U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon | Powered by the Sun

Solar Decathlon 2013

University of Nevada Las Vegas

The University of Nevada Las Vegas designed its DesertSol house to reflect the spirit of the Mojave Desert. With reverence to the sun as both a source of harsh conditions and a solution for sustainable living, DesertSol harnesses abundant sunlight for solar electricity while capturing rain to provide evaporative cooling and irrigation. The ultra-efficient house is envisioned as a vacation home for a seasonal retreat—a basecamp for desert adventures that responds to its unique environment.

Design Philosophy

DesertSol makes careful use of the desert's solar and water resources. Its design fuses modern architecture with a weathered aesthetic, the comfort of carefully selected materials, and the excitement of intriguing spaces to foster a spirit of openness and adventure.


  • A weathered wood rain screen shades the building's structure.
  • Digitally fabricated retractable solar shade screens shield the hottest sides of the house in the summer and provide direct sun for warmth in the winter.
  • A water feature captures water from the occasional desert downpour and uses it for irrigation and spot cooling on the outside deck with a cool tower, which uses less water than conventional misters.
  • Folding doors open completely, allowing indoor activities to spill onto the outdoor deck space and doubling the square footage for entertaining.
  • A home automation system ensures the house operates at peak efficiency and allows the lights, appliances, and thermostats to be controlled from an easy-to-use interface on a mobile device.


  • Photovoltaic panels provide electricity and shade the outdoor living space.
  • Solar thermal collectors provide radiant floor and water heating.
  • Advanced structural design framing clad in reclaimed pre-weathered materials saves lumber and provides more insulation to the living spaces.
  • A fire-protection sprinkler system combined with a potable water plumbing system ensures that fresh water is available each time a cold-water fixture is used and results in a non-stagnant sprinkler system.
  • Layers of closed-cell, open-cell, and continuous rigid insulation ensure that the house is air-tight and highly heat-resistant and prevents thermal bridging.

Market Strategy

DesertSol is targeted to the second-home and vacation market, which has remained steady and strong in the Southwest, even during the housing crisis. This market includes affluent professionals who are interested in energy efficiency, custom design aesthetics, well-crafted architecture, and innovative technologies.

What's Next

After Solar Decathlon 2013, DesertSol will be permanently located at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, 180 acres of natural exhibits, botanical gardens, hiking trails, and desert-living educational facilities built around the original water source of Las Vegas. More than 280,000 visitors a year will be able to view the house and learn more about sustainable living. It will serve as both an exhibit and model for sustainable homes of the future.


Eric Weber
Phone: 702-895-0934

Photo of members of the University of Nevada Las Vegas  Solar Decathlon 2013 team seated on a long couch. Desert mountains are in the  background. Enlarge image

The University of Nevada Las Vegas Solar Decathlon 2013 team (Courtesy of the University of Nevada Las Vegas Solar Decathlon 2013 team)

The University of Nevada Las Vegas audiovisual presentation

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