University of Denver Net-Zero Energy Home 
Best Project

Owner: University of Denver
Lead Design Firm/MEP Engineer: UC Berkeley Students 
General Contractor: PCL Construction Services Inc.
Structural Engineer: KPFF Consulting Engineers
Electrical Contractor: Weifield Group Contracting

In this innovative project, students from the University of Denver and the University of California, Berkeley competed in the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s worldwide competition to design and build a net-zero energy house. The task was to build a 100% solar-powered home—and make it look good in the bargain. In less than three months’ time, the DU team designed and constructed its entry. The result was third place out of 11 teams, and a new home donated to Denver’s Habitat for Humanity.

The competition taught the students many things—mostly, the value of teamwork. “It was a great learning experience for them and for me, their mentor,” said Jim Spencer, a field supervisor with the contractor, who worked closely with the students. Adds Eric Holt, DU assistant professor and the project’s adviser, “Our team just wanted to compete and ensure the house ended up with a real family.”

Spencer was pleased by the quality of students’ initial design, which contained electrical outlets drawn in AutoCAD; he worked with the construction team to adjust the plans. An added challenge involved surprise deliveries of donated equipment, most of which came without instructions and had been sitting in storage for months.

“I had to figure out the equipment myself,” Spencer said. “Also, none of the solar arrays actually worked until the house was moved to the competition site. The team needed to figure out how to wire the solar inverter in one afternoon. It was a miracle it all came together in the end.”

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