • The Trek In A commitment to defining and building high performance homes
  • Base Camp Knowing where you are and identifying your goals
  • Acclimatization Understanding the methodologies, materials, and strategies to achieve success
  • The Summit Verifiable performance and measured success
 

Our host hotel will be the Embassy Suites Denver Downtown. It is conveniently located less than a mile from Denver Union Station which easily allows you to hop on the light rail from the airport for $10.50 and be downtown in about a half hour.

And need we say more than “Denver”? The mile-high city, a place where the sun comes out more than 300 days a year, a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, and the producer of some damn good craft beer.

Arrive a day early for the EEBA conference, or stay a day late (or both!). Hop on a bike share and ride along the river and enjoy the sunshine, food, beer and scenery Colorado has to offer. Take a stroll down to the Contemporary Museum of Art or the Denver Botanic Gardens or jump in an Uber and head over to a nearby golf course for a round.

Don’t miss this year’s event and your chance to spend some time in the mile high city, catch up with industry friends, and deep dive into many topics surrounding energy efficiency and high performance homes!

SOLAR DECATHLON DESIGN CHALLENGE FINALISTS ANNOUNCED

This weekend, students from 47 teams from around the world will compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Design Challenge.
SOLAR DECATHLON DESIGN CHALLENGE FINALISTS ANNOUNCED

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory will be abuzz this weekend, April 12-14, 2019, as hundreds of students descend upon Golden, Colorado for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon Design Challenge.

38 colleges will be represented from around the world including Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Panamá, England, and Brazil will join teams from the U.S. in this highly competitive event. Competing teams will have spent 1-2 academic semesters creating solutions for real-world issues in the building industry.

Teams will present their designs to a panel of industry experts in one of six building type categories: Suburban Single-Family, Urban Single-Family, Attached Housing, Mixed-Use Multifamily, Elementary School, or Office Building. Innovation, cost-effectiveness, time to build, quality, resilience, grid-interactivity, efficiency, and local responsiveness are all areas in which each team will be judged. A winner will be chosen in each category, in addition to an overall Design Challenge Grand Winner.

During the event, EEBA will be participating in the Solar Decathlon Career Connections weekend where students will have the chance to engage with potential employers and professionals in various fields surrounding energy efficiency. The U.S. Department of Energy sees the “Collegiate institutions that participate in the challenge...as leaders who are producing career-ready professionals with cutting-edge skills.”

The Design Challenge collegiate institutions are:

  • Appalachian State University (Boone, North Carolina)
  • Ball State University (Muncie, Indiana)
  • California State University, Fullerton (Fullerton, California)
  • Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
  • CEPT University (Ahmedabad, India)
  • Dr. Bhanuben Nanavati College of Architecture for Women (Pune, India)
  • Eastern Michigan University (Ypsilanti, Michigan)
  • Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Georgia)
  • Hampton University (Hampton, Virginia)
  • Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago, Illinois)
  • Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  • Jefferson University (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
  • Kansas State University (Manhattan, Kansas)
  • King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (Dhahran, Saudi Arabia)
  • Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan)
  • State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (Syracuse, New York)
  • Syracuse University (Syracuse, New York)
  • Technische Universität Berlin - EUREF Campus (Berlin, Germany)
  • Technological University of Panama (El Dorado, Panamá)
  • The Manchester School of Architecture (Manchester, England)
  • The Pennsylvania State University (Centre County, Pennsylvania)
  • The University of Arizona (Tucson, Arizona)
  • The University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas)
  • United States Military Academy at West Point (West Point, New York)
  • Universidade Federal do Paraná (Curitiba, Brazil)
  • University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio)
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Champaign County, Illinois)
  • University of Minnesota Twin Cities (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
  • University of Missouri-Columbia (Columbia, Missouri)
  • University of Portland (Portland, Oregon)
  • University of Wisconsin–Madison (Madison, Wisconsin)
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Virginia)
  • Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, Missouri)
  • West Virginia University (Morgantown, West Virginia)
  • Western New England University (Springfield, Massachusetts)
  • Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut)

The Future of Energy Efficiency in Off-site Construction

As we look forward on housing demand, how can we use what we’ve learned in energy efficiency over the years and apply it to the future of the building industry?
The Future of Energy Efficiency in Off-site Construction

When I take a look around the construction industry today, I admit I’m pretty surprised if a builder has not implemented some kind of energy efficiency standards into their building practices.  Of course, this was not always the case.  The emergence of many of the energy efficiency programs in the 80’s and 90’s were a direct result of the energy crisis in the 70’s.  Policymakers in Washington were motivated by a new level of environmentalism as efforts were made to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels.

A specific challenge drove the industry to work on solutions.

And even with the strides that have been made in the energy efficiency sector, it still remains far from perfect.  But that’s what progress is all about, right?  It’s solid, incremental changes, and constantly pushing the bar higher.

The most dire challenge currently facing the U.S. (and other countries around the world) is housing affordability.  Both in our inability to create it fast enough, and the inability to create it at an attainable cost for average income earners.  I’m not solely focusing on “low-income” housing, but it is alarming that over 11 million Americans pay more than half their salaries for monthly rent. This is an increase of more than 30% over the last five years.2

So what does all that have to do with energy efficiency?  Everything.  When you have a monthly housing budget that comes with an inconsistent energy bill, it can be unnerving.  Applying practical, energy efficiency standards helps make housing more attainable, but alone, isn’t enough to deal with the growing affordability gap.

Off-site construction methods (volumetric, panelized, etc.) have increasingly come into sharper focus as a viable solution for the housing attainability crisis.  But with that, we need to take what we’ve learned over the last 40 years in the energy efficiency sector and figure out how to utilize factory methods to make off-site constructed housing as efficient as possible.  And we need not stop at energy efficiency.  With factory methods, we have an opportunity to utilize technology, and its data, in a way that has never been done before.  For the foreseeable future, builders will be looking at HOW they build (off-site) relative to WHAT we build (energy efficient and sustainable products).  Off-site construction affords an opportunity to rethink energy efficiency.

The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) recently announced a 3-year project where they will be partnering with Factory OS (Mare Island, CA), Vaughan Buckley Construction (Philadelphia, PA), and Full Stack Modular (New York) to look at how to maximize energy efficiency in the factory process.

“As the emerging off-site modular sector continues to expand, we are seeking to embed energy efficiency and grid-interactive building concepts into the factory design, construction, and assembly process,” says Shanti Pless, Senior Research Engineer at NREL.  “We see a big opportunity to meet the challenges of affordability and low energy costs in the multifamily sector through the integration of high performance building strategies into the advanced building manufacturing industry.”

In addition to partner-factories, the project is also forming an Advisory Board whose purpose will be to provide guidance and technical support for the project as well insight and support for the development of modular industrialization standards that will be shared with other industry players.  Members of the Advisory Board will include players from technology integration, data/software, systems, building envelope, site assembly, automation/advanced manufacturing, codes, and standards.

If you’re interested in learning more about the project or the Advisory Board, contact heather@brandhmarketing.com or colby@miginnovation.com.

 

1Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University 2017.

2https://www.monroegroup.com/about-us/affordable-housing-statistics/

The Need for Energy Automation

The Need for Energy Automation

As various states around the country amp up the use of renewable energy sources, the structure of the electricity grid will continue to morph into a system that sustains more and more automation.

Blake Richetta and Olaf Lohr of sonnen Inc. wrote: “The challenges posed by the intermittent and unpredictable nature of renewable energy on the electricity grid are well documented and include the monumental task of connecting renewable generation, at the specific time that it is generated, with energy demand. Additionally, renewables put considerable strain on the electrical grid from a voltage and frequency regulation perspective.”

Distribution automation (DA) technologies surrounding smart grids have been around for a while and are continuing to advance as energy systems are increasingly being inundated with distributed resources. The increase in natural disasters creates a greater need for grids that are resilient in extreme weather events, making the need for distribution automation even more important than ever.

Designed to help predict energy demand and mitigate issues on the grid, DA brings together software, sensors, and switches, integrating diverse sources of electricity and identifying when events such as power outages occur.

As we plunge deeper into the fourth industrial revolution we’ll continue to see more and more energy automation as we shift from the simple digitization seen in the Third Industrial Revolution, to technology that will force companies to collaborate and reexamine business-as-usual.

What interesting trends or innovations are you seeing in distribution automation?

The Flashing Yellow Arrow

Ongoing education is essential for keeping up with what's going on in your industry, and not getting stuck at that blinking light.
The Flashing Yellow Arrow

Back in 2013 I was working on a project in Tucson, Arizona. One day as I was driving around town, I got into a left turn lane on a green light and waited for an opening. To my surprise, the light went from green to a flashing yellow arrow - something I had never seen before. Cars were honking behind me and I just sat there while the light turned red.

If you’re judging me right now, go ahead. To my defense, I grew up on an island that had ZERO stop lights and only a handful of stop signs. I later discovered that the Federal Highway Administration had passed some type of ordinance in 2009 “authorizing the use of flashing yellow arrows nationwide.” And just so you know, there are areas in SW Louisiana that JUST made the switch in late 2018.

Later that same day while reflecting on that incident, I knew I should have instinctively known what to do on that flashing yellow light. But it also made me think...driving is something I did almost every single day but I hadn’t studied or read up on the changes in driving laws since Driver’s Ed (over 20 years earlier at that time). I wasn’t as knowledgeable as I should have been.

In a recent article from Builder, the author referenced a 2018 survey where 31% of home builders said their biggest challenge in constructing new homes to meet energy code was cost. Additionally, 10% of those surveyed responded that their biggest challenge was dealing with the airtightness of a home: “Builders described issues with airtightness of homes ranging from inability to meet current air change requirements, to those believing building homes ‘too tight’ introduced moisture or ventilation issues, particularly in very humid climates.”

The author then stated, “I would suggest that a deeper analysis of this issue will find that a lack of training and education about energy-efficient building practices as the primary reason that cost is a challenge for builders in meeting the energy code.”

Many of you reading this might agree with that statement. While we’ve seen energy efficiency become more and more standard over the years, there is still an enormous opportunity to educate our industry. I didn’t study up on the changes in traffic lights back in the day, but I do wish I had had someone there to walk me through that flashing yellow arrow.

With a mission “to advance and disseminate building science knowledge in the residential new construction community via education and collaboration,” learning is the very core of what EEBA is all about. So the next time you’re attending an educational event, consider bringing along a builder or other industry professional who might benefit from what you’re learning. Or, offer yourself up as a free resource for people who are wanting to become more knowledgeable in a particular area you have expertise in.

Let’s get that 10% lower and help guide someone through their flashing yellow arrow.

It’s All About People

It’s All About People

Back in the early 2000’s I was working as a Limited Practice Officer in Washington State. The real estate market was on fire and we couldn’t close deals fast enough. Realtors were pulling in huge commissions and lenders were having a hay-day. As we crept closer to 2008, home and land prices were becoming ridiculously high and I remember wondering why, and how, people were obtaining so many 2nd and 3rd mortgages.

I recall a few instances when buyers were signing documents and would say something like, “Well, I sure hope I can afford my utility bill after this.” They were joking at the time, but upon receipt of that first bill, many may have quickly realized they actually couldn’t afford the house they had just purchased, in addition to the utility bill that went along with it. By law, as a neutral third-party we were not allowed to advise buyers and sellers on anything except to tell them if they had concerns they should talk to their realtor or lender.

After leaving that side of real estate shortly after the crash, I shifted a bit and have since had the privilege of working alongside and learning from some of the most knowledgeable and forward-thinking people in the building industry. Sustainability and energy efficiency are seen now more as a standard rather than a revolutionary idea - and that’s due to the consistent work of all of you out there who have pushed the dial forward for so many years.

I was recently chatting with a new modular construction company that decided to implement IAQ and energy efficiency standards in their designs. As I sat listening to the person talk passionately about their goal of providing healthy, affordable living conditions for their customers I remember thinking: This is what it’s all about. People.

Life is busy. Doing what we do takes time. Changing long-standing “systems” can seem daunting, but if we can keep our eye on the purpose of why we are doing what we do, it will always be worth it. It’s ultimately for the people who will be living in those homes. Our knowledge, our innovation - it’s only useful if it benefits people.

Let us know what changes you are looking to see in our industry in 2019? And don’t forget to Save the Date for this year’s High Performance Home Summit in Denver (October 1-3).

Mandalay Homes is Spot “iON” With Their New Series of Homes

Mandalay Homes has decided to do what no other production builder has done - provide rooftop solar as a standard product on every home they build in their new iON Series.
Mandalay Homes is Spot “iON” With Their New Series of Homes

A 10-time winner of the DOE’s award for innovation, and an ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year for two years in a row, Mandalay Homes has proven their passion for building homes that promote safety, health, comfort, style, reduced energy costs, and less environmental impact.

“We always strive to build homes that create a healthier environment for our homeowners while saving them money and contributing to the bigger picture, which is sustainable building practices and a reduced carbon footprint,” says Dave Everson, Founder and CEO of Mandalay Homes.

Available in the Prescott, Clarkdale, and Wickenburg, Arizona areas, the iON Series has a carbon footprint nearly 65% lower than a code-built competitor home and utilizes intelligent technology to increase water conservation efforts and reduce the amount of building materials used during the construction process.

Built to the EPA’s Indoor airPLUS certification, the iON boasts high standards for indoor air quality. Carefully selected products and features like an HVAC system that is 30% more efficient than a standard system helps provide a healthy living environment for home buyers.

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