A group of students from the School of Architecture and Construction Management at Washington State University will compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. Over the next two years, the students will design and construct a small, energy-independent home as their entry.

Sponsored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the competition gives students two years to plan and build a 500- to 800-square-foot house that receives all of its energy needs from the sun. The competition aims to increase public awareness of solar energy and inspire innovative solutions in ecological design. As part of the competition, students have to provide a home with all the modern conveniences, including heating and air conditioning, refrigeration, hot water, lighting, appliances, and communications. The homes are judged on their energy production, efficiency, and design. The event is called a decathlon because the homes are judged in 10 separate areas.

The homes will be transported to Washington, D.C. during the summer of 2005 for display and judging on the Washington Mall. Last year’s display drew an average of 25,000 visitors per day. Of the 20 participating teams from throughout the world, WSU’s is the only competitor from the Northwest.

“Our students are always interested in building real projects,” says Matthew Taylor, assistant professor of architecture, who will oversee the project.

The biggest challenge, says Taylor, will be gathering support, money, and materials for the project. The group plans to use state-of-the-art, wood-plastic composite materials from the Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory. They also hope to enlist support from alumni in the building and construction industries. Transporting the building across the country also promises to be a challenge, says Taylor.

In September, three students will attend a three-day seminar to learn about the project. Taylor is also teaching a course on ecological design this fall that will incorporate discussion of solar-home design and the decathlon project.