UW solar decathlon house takes shape near Lander

Work is progressing on a solar-powered home in the foothills of Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains that represents the entry by a team of University of Wyoming students in an international competition to design zero-energy buildings.

The three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home, located 10 miles southwest of Lander and overlooking Red Canyon, is part of the 2023 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 20th annual Solar Decathlon Build Challenge.

The Solar Decathlon Build Challenge is DOE’s longest-tenured student competition, challenging 40,000 students across the world to use the latest technologies to design and build the most sustainable buildings possible.

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The students from UW’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences are among 16 finalist teams — selected from 23 collegiate institutions spanning four countries — that have been awarded $50,000 in prize funding to build and exhibit their groundbreaking, zero-energy buildings this spring, when they will compete for grand prizes.

The UW Solar Decathlon Build Challenge house is designed in a modern Mountain West style. It will have a super insulated and air-tight envelope; advanced heating systems, including a heat pump and radiant floors; green building materials; and a large array of solar panels to ensure the home will produce more energy than it consumes on an annual basis.

The contractors and UW student designers recently held an open house for the local community, with a DOE representative also in attendance.

“Community projects like this solar house are a great way to innovate and inspire architecture and construction innovation in a region,” says Dhawal Jain, a new faculty member in UW’s Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management, who is one of the project advisers. “My previous experience of working on similar community projects in New York state, a few African countries and India has taught me such interventions positively impact the region, such as creating local engagement opportunities and promoting construction techniques and styles native to the region. It empowers the community.”

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Jain, who worked on previous Solar Decathlon Build Challenges during his graduate program at Virginia Tech University, has joined fellow faculty member Aysegul “Aysha” Demir and Department Head Anthony “Tony” Denzer to organize a new class to encourage more UW students to become involved in the project. Jon Gardzelewski, an industry professional and a previous UW faculty member, also is involved with the project. The UW student core team includes Alison Carlo, of Pueblo, Colo.; Erika Ferrell, of Green River; Nick Meier, of Laramie; and Travis Wicks, of Casper.

According to Denzer, “What will probably distinguish this house from others in the competition is that it’s designed to appeal to a typical Wyoming homebuyer.”

During the spring semester, students in the new ARE 4920 course will help see UW’s entry through the final stages with a series of activities — spread across 10 categories — that will be used to judge the house.

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Contractors Cory and Morgan Toye, of Timshel Construction, have reached the enclosure stage of construction, which is scheduled for completion in the spring, when the house will be instrumented and tested for the final stage of the competition. The UW student team will showcase the home to the public, with both in-person and 3D virtual tours, and will then present to jurors again at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in April for the final awards.

“This project provides a very unique opportunity to UW students to get involved with the local community and contribute to creating a modern, energy-efficient building,” Jain says. “We are targeting a wide variety of students from various disciplines to make the team better equipped for the competition.”

After the competition, the home, on its 6-acre lot, will be made available for sale.

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To view the most recent 3D scan of the interiors of the house, visit https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=sY5gBaZG9VS.

For more information about the UW Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management, visit www.uwyo.edu/civil.

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