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How UW students are designing zero-net energy homes

A random house

One of the biggest barriers to leading an eco-friendly life can be our homes. Buildings account for a large amount of the greenhouse gasses we emit, which is why the U.S. Department of Energy has held the Solar Decathlon, a program that encourages students to think of creative solutions to energy based problems, for nearly two decades.

In August of last year Mark Keane, a professor at UW-Milwaukee, talked about the university’s entry into the decathlon where UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison students were recruited to design zero-net energy homes.

Months later, those designs are now closer to being made available to Wisconsin residents. Keane, who led the recruitment, gave an update on the program including what could be next for the designs.

“If there are people out there that are looking for new home construction and do it the right way and reduce the carbon footprint, they work with the students with a schematic design in the fall and in the spring we actually get the construction documents set,” says Keane.

In conjunction with the UW-Madison college of mechanical engineering the program has been able to accrue 26 total students and Keane says this has allowed them to take full advantage of the impact that the program can have.

“We will have 20 homes that will be designed for the seven clients we are working for this year and the students coming out of the fall semester have selected the one scheme that they want to submit to the competition,” says Keane.

With schematic design out of the way the next step is to assess how much the homes will cost to build. Once this is done, Keane says that the homes will be much closer to being built.

“Now when you draw, it’s not just an idea, it’s a language of how much the idea will cost,” says Keane. “We might do 2ft by 3ft drawings with multiple drawings per sheet and maybe 16 or 20 of those sheets — so that’s a lot of body work and graphic design that’s going to explain the home down to every issue the contractor needs to know to bid on a project.”

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