ANN ARBOR, Mich. - A team of more than 50 students from the University of Michigan is building a 700-square-foot solar-powered house using commonly available materials that can handle the basic power needs of a small home, as well as a small car. By fall, they'll have to move the house to the mall in Washington, D.C., reassemble it in four days, and make it all work.

The Michigan Solar House Project is the university's entry as one of 18 competitors in the Solar Decathlon, a national solar home building contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The students will be tested on this, not in the sunny days of summer, but in October when sunny skies are harder to come by. And at the end of the weeklong contest, each team is required to have more energy stored up than they had when they started.

One of the primary goals is to make solar-powered homes that would appeal to average homeowners as well as function on their own. Contest rules require the participants to use commonly available building materials already on the market and to follow guidelines set out by the International Residential Code and the International Building Code.

The teams together will build a solar village. Like a regular decathlon, they must compete in numerous areas including architecture, livability, and comfort, and how well the solar homes perform in providing energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, lights, and appliances. Each solar house must also power an electric car.

For more information on the Solar Decathlon, visit

Publication date: 05/23/2005