Interior view.Photos By Heidi Randhava

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Inspired by their vision of a world where renewable energy is commonplace and available, the House by Northwestern (HBN) team unveiled its inaugural entry into the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. on Aug. 23 at 669 Colfax St.

The 100%-solar-powered house, which HBN has named Enable, incorporates modern construction practices, energy efficiency, and adaptable features that appeal to the growing population of Baby Boomers who are looking to downsize to a home with features that support aging-in-place, such as zero-step entrances and single-floor living.

Mayor Steve Hagerty welcomed a crowd of more than 150, who were invited for tours of the two-bedroom, two-bath home after the ribbon-cutting.

The event marked completion of a three-month construction phase that began with a ceremonial groundbreaking in June and concluded with rigorous testing of the home’s energy-efficient systems.

The home is designed with roof-integrated solar panels, ultra-efficient heating and cooling systems, and photo-catalytic surfaces that break down harmful airborne pollutants and keep surfaces clean when exposed to sunlight.

“The sun not only powers our house; it also helps to clean it,” said HBN faculty director Dick Co, who is also cofounder and managing director of Northwestern’s Solar Fuels Institute.

Northwestern is one of 14 global teams selected to participate in the Solar Decathlon, a collegiate competition of 10 contests that challenge student teams to design and build functional, solar-powered homes that are not only energy-efficient but also energy-producing.

In addition to maximum efficiency and energy production, the winning team must achieve a low-cost, appealing design. HBN student designers, led by junior Vivien Ng, designed the home to be warm and inviting, rather than having the futuristic look that people might expect from a house that is about 90% more energy-efficient than its North Shore neighbors.

“Sustainability can be pretty,” said HBN Health and Safety Officer Karla Lopez, a junior who joined the team last summer. Ms. Lopez and Ms. Ng will be among the team members who will deconstruct the home for shipment to Denver, where students will have nine days to reconstruct HBN for the Oct. 5-15 competition.

More than 50 Northwestern students from diverse disciplines including engineering, design, sciences, and the arts have been involved in the project since it was started two years ago.

Professor Co led the students through the creation of the home in collaboration with community and corporate partners who generously contributed time and resources to the project.

HBN also received widespread financial and institutional support from the University. John D’Angelo, Northwestern University Vice President for Facilities Management, emphasized that the project highlights the abilities of the students. “It comes down to the skill set of being able to create interdisciplinary relationships. It’s really part of the culture at NU,” Mr. D’Angelo said.

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.