As climate change intensifies, many people are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. And one of the biggest obstacles to environmentally responsible living can be our homes. Energy consumption, water consumption, and even the food we eat at home can have a huge impact on the environment. Thus, for nearly two decades, the United States Department of Energy has held its Solar Decathlon: a competition that invites students to create designs for buildings that respect the environment.
UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison are recruiting students to design net zero energy homes and those designs will then be available to residents of Wisconsin. UW-Milwaukee Professor Mark Keane is leading this recruitment. “The goal is net zero. Wouldn’t it be great to take residential, commercial architecture off the grid using the power of the sun to get to that point,” Keane said.
The designs would also address the use of water. Keane explains that the concept of reducing water use becomes increasingly important as water becomes more valuable in the 21st century. “What do we do with the rainwater on our property, and then what do we do with our wastewater after we use it? This can be framed by how the architect or designer thinks about the site and how to control those supply routes, “he says.
While net zero energy homes offer a myriad of benefits, Keane notes that it may take some time for these homes to become mainstream. “It will be really difficult in our climate to get a lot of low income homes or starter homes for people off the grid until we get to the point where it becomes common. When you start ideas like this, the first ramifications are much more expensive per unit until you have that volume, ”says Keane.
Keane says it’s a chance for the students to not only create something that could help improve the environment, but also give them hands-on experience. “It’s great for our students because sometimes in academia you stray too far from the real needs of clients with your feet on the ground. So when they actually have to build their house, they also learn this part of the practice. “