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House under construction

Northwestern Students Building a Greener Home

This summer, a dedicated team of students is busy building House by Northwestern, Northwestern University’s first entry to the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. The House by Northwestern (HBN) team is made up of students from diverse disciplines including engineering, design, sciences, and the arts. The team is excited to see their design for a solar powered house coming together in advance of the competition, which will take place in Denver in September. Here are a few of the features of the design:

  • Roof-integrated solar panels: The solar panels used in the project are brand new technology that has only been available for purchase since April 2017. They are unusual because they are incorporated directly into the roof. This means they last as long as roofing, can be installed by roofers rather than electricians, and they don’t detract from the appearance of a house.
  • Heat pump: In a typical house, there are two separate systems for heating and cooling. In this house, however, a heat pump transfers heat energy from a cool space to a warm space. It is used to both cool and heat the home by moving heat instead of generating it. Controlled ventilation keeps the temperature steady and creates healthier indoor air quality because contaminants and allergens are filtered out, and incoming air is dehumidified.
  • PURETi: The house’s interior windows and exterior surfaces will be coated with PURETi, a surface treatment that uses sunlight to break down airborne pollutants, improving air quality inside and out. It also provides a sustainable and cost-efficient way to self-clean the windows, roofs, and facades on the house, saving residents time and water.

Construction of the house has been moving quickly since the June 14 groundbreaking event. In the first part of July, the walls and roof went up, and the inside of the house was framed. Solar panel installation will be among the next steps. Students working on the project are excited about the house and the experience they are gaining from being a part of House by Northwestern.

“My favorite part of being on HBN is the ability to learn far more than I ever could in coursework alone,” said McCormick student Bill Bach, who serves as HBN project manager. “This project has allowed me to interact with students from other disciplines and industry professionals. At the end of the project, our hard work will have accomplished a tangible and impressive result,” he said.

Medill student, Lillian Reynolds works on the communication team for the project. "Through working with HBN, I've been able to meet people from across campus that I probably wouldn't otherwise have gotten the opportunity to work with,” she said. “Being around such passionate people who care about a common purpose has been super inspiring and exciting."

For McCormick student Vivien Ng, working on the house is a natural culmination of interests that she has been developing since long before starting college.

“I saw the Smart Home exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in eighth grade and thought it was cool,” she said. I wanted to build one myself but had no clue how even to get started, so when I heard about HBN, it was a dream come true. I knew I had to get involved.”

The Northwestern Facilities Management department is supporting the project by providing a space for construction and offering technical advice and tools when needed. To see photos and watch the project take shape, follow House by Northwestern on Facebook.