MONTPELIER -- Vermont’s Norwich University and Middlebury College are each sending student-built and designed solar-powered houses to an international competition in California where they’ll vie to be chosen as the structure that best combines energy production and efficiency.
The Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, challenges college teams every two years to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive.
The finished structures are designed to cost no more than $250,000 to build, but that figure doesn’t include the design costs and other expenses. Norwich raised about $800,000 for the project from sponsors and alumni while Middlebury raised about $1.4 million.
"It’s something that really sucks you in in a really positive way," said Cordelia Newbury, of New York City, who graduated from Middlebury this spring and spoke at a Tuesday event in the Statehouse lawn in Montpelier celebrating the Vermont teams.
"Once you kind of get hooked, one way or another whether it’s design or opportunity to build something hands-on, you’re sort of hooked for good," said Newbury.
Of the 20 teams from North America and Europe in the Solar Decathlon competition, Vermont and California are the only states sending more than one team, highlighting how tiny Vermont is helping lead the ongoing search for ways to make homes more energy-efficient.
Dozens of students from both schools have worked on or helped design the house or raise money.
Middlebury’s 950-square-foot entry includes a roof where plants provide insulation and help manage storm water runoff. The solar panels are next to the building.
After the competition, the building will be brought back to Middlebury where it will become a dormitory.
At 800 square feet, Norwich’s entry is designed to be affordable for Vermont families who make 20 percent less than the state’s average family income.
After the competition, the Norwich house is slated to go to Springfield, Ohio, where it will be displayed by the Westcott House Foundation, which runs the house designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright as a museum.
Norwich’s design is being advertised for sale by Huntington Homes, a Vermont producer of prefabricated houses. None have been sold yet.
"It was a big goal for us to say that our house can be repeatable, that it can be accessible to people in that it’s locally manufactured," said Shannon Sickler, now a Norwich graduate architecture student who will accompany the house to California.
The buildings entered in this year’s competition will be displayed in Irvine, Calif., Oct. 3-10.