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Tiny House Competition: Build Small and Win Big

Tiny House Competition: Build Small and Win Big
by Wendy Priesnitz

Since 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar 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 tiny houses.

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.

Tiny House from Santa Clara University

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 staircase.

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.

Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Natural Life Magazine and the author of thirteen books, including Natural Life Magazine's Green and Healthy Homes.



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