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Designing bright ideas: Solar Decathlon 2013

If you ask Solar Decathlon director Richard King why the average person might want to swing by the U.S. Department of Energy's biennial competition when it opens in 12 days, he answers with a question of his own:

"Where else can you see 20 houses so inspiring, side by side?"

Indeed, on Sept. 23, 20 teams consisting of students from 30 schools as diverse as Stanford, El Paso Community College and the Vienna University of Technology begin assembling the most unusual housing tract to hit Orange County. During the week and a half that follows, they will attempt to build the most energy-efficient, water-wise, affordable and design-savvy houses they can dream up.

GRAPHIC: A closer look at eight Solar Decathlon 2013 teams

"It's a university competition not played on a gridiron," King says. "It's architecture and engineering geeks, smart students who want to not only learn but get their heads around how you build the house of the future."

For the first time since King founded the Solar Decathlon in 2000, the event will be staged away from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with the teams constructing their houses -- and the public invited to tour them -- at the Great Park in Irvine.

If past years are any indication, the design and technology spectacle that is the Solar Decathlon will draw its fair share of visitors simply looking for ideas about all aspects of home design -- lighting, flooring, appliances and, King says -- for the real nerds -- what kind of insulation, solar panels and other materials are built into the structures. People come with pens and pads, he says. "They're taking notes."

Each team built its design at home to prove its viability, then deconstructed and shipped the design to Irvine for reconstruction. The homes open for public viewing Oct. 3 to 6, close for judging Oct. 7 to 9, then reopen to the public viewing Oct. 10 to 13. Gawking is free. A related expo will have information and exhibitors on wind and solar energy and electric and fuel cell cars, among other topics. For more information, visit www.solardecathlon.gov.

Eight of the teams are featured on our site, along with links to their websites for more info on the design and building process. During the run of the event, we'll be blogging on site, posting student dispatches from the competition and reporting on contest results on our L.A. at Home blog, latimes.com/home.

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