Left to right, Jay Walsh, Dick Co, Bill Bach, Steve Hagerty, John D’Angelo, and Maggie Waldron at the ground-breaking ceremony for House By Northwestern, a sustainable home designed by Northwestern University students.Photo by Heidi Randhava

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After months of planning, a groundbreaking ceremony took place on June 2 at 669 Colfax St. to kick off the construction phase of a solar-powered house that will be 90% more energy efficient than the average home in Evanston and in Illinois.

The student-led House by Northwestern (HBN) will be a fully functional home, designed with integrated solar panels, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, and photo-catalytic surfaces that break down airborne pollutants.

Mayor Steve Hagerty, Northwestern University Vice President of Research Jay Walsh, and HBN faculty director Dick Co welcomed a crowd of more than 50 students, faculty, donors, and community members to the empty lot where construction is now underway.

“Come back in August and you’ll see a house and be amazed at what they’ve done and will do,” Prof. Co said of the team of students working in collaboration with industry partners and supporters.

In the fall, HBN will be disassembled, shipped to Denver, and reassembled to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy 2017 Solar Decathlon. Northwestern is one of 16 global teams selected to participate in the competition. Teams will be judged on their home’s blend of efficiency, smart energy production, design appeal and market potential.

In addition to contributions of time and resources from a growing list of industry partners, the project receives widespread support from within the University, Dr. Walsh said.

“It links research that is being done at universities like Northwestern with a product that has a real impact on society,” Dr.  Walsh said, noting that in addition to building an energy efficient house, the project addresses issues like climate change.

Mayor Hagerty emphasized that Evanston remains committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, despite the decision of President Donald Trump to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

“I love the juxtaposition between (the President’s) announcement and what is happening here today,”’ said Mayor Hagerty, one of 274 U.S. Climate Mayors who earlier on the same day signed a commitment to uphold Paris climate agreement goals.

The day itself suggested a bright future for solar powered homes, with sunny skies and temperatures near 80 degrees.

When the Solar Decathlon is over, the house will be shipped back to Evanston. The HBN team hopes to make it accessible to the community through tours and events, said Maggie Waldron, Director of Program Operations, Partnerships and Communications for HBN.

“Hopefully it brings a lot of Evanston residents to the house to learn about sustainability, and things you can do to make a home that is comfortable and more energy efficient,” said Ms. Waldron.