What is the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon?
The University of Kansas team, Dirt Works Studio, is competing with more than a dozen national and international collegiate teams to design and build the most sustainable, cutting-edge house powered by renewables.
Students from the University of Kansas aren’t waiting to tackle climate change; they are starting while still in school by designing and building a zero-energy house as part of the U.S. Department of EnergySolar Decathlon®.
“The mission of the Solar Decathlon Build Challenge competition aligns beautifully with the mission of the University of Kansas’ Designbuild program in the School of Architecture and Design – balancing care for our local communities, concern for the health of the planet, and a dedication to educate future leaders in the design of a more sustainable, equitable, and inspired built environment, “said Chad Kraus, Faculty Lead.
More than a dozen finalist teams, including the University of Kansas each earned $50,000 in prize funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to build and exhibit their ground-breaking, zero-energy buildings in their home communities before competing for the contest and grand prizes in April 2023.
Who is the University of Kansas Dirt Works Studio?
The University of Kansas design, Haven Studio, stands out among the international competitors because of its innovative envelope design that addresses both embodied and operational carbon, and the high level of involvement from students in the construction process.
Most people are familiar with operational carbon – how much energy is used to run the building after it is constructed. Embodied carbon is often overlooked – it is the amount of carbon embodied in materials and assemblies, including harvesting, processing, transportation, and the actual construction.
Haven Studio is minimizing both its operational and embodied carbon with an innovative building envelope, partially prefabricated in collaboration with Build Smart. This building envelope will be highly insulated and airtight due to the increased precision of prefabrication and thoughtful design of the whole assembly, significantly reducing operational carbon.
Efficient prefabrication also reduces embodied carbon through less material waste. In addition, Dirt Works Studio has partnered with TimberHP to include in these prefabricated panels a continuous insulation board made entirely of wood. This product is inherently renewable and has lower embodied carbon than more conventional insulation products.
A quad-pane window wall system from Alpen HPP will complete the building envelope by allowing in ample natural light while maintaining its thermal performance. All of this will be complemented by innovative HVAC technology supplied by Mitsubishi Electric.
The University of Kansas Architecture department has a 25-year legacy of designbuild education. Outside of a few limited partnerships, students engaged in all aspects of construction, from foundations to finishes. This project has also sparked a new collaboration with Tenants to Homeowners, a local Lawrence, Kansas nonprofit that has helped more than 400 families become homeowners since 1992. After the completion of this project, future studios plan to design and build several tiny homes over the next several academic years in collaboration with Tenants to Homeowners.
“For 20 years, DOE’s Solar Decathlon has harnessed the ingenuity and enthusiasm of America’s students to generate cutting-edge climate solutions, “said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The innovative building designs developed by this year’s competitors demonstrate how clean energy technologies can be applied to households across the country, including slashing costs for American families, modernizing energy infrastructure, and decarbonizing the building sector.”