Students Finish as Finalists in the US DOE Race to Zero Competition

BOONE—Appalachian State University finished as a top five finalist out of 39 teams, and the only university from North Carolina, that competed in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Race to Zero Student Design Competition at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado, April 18-20. The teams represent 33 schools across the United States, Canada, Norway and China.

DOE is sponsoring the competition to promote high-efficiency new buildings that are "solar ready" and could be seen soon on the market. The designs must follow sustainable building practices to assure durability, comfort and excellent indoor air quality in addition to high levels of energy efficiency.

The student teams are working across disciplines to design a home that is energy efficient, cost effective and can be readily available. Most of Appalachian's team members are either undergraduate or graduate students in the Department of Technology and Environmental Design.

Josh Smith, a graduate student from Durham, is the project's communications team leader. An appropriate technology and sustainable design major, he was a member of Appalachian's Solar Decathlon Europe team that competed in France this past summer.

He views the project as, "an excellent opportunity for Appalachian State University to compete again on an international stage in the field of building science and sustainable design. The educational experience that opportunities such as these create for students is invaluable and I am ecstatic to be able to represent my university in a second competition of this nature. I truly believe that competitions like these act as strong catalysts in the progression of sustainability."

The Race to Zero Student Design Competition is based upon a real-world scenario where a builder needs to update an existing house plan to a high-performance house design or is developing a new high-performance home product line. College teams are given a specific design problem and are asked to either redesign an existing floor plan or create a new house design that satisfies the project requirements. The mandatory performance target is the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home specifications.

The goals of the competition are to:

  • Inspire and develop the next generation of building science professionals
  • Advance and enhance building science curriculum in universities
  • Complement the experiential learning benefits provided by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon through an additional collegiate competition opportunity

Lena Burkett, a graduate student in building science from Arkansas, leads the student team. She said the Race-to-Zero competition "is a great way to showcase our talents by designing an ultra-efficient home that is also market-ready. We will benefit from our team members' wide range of professional experiences and areas of study. We are excited to be engaged in this worthwhile and challenging opportunity."

Dan Ryan Homes in Raleigh is a key industry partner on the project. The site for the design is in one of their neighborhoods currently under construction in Mebane. Edwin Woods, a graduate of Appalachian's building science program, is president of Dan Ryan Homes' regional office in Raleigh. "Once again, Appalachian has shown it is a leader in innovation and technology. My team feels privileged to be working with this excited and creative group of students on this impressive international competition," he said.

Other industry partners are PlyGem, the American Wood Council and Southern Energy Management. They have provided feedback to the team on highly efficient exterior walls, floors, windows and ceilings for the building.

Jeff Tiller is the lead faculty advisor for the project. According to Tiller, "The project will demonstrate that very high levels of energy efficiency using state-of-the-art materials, products and techniques are cost effective for consumers. We are grateful for the excellent support of the Dan Ryan Homes and our other industry partners on this exciting national competition. Our team of 20 students and several faculty advisors has worked incredibly hard in a short period of time to create a practical, marketable and amazingly efficient home for the future."

This will be the third international competition of this nature that Appalachian has competed in. In addition to last summer's Solar Decathlon Europe, the university competed in the U.S. Solar Decathlon held in Washington, D.C. in 2011.

ASU Race to Zero Team
Published: May 20, 2015 5:32pm