Tiny Homes, Big Designs: Mines Solar Decathlon Team

Logo for the Solar Decathlon

The large share of income spent on housing has, in recent years, led to the Tiny House Movement – a social movement where homeowners choose to downsize their living space. The average U.S. home is 2600 square feet, while a tiny home is 100-400 square feet, enabling its owners to live in a simpler and more efficient space.

The Solar Decathlon is an international competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, that challenges university teams to build the best tiny home possible. These homes must be net zero impact and solar-powered. Starting in 2002, the competition has been held biennially, featuring 20 homes in 10 different categories. To win, a team must best merge consumer appeal, affordability, design, and efficiency.

The Mines project officially started in September 2015 when the team put out an announcement to CSM students. Each home will be judged on 10 criteria, some of which will be juried (Market Appeal and Engineering), while others will be measured. Juried contests will be judged by a panel of invited experts, while measured contests will be cumulative values from sensors placed in the house. Since the competition will take place in 2019, Veronika Zhiteneva, a Mines graduate student and the leader of the outreach team, overviewed the project timeline.

“We’re currently working on designing our tiny home this spring and plan to build it in summer 2016,” she explained. “Our Solar Decathlon house will be designed by fall 2017, then further refined and built by summer 2019. After building it here in Colorado, we’ll have to ship it to the competition location, re-build it to compete, and then disassemble again after the competition to ship the house to its final, permanent location.”

One of the best parts of the Solar Decathlon project, according to Zhiteneva, is the positive response from students and professionals.

“The response from everyone we’ve contacted and met with so far has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic and incredibly positive. The Solar Decathlon is well known among architects and structural/civil engineers, and so many people are interested in the tiny house movement as well. The opportunity to learn from professionals and collaborate with peers that you’d never meet otherwise is one of the greatest benefits.” Currently, there are about 70 students signed up, but the team is still looking for more.

“Our club advisor is Dr. Tim Ohno, and we’re working on setting up a collaboration with CU Denver’s Architecture department to bring more experience to the project. There are also a number of professional architects we’ve contacted that are interested in helping our team,” elaborated Zhiteneva. Interested students, faculty, or staff can email George Burton at gburton@mines.edu or watch for the informational session the second week of spring classes. Overall, the Solar Decathlon project offers Mines students an opportunity to be involved in a design project that lasts.

“We hope that our tiny home will have a lasting legacy through incorporation into the energy minor and future senior design projects on campus,” Zhiteneva stated.



I'm a Colorado native and a sophomore in mechanical engineering. I love math and science, but also enjoy to read and write. Some of my favorite activities include being outside on warm days and getting overly-attached to fictional characters. I'm a total nerd, but consider that to be an achievement. I'll be focusing on writing about science news for the Oredigger, so if you're working on something awesome or know someone who is, just let me know! Feel free to shoot me an email at abzimmer@mymail.mines.edu


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