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Photo of Solar Decathlon 2011

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is an international biennial competition that challenges twenty collegiate teams to design, build, and exhibit solar-powered homes. Solar Decathlon 2013 will be held at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California from October 3 to 13, 2013.


The competition includes 10 contests of 100 points each:

  • ArchitectureOpen or Close

    A jury of professional architects will focus on:

    • Architectural elements

    Architectural elements include the scale and proportion of room and facade features, indoor/outdoor connections, composition, and linking of various house elements.

    • Holistic design

    Holistic design is an architectural design that is comfortable for occupants and compatible with the surrounding environment.

    • Lighting

    The jury assesses the integration and energy efficiency of electrical and natural light.

    • Inspiration

    Inspiration is reflected in a design that inspires and delights Solar Decathlon visitors.

    • Documentation

    Documentation includes drawings, a project manual, and presentations that accurately reflect the constructed project on the competition site.

  • Market AppealOpen or Close
    • Livability

    Does the design offer a safe, functional, convenient, comfortable, and enjoyable place to live? Does it feature intuitive house controls? Does it meet the unique needs and desires of the target client?

    • Marketability

    Does the house have curb appeal, interior appeal, and quality craftsmanship? How well does its sustainability features and strategies contribute to its marketability? Does the house offer potential homebuyers within the target market a good value?

    • Buildability

    Would the construction documents enable a contractor to generate an accurate construction cost estimate and then construct the building as the design team intended it to be built? Could the house’s materials and equipment be immediately adopted and built in the private sector?

  • EngineeringOpen or Close
    • Functionality

    Does the house’s energy and HVAC systems function as intended?

    • Efficiency

    How much energy would the house’s systems save over the course of a year relative to conventional systems? Would the system controls facilitate a reduction in energy consumption during a year of operation?

    • Innovation

    Are unique approaches used to solve design challenges? Do the innovations have true market potential?

    • Reliability

    How long are the systems expected to operate at a high level of performance? How much maintenance is required to keep them operating at a high level?

    • Documentation

    Do the construction drawings, project manual, and presentations accurately reflect the constructed project as assembled on the competition site?

  • CommunicationsOpen or Close

    The Communications Jury evaluates the team on the effective presentation of material to the general public in several different ways. The first part of the contest is the website content. The jury looks for web content quality, appropriateness, and originality. The webpage must also have an audiovisual presentation which portrays the accuracy of the representation of the as-built house on the competition site, accessible captioning, clarity of the narrative, and creativity. The jury also looks at: the quality of onsite graphics, photos, displays, and signage; the delivery of messages to target audiences and people of all abilities; and the use of innovative methods to engage audiences, including website visitors and people waiting to tour a house.

  • AffordibilityOpen or Close

    A professional estimator determines the construction cost of each house. Teams earn 100 points for achieving a target construction cost of $250,000 or less. A sliding point scale is then applied to houses with estimated construction costs between $250,001 and $599,999. Houses with estimated costs of $600,000 or more receive zero points. 

  • Comfort ZoneOpen or Close

    The house is monitored in two separate locations within the conditioned space. The house has to maintain a temperature between 71°F (22.2°C) and 76°F (24.4°C). The house must sustain a relative humidity less than 60%.

  • Hot WaterOpen or Close

    The team needs to deliver 15 gallons (56.8 l) of hot water (110°F/43.3°C) in 10 minutes or less. 

  • AppliancesOpen or Close

    This competition monitors all of the appliances including: refrigerator, freezer, washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher. Throughout the entire competition, the refrigerator and freezer are monitored. The refrigerator must maintain a temperature between 34°F (1.11°C) and 40°F (4.44°C) and the freezer must keep a temperature between -20°F (-28.9°C) and 5°F (-1.5°C). During the competition 8 loads of laundry must be done. The washer must wash a load of laundry in a specific time. The dryer must return a load of laundry to a total weight less than or equal to the load’s total weight before washing using active or passive drying methods. The dishwasher must run through a complete, uninterrupted cycle, at some point during which a temperature sensor placed in the dishwasher has to reach 120°F (48.9°C). During the competition 5 sets of dishes must be washed.

  • Home EntertainmentOpen or Close

    The contest works to ensure that the house would be able to function as a common area to entertain guests. Teams must hold two dinner parties for neighbors, who award the host team points based on the quality of the meal, ambiance, and overall experience. A movie night is also held for neighbors, who rate their hosts based on the quality and design of the home theater system as well as ambiance and overall experience. To simulate cooking, teams must use a kitchen appliance to vaporize 5 pounds (80 oz or 2.268 kg) of water within a specified period of time. Teams must also keep all interior and exterior house lights on during specified periods of time and operate a television and computer during specified time periods.

  • Energy BalanceOpen or Close

    In the Energy Balance Contest, a team receives full points for producing at least as much energy as its house needs, thus achieving a net energy consumption of zero during contest week. This is accomplished by balancing production and consumption. 

Aerial Photo of Orange County Great Park

Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California

Orange Country Great Park