Alumnus Builds Houses, Career on Solar Decathlon ExperienceMonday, September 22, 2014
By Irene Ying
Ryan Abendroth is the founder, principle, and practitioner of Passive Energy Designs in St. Louis, Missouri—a company that consults on high-performing, low-energy buildings. To date, he has consulted on more than 100 buildings to help others design and achieve ultra-efficient houses that are aesthetically pleasing and functionally livable. He credits this career to his participation in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2009, an event that he calls “transformative” to his life.
“The Solar Decathlon put me in touch with a company at the forefront of innovation within the building industry,” Abendroth says. “The knowledge I gained through the Solar Decathlon led directly to employment and set the foundation for the work I have done up to this point.”
Abendroth became involved with the Solar Decathlon while studying architecture at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where his work won scholarships and prize nominations. On the Solar Decathlon team, he performed energy modeling on Gable Home, which, like many of his projects post-Solar Decathlon, combined energy efficiency practices, traditional building techniques, and attractive design. He also contributed to the decision by the Illinois team to pursue Passivehaus Certification for Gable Home. Passive House is an energy performance standard that requires excellent insulation, solar gain and internal heating, airtightness, and high indoor air quality. The Illinois team won second place overall in the 2009 competition.
It was during his time working on Passivhaus Certification that Abendroth became interested in the passive house concept. This led him to interning at Passive House Institute US, a nonprofit organization that trains, certifies, and otherwise supports the advancement of the Passive House standard in North America. At the Passive House Institute US, Abendroth performed contract work and trained other professionals in Passive House standards. He eventually became the certification manager, which allowed him to interact with design teams across the United States. Out of this work came his current company, Passive Energy Designs, founded in 2010.
“My Solar Decathlon experience did not just benefit my work, but it laid the foundation for all my work to come,” Abendroth emphasizes. “It introduced me to the passive house concept, which, five years later, is still a main tenant of my business and life.”
Abendroth uses his expertise to consult on energy-efficient buildings. His work often includes performing detailed energy modeling calculations, engineering the building’s thermal envelope, and providing input into the building’s design. He also teaches and educates others about the passive house concept and standards. In addition to this work, he’s been part of two completed projects at the University of Kansas: the Prescott Passive House and the Center for Design Research.
Busy as he is, Abendroth still found time to go back to where it all started. In 2014, he joined the U.S.-German team of Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, and University of Applied Sciences – Erfurt at Solar Decathlon Europe in Versailles. This time he participated as an instructor and consultant and calls it an “amazing experience” that he was grateful to be a part of.
“The camaraderie among the students both times I competed was excellent,” he says. “We built lasting friendships and lasting professional networks.”
Summarizing what the Solar Decathlon means to him, Abendroth adds, “It’s not just about a competition and the houses that are built, but rather an investment into all of the decathletes, their futures, and the future of the built environment.”
Irene Ying is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.