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Photo of 2002 first-place Colorado house.

The University of Colorado won first place in the inaugural Solar Decathlon.

Photo of students discussing architectural model of a house.

The University of North Carolina team hosted a design competition for their solar house.

Photo of tractor-trailer trucks carrying house sections.

In the early morning hours of September 19, 2002, trucks carrying two sections of Tuskegee's house arrived on the National Mall ready to be unloaded.

Photo of students installing solar electric panels on the roof of their house.

The University of Puerto Rico team installed solar electric panels on the roof of its house.

Photo of team members and judges on back porch of house.

Members of the Carnegie Mellon team are shown presenting the design features of their house to the Design and Livability jury.

Photo of people standing in line and waiting to see inside of house.

On October 6, 2002, larger crowds than usual lined up to see the University of Colorado's house after it was announced as the competition's first-place winner.

Photo of  large group of students who competed in Solar Decathlon with competition organizers.

At the end of Solar Decathlon 2002, teams and organizers gathered for a photo in front of the Solar Village on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Solar Decathlon 2002


In the fall of 2002, 14 teams of college and university students from across the United States, including Puerto Rico, competed in the first-ever Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Solar Decathlon's 10 contests challenged the teams to design and build energy-efficient, completely solar-powered houses. The competition, which was open to the public for more than a week, gave both the students and visitors to the Mall an opportunity to experience homes that feature environmentally sound, cost-effective technologies that meet the energy demands we face today.

Here we tell you the story of the 2002 competition, which includes information about:

Designing the Houses

The story of the 2002 Solar Decathlon actually begins in 2001—when organizers selected 14 college and university student teams to compete in the first-of-its-kind solar house competition. Soon after, these teams began planning for the competition and designing their houses.

You can imagine the long meetings, late nights, productive arguments, and bursts of creativity as the teams designed their homes. A lot of learning took place, too. The teams learned how to design small, attractive, comfortable, energy-efficient houses powered entirely by solar energy. And just like in the real world, they all-architects, engineers, builders, and other specialists-learned how to work together. But unlike in the real world, the teams had to first construct their houses on campuses and then take them apart for transport to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where they assembled them again for the competition. After the competition, the teams had to disassemble their houses, ship them back to their campuses, and assemble them all over again.

Transporting the Houses

In September 2002, the Solar Decathletes began a journey — a journey to get their houses to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Some of the houses traveled thousands of miles by truck. One house - the University of Puerto Rico's — traveled by boat to the mainland and then by truck to the Mall. And a section of another house — the University of Delaware's — fell off a truck during transport. But the Solar Decathletes overcame these and other obstacles during their journeys.

On September 19 before sunrise, trucks carrying the houses started arriving at the National Mall. Twelve of the 14 houses arrived by daybreak. The homes from the University of Colorado and the University of Delaware arrived later that evening.

Assembling the Houses

The 2002 Solar Decathletes had one week — September 19 to 26 — to build their houses. As they worked, you could feel the weight of the unseasonably warm weather. You could hear the noise made by trucks and forklifts, the screeching of saws, the pounding of hammers, and the echo of human voices. You could see each house come together-section by section, solar panel by solar panel, and final detail by final detail. An entire Solar Village soon arose on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The Competition

From September 23 to October 5, 2002, the Solar Decathletes competed in 10 contests. To evaluate architectural and engineering design, building professionals — architects, energy analysis experts, and engineers — judged the teams' abilities to design and build attractive, comfortable, energy-efficient, solar-powered homes.

To test their solar water heating systems, the Solar Decathletes washed towels, ran dishwashers, and performed shower tests. To meet required energy demands, they dried towels, cooked meals, and kept computer equipment and TVs on during most of the day. They also drove electric vehicles — charged using energy produced by their houses — around town to earn mileage credits. And for the communications contest, they had to maintain Web sites, develop newsletters, and offer tours of their houses.

In some contests, teams earned points through the subjective evaluations of the judges. In other contests, teams earned points according to how well they met certain measurable criteria, such as the temperature and relative humidity inside their houses. And in still other contests, the teams were evaluated by a combination of the two methods.

At the end of the competition, the University of Colorado was the overall winner. But in the long run, the experience gained from the competition made all of the Solar Decathletes winners. There were also many individual contest winners and special awards. To learn more, see Contests and Results.

Visiting the Solar Village

From September 19 to October 6, 2002, more than 100,000 people visited the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to see the first-ever Solar Decathlon. Crowds filled the Solar Village. Long lines of visitors stretched outside the houses. Sometimes people had to wait 20 or 30 minutes before they could tour a home. But the wait was worth it. As one visitor commented, "The homes of the future are here today."

Looking to the Future

There's really no end to this story. The 2002 Solar Decathlon is long over, but the competition's houses continue to showcase solar technology. Most teams decided to use them as educational exhibits or research tools. To learn more, see the 2002 Solar Decathlon Teams and Houses.

Students who participated in the 2002 Solar Decathlon say they continue to benefit from their educational experience. These students are using that experience to further their future careers-from architecture and engineering to communications.

And the Solar Decathlon story continues in 2005.