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Last spring, a Colorado couple moved into a new hyper-efficient, solar-powered home in the small mountain town of Fraser.

The house was designed and constructed not by architects and green builders but by students from the University of Colorado, Boulder. The project was part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon Build Challenge, a competition in which college teams design and build sustainable homes.

“They not only built for a real location: climate zone seven, Fraser, Colorado, incredibly cold. They built this house for real people, real clients,” says Jennifer Scheib, the team’s faculty advisor.

She says the students’ design relies on well-developed sustainable building technologies and practices.

The house is heavily insulated, with thick walls and high-performance windows. It’s heated with heat pumps, and rooftop solar generates electricity.

But she says the act of applying these technologies in the real world was an invaluable learning experience.

“The real work is in the iteration – the coming back to the table, looking at the options, looking at exactly how things come together, over and over again,” she says.

Those efforts paid off. The team won first prize in the competition. And Scheib says the clients are satisfied.

“They’re really happy and pleased with the end product,” she says.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media