A team of students from Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies competed against 33 teams from 27 U.S. and Canadian universities in the second U.S. Department of Energy Race to Zero Student Design Competition and brought home the top awards for Excellence in Analysis and Excellence in Systems Integration.

The annual competition, open to students and faculty from any interested collegiate institution, is based on a real-world scenario where a builder needs to update an existing product line to a high-performance house design or is developing a new high-performance home product line so energy efficient that renewable power can offset most or all the annual energy consumption.

All teams registered in the fall for the competition and then worked over the following months to improve a specific house design, either redesigning an existing design or creating a new one that satisfies the project requirements. The mandatory performance target was the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home specification, and their entries were required to demonstrate effective integration of building science principles and best practice guidelines for the building envelope and mechanical systems and the affordability of their designs with a 30-year mortgage.

The Virginia Tech entry, “TownHauZ” is an efficient unit design for the Townhomes at Admiral’s Landing, a project by K. Hovnanian Home Builders in Dundalk, Maryland. The student team enhanced the unit design within the development to produce a high-performance, 1700-square-foot residence. This design incorporates net-zero energy and PassivHaus energy design as well as assemblies, layouts, and equipment that provide highest levels of efficiency without sacrificing the occupant experience.

Virginia Tech’s student team “Invent the Future” included graduate and undergraduate students from a variety of majors:

  • Marcelo de Almeida Leitao of Fortaleza, Brazil, a masters student in architecture, served as simulation analyst;
  • Teni Ladipo of Bristow, Virginia, a doctoral student in environmental design and planning, served as the project lead developer;
  • Susan Maddox of Front Royal, Virginia, a masters student in building construction, served as the chief estimator;
  • Will Manion of Old Town, Maine, an assistant professor from the University of Maine and a current doctoral student in Virginia Tech’s BioBuild Program, served as a supportive student-faculty liaison and project coordinator;
  • Reid Miner of Harrisonburg, Virginia, a junior majoring in building construction, served as systems specialist;
  • Greg Polinger of Fairfax, Virginia, a senior majoring in building construction, served as energy simulation specialist; and
  • Sarah Scott of Fairfax, Virginia, a master's degree student in urban and regional planning, served as the planning and development specialist.

The students selected Ladipo and Polinger to represent the team at the Department of Energy 2015 Race to Zero in Golden, Colorado, April 18-20. The students were accompanied by their faculty advisor, Georg Reichard, an associate professor of building construction.

“For participating in this event for the first time and investing a lot of extracurricular time over several months to prepare a strong design proposal, our students did exceptionally well — specifically during their presentation — to secure top-level rankings in multiple categories. This means we bring home two trophies from a national competition and have shown other teams from highly-ranked universities that we are taking building performance education seriously at Virginia Tech,” said Reichard. “The faculty of building construction and the Myers-Lawson School of Construction are extremely proud of our students’ success.”

The Department of Energy designed this competition to inspire and develop the next generation of residential design and construction professionals with specific building science expertise, as well as to advance and enhance building science curriculum in universities. The Department of Building Construction has recently restructured its bachelor of science curriculum to allow for new tracks of specialization, one of which is the “Sustainable Building Performance” option, which specifically targets this educational need.

The competition is a valuable experience for Virginia Tech students as it aims to engage undergraduate students, graduate students, and university faculty to become part of a movement to achieve truly sustainable homes and provides the next generation of architects, engineers, construction managers, and entrepreneurs with interdisciplinary skills and experience to start careers in clean energy and generate creative solutions to real-world problems.

Virginia Tech’s entry was sponsored by the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech.