Why I Love the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge!

A Former Competitor’s Take on the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge

Why I Love the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge!

by Nathan Kahre

Long nights, worrying over designs, stressing over deadlines, and more work than I have ever been put through before, this is what I remember from when I competed in what was Race to Zero, now the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge.  What I also remember is the time spent working with a team, iterations of energy models, and the joy of getting to present all my hard work.

I thank Solar Decathlon Design Challenge for the opportunities that I have had in the high-performance home industry.  The competition forced me to take the theoretical and make it real.  It also put me in connection with experts across the country and landed me my first job in the industry.  After spending a day of stressing over the competition, I ended up meeting this crazy production builder that was focusing on net zero homes and wanted to implement new products and techniques to improve the indoor air quality in their homes and hopefully impact the health of the occupants.  That twenty-minute conversation completely changed my perspective on what a production home builder could be, landed me a successful internship, and now 3 years later I have turned into that crazy production builder myself.  Finding ways to enable these types of conversations and connect students to all the great builders across the country is a passion of mine.  



I am lucky enough that the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge happens in my backyard and getting to attend the competition is a highlight of my year.  I am constantly impressed by the time commitment and skill each of the teams portrays.  This year was no exception with 45 teams competing from 37 collegiate institutions from across the United States, along with teams from England, India, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Panama, and Brazil.  The diversity of projects and solutions employed were thoughtful and showed a group of caring hardworking students excited about net zero construction.  The Solar Decathlon is truly developing the next generation of building scientists, architects, and construction professionals; and equipping them with the skills necessary to build high performance homes, apartments, office buildings, and schools.

Now in its sixth year, the design competition challenges students to develop market-ready net zero home designs across a variety of design divisions (single family urban and suburban, attached housing, small multifamily, office buildings, and schools).  Students can’t just develop a pretty home, but must also integrate building science knowledge, market analysis, and construction management skills, and wrap it up into a 20-minute presentation in front a panel of experts.  This leads to 6 division winners and one grand winner.  Take a look at this year’s winners and their presentations here.

What happens next?  There is a pool of talented students, many of whom are ready to enter the workforce, ready to contribute to the high-performance construction industry. Last year, for the first time, EEBA provided scholarships to representatives from each of the winning teams to come and experience the High Performance Home Summit in San Diego.  EEBA’s Next Generation Development Committee is working hard to make this happen again and bring team representatives from the winning residential teams to the 2019 Summit in Denver, CO.

View the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge Overview 

Donate to EEBA's Student Scholarship Fund and help us connect the 2019 Solar Decathlon winners with the EEBA homebuilding community.











Nathan Kahre is High Performance and Healthy Home Manager at Thrive Home Builders, a production home builder focusing on Net Zero and Net Zero Ready construction in Denver, Colorado. 



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