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The exterior of the team's new house design
May 6, 2022

Team from UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee places second in 2022 Solar Decathlon

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A team of students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and UW-Milwaukee placed second in the new housing category in the 2022 Solar Decathlon design challenge, held April 22-24 in Golden, Colorado.

The U.S. Department of Energy sponsors the annual Race to Zero Solar Decathlon for colleges and universities each year. Over 20 years, more than 40,000 students across the world have competed to use the latest technologies to design and build the most sustainable buildings possible.

This is the seventh year in a row that UW-Madison’s College of Engineering and UW-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning have teamed up to design a house for the competition. In 2016-2017, the team also earned second place.

The UW-Madison team was made up of seven mechanical engineering majors: Sammie Lundin, Klare Hollenkamp, Kari Weiss, Morgan Kunz, Evan Fernandez, Kirk Mendoza, and Forrest Ahrens.

“It was extremely rewarding to see all our hard work these past two semesters be recognized on the national level,” says Lundin, co-team leader for UW-Madison. “Everyone on the UW-Madison team was integral to the success of our project and we are all so proud of the final product and the outcome. I would recommend this project to upcoming mechanical engineering students about to take their senior design class.”

While the contest does generate ideas about energy efficiency, the designs are also created for specific clients. This year’s entry was designed for a couple who want to build a home in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin. While this couple is interested in the lifestyle amenities of Door County, the students designed the house so it could be mass-produced. Designing the basic two-story house as two rectangles gives flexibility to the layout.

And, like last year’s entry, it could become part of the City of Milwaukee’s portfolio of affordable, energy efficient designs.

The student team members from UW-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning provided the design features that save energy while the UW-Madison engineering students developed the mechanical systems that support that goal.

“Being on the team and participating in the Solar Decathlon gave me valuable hands-on experience in working with other industry professionals and students of different majors,” Lundin says. “It also taught me to be creative in solving real-world problems and that each decision we made had a tradeoff that we had to evaluate and consider. We got to apply what we learned in class at a much deeper level and on a real-world application. This experience has inspired me and a few other team members to want to design their own net-zero homes in the future. This whole experience, which included applied solar technologies, has solidified my decision to pursue a graduate degree in solar from UW-Madison.”

The UW-Madison team members, from left: Klare Hollenkamp, Kari Weiss, Morgan Kunz, Evan Fernandez, Kirk Mendoza, Sammie Lundin and Forrest Ahrens.

The team designed the house with the Wisconsin climate in mind. Design features of this year’s entry include an orientation that provides the most sunlight on the long axis, allowing slopes with photovoltaic panels to capture the sun’s energy year-round. Energy efficient windows and extra insulation create an air-tight envelope around the structure. Window overhangs provide shade, allowing for passive cooling in the warmer months.

The design also minimizes the environmental impact of actual construction, according to Timothy Villwock, a senior in architecture and lead designer on the UW-Milwaukee team. The house can be built in two 14-foot modules in a factory. Environmentally friendly features include the use recycled plastics, rainwater collection and a gray water system that can filter water coming out of bathtubs and washing machines for use again.

By building the modules in a factory, the design also reduces material waste and emissions from transportation and construction vehicles, Villwock added. The plan is for local suppliers to be used for lumber and concrete, and materials recycled from other projects can be incorporated into the house.

With its modular design, the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and square footage can vary, but the design the students presented for the competition has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and 1,400 square feet.

UW-Milwaukee Architecture Professor Mark Keane was the UW-Milwaukee faculty mentor, and Mike Cheadle, a mechanical engineering assistant teaching professor, mentored the UW-Madison part of the team.

A version of this story was originally published by UW-Milwaukee.