After the College of Design's ICON Solar House placed 5th in the nationwide 2009 Solar Decathlon contest, students and faculty brought the knowledge gained from their experience back to Minnesota to make the idea of a Zero-Energy Home (ZEH) an affordable reality for a typical Minnesota family.
In partnership with Habitat for Humanity (HfH) and the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, two College of Design classes — a semester-long architecture seminar and a six-week MArch studio module — researched, designed, refined and developed two complete sets of ZEH construction documents that fit the HfH model of decent, safe, and affordable housing. The prototype for one of those designs began construction in Princeton, Minnesota in June 2011 and the family moved in in late October.
Jeanette Jensen, a single mother of two teenage daughters, purchased the ZEH home with a no-interest mortgage and will save hundreds of dollars in utility costs each year in the ZEH. Jensen is a long-time resident of Princeton, where she works two jobs, and will contribute at least 250 hours of sweat equity to the construction of her new home.
"Meeting the family had a profound effect on the students, and it made the work they were doing in class really mean something," said Dan Handeen (MArch '07), lecturer in the School of Architecture and research fellow in the Center for Sustainable Building Research, College of Design. "In this particular situation our students recognized that every decision they made, every line they drew, would have extended impacts on people's lives—people that they had met. The design required an incredible degree of cooperation between the students, and they had to work with real-world parameters: skeptical officials, untrained installers, financial limitations, and shifting schedules. All in all, they rose to the challenge and did truly outstanding work."
HfH is using this prototype, and the students' designs, to develop a case study for their statewide conference in March 2012. The project will also be promoted through HfH International for use by the 1,600 HfH affiliates across the United States.
More on Habitat for Humanity
The Habitat for Humanity Zero-Energy Home on site in Princeton, Minnesota