Tiny House Competition: Build
Small and Win Big
Since 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy’s
Decathlon competition has challenged college students around the world
to build the most energy-efficient solar-powered house.
After attending recent Solar Decathlons, Suzette Bienvenue, an energy
education specialist at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD),
was inspired to create a similar event but on a smaller scale. She wanted it
to be accessible to all kinds of schools, including local community colleges
with budgets that wouldn’t stretch far enough to allow them to enter the
Solar Decathlon. The solution she hit upon for those tiny budgets was
The Tiny House Competition – Build Small and Win Big
challenged collegiate teams to design and build net-zero, tiny solar houses.
It was held in October of 2016 and was open to all colleges and universities
in California. Participation was designed to promote students’ interest in
energy conservation, energy efficiency, green building, and solar
technologies. SMUD’s Energy Education & Technology Center and Community
Solar programs sponsored the event.
During the two years leading up to
the event, students at ten California colleges and universities designed and
built energy-efficient tiny houses. A stipend between $3,000 and $8,000 was
provided. And an educator or other school administrator mentored each team.
During the competition, students
exhibited their houses to the public, judges, and the media. The categories
included architectural design, livability, communication, affordability,
energy efficiency, appliance load, technology/electrical and mechanical
systems, transportation, sustainability, and documentation. In the end, some
20,000 people had come by to tour the houses, well over the anticipated
figure of 3,000.
The top honor for the best tiny
house overall went to the rEvolve House from Santa Clara University,
pictured at the top of this article and to the right. The
off-grid home is 238 square feet in size and was conceived as a short-term,
low-cost housing solution for local non-profit Operation Freedom Paws, which
matches veterans with potential service dogs. Interior highlights include: a
kitchen with a seating bench and fold-down table, 35-square-foot wet room
with a dry-flush toilet, built-in shelving, and an elevated living/sleeping
area with a Murphy bed. There’s also a roof deck accessible via a spiral
Built of energy-efficient
Structural Insulated Panels, the house runs on eight 330w Sunmodule solar
panels, stores energy in Cradle-to-Cradle-certified saltwater batteries, and
can rotate on a Colossun solar tracking ring to follow the sun and maximize
solar efficiency. The rEvolve House also won awards in eight other
categories, including “Best Integrated Lighting” and “Best Kitchen Design.”
University of California,
Berkeley’s 170-square-foot THIMBY (that is, Tiny House in My Backyard) took
home four awards, including those for “Best Craftsmanship” and “Water
Conservation.” It was designed as the pilot unit in a community of zero net
energy tiny houses in Richmond, California. Running on a 2.2 kW PV array,
the house stores energy in a 6.4 kWh Tesla Powerwall lithium ion battery.
There’s also a “living wall” with an activated carbon filter system that can
recycle greywater for non-potable use.
For more information, photos, and details
about all the participants and winners, visit the
Tiny House Competition website.
Priesnitz is the editor of Natural Life Magazine and the author of thirteen
Natural Life Magazine's Green and Healthy Homes.