Ball State University student Landon Underwood of Roanoke, Indiana, helped create a small-scale prototype house that produces as much “green” energy as it uses, fits into a historic neighborhood, is simple enough for volunteers to build, and is affordable.

Underwood and his Ball State teammates presented their work as finalists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon Design Challenge from April 12-14.

As part of the five-student group, Underwood, who is pursuing a master’s degree in architecture, strove to create a win-worthy urban single-family home prototype. Part of his motivation stems from Ball State teams that have won first or second place in this competition in the past two years; this year’s team is the eighth that Ball State College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) has sent to the national finals. 

Thanks to partnerships with Habitat for Humanity, the city of Muncie, and ecoREHAB, the architecture team accommodated layers of demands such as affordability, simple construction, and historical context. The goal was also to create a four-bedroom, net-zero prototype, meaning the amount of energy the house uses annually equals the amount of renewable energy produced onsite. The competition’s jury comprised industry experts and consultants, and took place at the at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“Our project is based around three Cs: context, conserve, and construct. The idea behind these three areas is to create a home within a historical district that will help Muncie organizations offer sustainable, energy-conserving design strategies to those seeking affordable housing,” Underwood said.

The project demanded 20-plus hours each week of each student throughout the semester for research, planning, and collaboration for team members to first write a 40-page report which advanced them to the finals and then to build their prototype for the competition in Golden, Colorado. The team analyzed the building market, local needs, efficient construction processes, sustainable resources, conservation, passive and active design techniques, and more to produce its final product.

“The ability to connect with community partners, practicing professionals and other passionate future architects has empowered me to understand how sustainable design can lead to a healthier future.”