The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a biannual contest to conceive, design, and build the home of the future: a renewable, tech-forward, and net-zero building that operates completely off the grid by harnessing the power of the sun. The University of Maryland has competed in the Solar Decathlon five times over the past 15 years. In 2011, UMD’s WaterShed house, named for the mid-Atlantic’s crown jewel and largest tributary, took top prize and scored the highest number of points ever in the history of the competition. Terps have brought home second-place wins twice—in 2017 with reACT and 2007 with LEAFHouse.
What makes the decathlon experience unique is its interdisciplinary nature, meshing the talents of architecture, engineering, life sciences programs, computer science, and other disciplines to design and build a house in just two years. The Decathlon experience affords students a unique, collaborative forum for teamwork, leadership, and learning. Students have also gone on to help overseas teams in the Solar Decathlon China and Europe and have mentored and managed future teams as alumni.
LeafHouse: UMD’s 2007 entry featured a large expanse of curved glass, moveable panel, smart house adaptive control system and an indoor liquid desiccant waterfall to lower humidity. LeafHouse placed second overall, first in the nation, and took top prize for energy balance and communications contests. LEAFHouse also captured the People’s Choice Award.
UMD’s 2011 first-place-winning WaterShed sported a butterfly roof to harvest rainwater and capitalize on solar harvesting. A separate green roof retained stormwater and minimized heat island effect. In addition to taking first place, WaterShed placed in the top four for all but one of the juried contests and first place for architecture, energy balance and hot water. It scored 951 points out of a possible 1000, the highest percentage ever awarded at the Decathlon.
reACT’s kit of parts design adapts to size, climate and budget constraints. Features included a solar attic to heat water and dry clothes, a four-season courtyard and an innovative mechanical core. reACT took second place overall in the 2017 competition, first in the nation.