UW-Milwaukee: Team from UWM and UW-Madison competes in solar decathlon finals

MILWAUKEE _ Architecture students from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have joined forces with mechanical engineering students from UW-Madison to compete in the finals of the national Solar Decathlon April 16-18 in Golden, Colorado. 

The U.S. Department of Energy sponsors the annual decathlon competition for architectural designs that are energy efficient.

The UWM-UW-Madison design was chosen as one of 61 finalists. As it was last year, the event will be virtual because of the pandemic. Students will present their design with a 20-minute video submitted to national reviewers and a written report.

What makes this house different from previous Solar Decathlon entries is that it’s designed specifically for the city of Milwaukee, said Cara Walls. She is one of the nine UWM architecture students working with 11 UW-Madison mechanical engineering students on the project.   

The team is submitting a design for a three-bedroom house that the City of Milwaukee could use to build on vacant lots,  according to architecture student Joe Peletis, the UWM architecture student who designed the house selected for this year’s entry in the urban family house category.  

“Milwaukee is trying to solve the problem of lots of vacant lots around the city,” Peletis said. “We’re trying to give them a solution that they can use on any of those vacant lots.”  

“We designed it so it could be pre-manufactured, so it would be less expensive for the city,” Walls said. “With that comes a certain adaptability so that this house can fit on different lots and different orientations. That’s a big part of this project.”  

UWM Architecture Professor Mark Keane is working with the UWM group. Mike Cheadle, engineering lecturer, will work with the UW-Madison students.   
The collaboration is a good learning experience for both the architecture and engineering students on the team, Keane said, giving both groups a chance to learn more about the other profession’s approach to saving energy, and creating sustainable homes that fight climate change.  

“The Solar Decathlon project brought a lot of the real-world perspective into my engineering-built mind,” said Tyler Neutgens, one of the UW-Madison engineering students. “The knowledge I got through this project was more than the basics of building a home but also the organization, communication and responsibility that comes with any given project.”

The UWM-UW-Madison entry is a three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot house with two bathrooms, natural wood finishes, rich white millwork and energy-saving light fixtures that can be managed with a smartphone. Energy saving features include R-50 insulation and a pre-installed photovoltaic system to collect solar energy.

Designing a house that could be pre-manufactured in four parts, then put in place on the site, was an important consideration for the team. “If pieces are done in the factory, it can go together rather quickly,” Peletis said. “It also reduces construction waste.”   

The faculty at UWM and UW-Madison are always interested in finding clients interested in building zero net energy homes in the near future. For more information, contact Keane at [email protected]