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Stanford Students’ “Start.Home” Debuted At Solar Decathlon

Originally published on 1Sun4All.

Stanford students participated in the US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon green-building competition for the first time this year, but performed like seasoned veterans, reports Stanford News. The student-built Start.Home finished fifth among an international field of 19 similar projects.

I’d note that there was a sense of openness in the Start.Home house, with well-designed and efficiently used space. One of the elegant and unique features was the “Room Switch” which powers down lights and electronics for an entire room with a single touch, thereby avoiding phantom loads when unoccupied. The following is an official Stanford news release:

Stanford’s student-built home ranks high in green building competition


Stanford students participating for the first time in the Department of Energy’s green building competition were pleased that their project finished fifth in the international competition.| Photo credit: Bjorn Care© Stanford University.

The Solar Decathlon invites students to present their vision of an affordable, solar-powered home. Each house was judged on 10 criteria, such as engineering, energy balance and affordability, with each category worth 100 points toward an overall score.


The kitchen, eating area and study in the house built by students from Stanford University to compete in Solar Decathlon 2013. | Photo credit: Jason Flakes | U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Stanford students entered the contest with their Start.Home concept, a solar-powered modular home built around a Core unit that encapsulates the bulk of the home’s electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems – an approach that helped make the home more energy efficient, and could also lead to assembly-line-like production of sustainable homes. The home also featured several design elements meant to guide homeowners toward self-selecting energy-efficient behaviors.

The Start.Home scored in the top five of six categories, though students were particularly proud of finishing tied for first in “Affordability” – their house cost $234,000, significantly less than any of the projects that finished ahead of Stanford – and tied for third in “Market Appeal.”


The bathroom and laundry in Start.Home, built by students from Stanford University to compete in Solar Decathlon 2013. | Photo credit: Jason Flakes | U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Team Austria, of the Vienna University of Technology, took the top honors, finishing with 951.9 points out of a possible 1,000. Competition was tight near the top, though: Stanford finished just 18.8 points out of first place.

Team leader Derek Ouyang, ’13:

For a first-time competitor that was relatively short staffed, and competing against more experienced teams, I think fifth place is pretty damn good.


The deck of the house built by students from Stanford University to compete in Solar Decathlon 2013. | Photo credit: Jason Flakes | U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

The two results underscored the positive comments from the roughly 10,000 visitors who toured the house during the 10-day competition.

Derek Ouyang:

We set out with a couple of major goals, and we didn’t want to build an impossible vision of the future, but a very practical, feasible direction for the industry. We valued affordability and market appeal the most from the start. Doing well in those contests is among our proudest achievements.

The competition was held in Irvine, California, which inspired the team to design a home that they believed would fit the environmental and lifestyle demands of a young California couple. With that goal in mind, they were pleased to place higher than any other California-based team.

Rob Best, the construction lead:

We put together a concept that’s a model for sustainable home building in California, and we got really great feedback from people who visited the house. We probably could have taken a million dollars in down payments from people wanting to buy one.

The students said that designing and building an entire home from the ground up was the ultimate learning experience.


The exterior of the house built by Stanford University students, shown in the Solar Decathlon 2013, Solar Village. | Photo credit: Jason Flakes | U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Best, a PhD student in sustainable design and construction in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering:

As an engineer going into this field to design energy building systems, having this level of a nuts-and-bolts experience is huge. This changes my perception of how to design, and how those designs will be received by industry. We’ll all be better engineers and architects as a result of participating in this project.

Ouyang, who graduated last year with degrees in architectural design and civil engineering, said the Start.Home’s success was a testament to how much students can achieve at Stanford if they have the initiative to take on new challenges.

Derek Ouyang:

This project brought together so many students that would never have worked together. What started largely as a construction-based project, working in Civil and Environmental Engineering, eventually brought in students and faculty from Electrical Engineering, Computer Science and the This opened up ways that we were trying to solve problems, and we got a lot of new insights as we took a more human-sensitive approach to the home. It was pretty awesome.

The team is now disassembling the house, which will be installed permanently at Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve as a home for the family of the preserve’s ranger. The Department of Energy hasn’t yet issued the guidelines for the next competition in 2015, but students are already assembling a new squad. Best and Ouyang said that they and other Start.Home graduates would be happy to advise and even lend a hammer on busy days.

Derek Ouyang:

They are going to be free to take their house in new directions. I have a feeling that the Core might have a comeback, maybe a version 2.0. Better, but with entirely different architecture around it. That’s the legacy that we hope to establish, and for Stanford teams to keep getting better and better.

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Written By

-- I am an artist, painter, writer, interior designer, graphic designer, and constant student of many studies. Living with respect for the environment close at hand, the food chain, natural remedies for healing the earth, people and animals is a life-long expression and commitment. As half of a home-building team, I helped design and build harmonious, sustainable and net-zero homes that incorporate clean air systems, passive and active solar energy as well as rainwater collection systems. Private aviation stirs a special appeal, I would love to fly in the solar airplane and install a wind turbine in my yard. I am a peace-loving, courageous soul, and I am passionate about contributing to the clean energy revolution. I formerly designed and managed a clean energy website,


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