Northwestern University undergraduate students are building a 1,000-square-foot, solar-powered home to compete against 12 other teams in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

The goal of this competition is to develop new solutions to improve energy efficiency in the residential building industry. In Illinois, more than 50% of a household’s energy usage goes towards heating and cooling. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Illinois residents use 44% more energy in their homes than the national average.

Designing a home that will use less energy, and therefore reduce its impact on the local environment and cost less to operate, requires interdisciplinary collaboration. Student team members hail from civil engineering and architecture programs, as well as design and communications.

In just 1,000 square feet of living space, students must plan for comfort, ease of use, and daily activities, including entertaining family and friends. In addition to a solar panel array, the home will include a residential battery, an electric vehicle charging station, and an array of smart home technologies to help residents use energy efficiently, without making the house feel too much like something out of “The Jetsons.”

The House will be built for older adults looking to downsize from a larger home, retire in the next few years, and age in place.

With mentorship from a group of local, world-class professionals, the team is designing a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home that is beautiful, highly functional, and entirely sustainable. “House by Northwestern” (HBN) will be 90% more energy-efficient than the average home in the community and will be able to exist completely off the grid. The HBN team will seek LEED Platinum, Passive House, Energy Star, and Living Building certifications for this house.

Construction on HBN will begin in late spring and last through the summer. In the fall, the team will ship the house to Denver for the five-week competition. After the house returns to Evanston, the goal is to open it for regular public tours.

More information about “House by Northwestern” is available at, or by following it on Facebook and Twitter.

HBN would like to hear from anyone who wishes to learn more about sustainable housing or has made energy-efficiency upgrades to their home at