U-M students in national competition building home of the future

April 6, 2005
  • umichnews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—University of Michigan architecture senior Jim Kumon is sure he’s part of a team building a house of the future, the kind that will likely become the norm as his young career progresses.

Starting this month, Kumon and a team of more than 50 students are building a 700-square-foot solar-powered house using commonly available materials that can handle the basic power needs of a small home as well as a small car. By fall, they’ll have to move it to the mall in Washington, D.C. and re-assemble the whole thing in four days and make it all work.

"We wouldn’t want people to say ‘That’s a neat idea but I wouldn’t want to live there,’" Kumon said. "This is the type of building that will become the standard. It’s just a better way to build. We have a passion about this because it’s a student-led effort.”

The Michigan Solar House Project, or MiSo, is U-M’s entry as one of 18 competitors in a national solar house contest sponsored by the U.S. Energy Department. They’ll be tested on this, not in the sunny days of summer, but in October when sunny skies are harder to come by. And at the end of the weeklong contest, each team is required to have more energy stored up than they had when they started. The prize is a trophy and bragging rights.

The team has been raising $300,000 for the project including the cost of building the house and shipping it 523 miles to Washington, where they’ll have to have to re-build and power the house for a week. Hundreds of thousands of visitors will tour the competing houses as they walk along the mall that is home to some of the most famous buildings in the world including the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the Washington and Lincoln monuments.

One of the primary goals is to make solar-powered homes that would appeal to average homeowners as well as function on their own. Contest rules require the participants to use commonly available building materials already on the market and to follow guidelines set out by the International Residential Code and the International Building Code. After the contest ends in mid-October, the team hopes to display the house in a prominent Michigan location.

Jonas Hauptman, a lecturer and research fellow at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture, is the faculty coordinator for the project. MiSo is fully integrated into the college’s curriculum to allow students from five partner schools and colleges—the College of Engineering and the schools of Art & Design, Natural Resources and Environment, Business, and Film and Video—to earn credit while working on the project. This is U-M’s first entry into the contest.

The teams together will build a solar village. Like a regular decathlon, they must compete in numerous areas including architecture and livability and comfort, how well the solar homes perform in providing energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, lights, and appliances. Each solar house must also power an electric car.  

Kumon said students are inspired by U-M’s recent efforts to completely renovate a more than 100-year-old building, the Dana Building that houses U-M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment.

The Greening of Dana project used the latest environmentally friendly materials and designs from solar panels to composting toilets to make the 1903 building environmentally friendly while preserving its original character and charm.

"The Dana Building was definitely one of the inspirations for this,” Kumon said. "The triple bottom line is a way of thinking that looks at the environment, economy and equity.”

Related links:

Michigan Solar House Project— MiSo

Solar Decathlon

Dana Building