UWM Architecture Students Compete In Solar Design Decathlon

Apr 11, 2019

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy launched its first solar decathlon, giving college teams the opportunity to design energy-efficient houses powered by renewable energy. Since its inception, more than 150 collegiate teams from around the world have participated.

This year, one of the groups competing includes UWM School of Architecture & Urban Planning students and UW-Madison engineering students — calling themselves the Urban Innovators. Together they designed "Domus Solis," which means solar home in Latin. It's one of the projects competing at the solar decathlon this weekend in Golden, Colo.

Chris Klawitter and Max Rodencal are juniors majoring in architecture at UWM and members of Urban Innovators, the team competing at the U.S. Department of Energy's solar decathlon this weekend.
Credit Susan M Bence

UWM architecture majors Chris Klawitter and Max Rodencal are both juniors and Urban Innovators' team members. Klawitter says the project is unlike any other they’ve taken on thus far in their college years.

“In studio we do a lot of conceptual projects … and then submit it six weeks later and call it a day. This has been going on since October and we’ve worked with engineers and done construction drawings,” Klawitter adds, “This is the one project that we could actually build in real life and we’ve never done that before.”

Rodencal says the competition required that their house could be no larger than 2,500 square feet.

“We just made it at 2,498 square feet,” Rodencal says.

He said their team decided to design a home that could be built in an urban setting and function as a family home.

“You can start a family and stay there. That’s why we put the master bedroom on the main floor,” Klawitter says.

Rodencal says, “Curb appeal is important. We didn’t want to crowd the lot. It looks like a single story, but the bedrooms are packed in the upper area."

The house they designed would cost roughly $300,000 to buy. To cut costs, they sourced as many materials locally as possible.

“We wanted to keep it cheap because housing can become expensive,” Klawitter adds, “That’s not unbearable based on what you’ll save [in energy costs] over time.”

Each student has favorite design elements.

A glimpse of Domus Solis' interior.
Credit UWM School of Architecture and Urban Design

“We turned a house that’s supposed to be off the grid into a home that just looks like a home ... .We kept an open floor plan, tied appliances to one plumbing down to reduce pipe traveling,” he adds, “There’s just a lot of features that we definitely thought a lot about.”

Max Rodencal says that includes the kitchen. It features a built-in table and benches. “So, when the space is not being used, you just pushed the table over the seating so it uses less space in the kitchen. But then let’s say you have your family or friends over, you can pull the table back out,” Rodencal says.

The students admit the project came with challenges. One being that they collaborated with engineers the first time. “We think differently. We hadn’t experienced that,” Klawitter says.

But Rodencal says the experience will help them when they start their careers: “People aren’t just going to be OK with what you're doing. Then it’s time to figure it out,” he says.

They hope to build a prototype of their nearly 2,500 square foot home near downtown Madison in preparation for the Solar Decathlon Build Challenge next year in Washington, D.C.

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