Team OC hopes its energy-efficient home takes the Solar Decathlon prize

Share via

Delving into the competitive world of innovative energy-efficiency, four Orange County schools are getting their first chance to shine at the bi-annual national Solar Decathlon hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy.

It is the seventh time schools from across the country have gathered to compete in the event held this year at Orange County Great Park in Irvine. It is the first time for Team Orange County, made up of students from UC Irvine, Irvine Valley College, Chapman University in Orange and Saddleback College in Mission Viejo.

Seventeen teams from schools across the country have already delivered and assembled pieces of their energy-efficient and drought-resistant houses for the 2015 competition that will run Thursday through Oct. 18.


The winning team will be chosen based on their house’s cost-effectiveness, appeal to consumers and design with optimal energy production.

“It’s fabulous to have not only our students participate, but to work with two community colleges,” Greg Washington, dean of UCI’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering. “The partnership is great and they’re all gaining an experience that we can’t teach in the classroom.”

For the past two years, students from the four Orange County campuses worked together to design their 2,000 square-foot house, Casa del Sol. About 100 students participated throughout the two years with most coming and going as classes ended.

Each school was responsible for a specific aspect of the house. UCI was responsible for engineering; Saddleback for interior design; IVC for construction, technology and safety; and Chapman for marketing.

The group met weekly alternating between campuses to discuss designs. Students began construction on the modern, box-like facility this summer at the Irvine Valley College campus.

The energy and water-saving features of the house includes solar panels, solar thermal radiant cooling in the ceilings and a paraffin-lined dryer that holds heat for multiple loads.

Alex McDonald, a UCI mechanical engineering student and project manager of the team, said working on the house was like “being in finals week, but every day for two years straight.”

“We do want to win but more importantly this is a chance to train the next generation of future leaders in clean technology,” McDonald said. “We’ve been able to learn in a very real and tangible way.”

To deliver the house to Orange County Great Park, the team broke it apart into modular sections, placed them on a truck and sent them to the decathlon’s location for assembly.

Similarly, a competing team from Missouri University of Science and Technology cut their solar-powered house into pieces and had them shipped to Irvine on four semi-trailers.

The Missouri house, named the Nest Home after a bird’s ability to build nests with natural matter, utilizes reclaimed materials. The house’s living area was constructed using repurposed shipping containers while its siding is created from shipping pallet lumber.

The decathlon consists of 10 contests worth 100 points each, for a final total maximum of 1,000 points at the end of the competition.

Contest categories include architecture, market appeal and energy balance.

Juries of experts in architecture, engineering and communications, and marketing will determine the score of the teams.