Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE — Team Living Light, an interdisciplinary group at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has been accepted into the Solar Decathlon 2011, a Department of Energy event that challenges students to design and build a functioning, energy-efficient, solar-powered house. This is the first time a UT team will compete in the Solar Decathlon.

The team is composed of undergraduate and graduate students and faculty in the College of Architecture and Design, College of Engineering and School of Art. The group designed and built the UT Zero Energy House, the 240-square-foot structure now on display on the Humanities Plaza on the UT Knoxville campus, as part of their entry into the competition.

The Solar Decathlon 2011 received so many highly qualified entries that the admission process was changed to include a preliminary round. Of the submitted proposals, 34 were chosen for the preliminary round. Only 20 projects were accepted into the competition, slated to take place in October 2011.

Team Living Light will spend the next one and a half years building the Living Light House — a design based on their Zero Energy House prototype — to present at the Solar Decathlon 2011.

Team Living Light is a subgroup of UT Zero, a multidisciplinary team focused on developing new technologies for zero energy building. Living Light is led by faculty members Edgar Stach, James Rose and Barbara Klinkhammer in the College of Architecture and Design; Deb Shmerler in the School of Art; Leon Tolbert in electrical engineering; and Stan Johnson and Bill Miller in mechanical engineering.

Drawing from a variety of classes, more than 150 students — including interior design, landscape architecture, graphic design, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering students — have been involved in the planning, designing and building processes, which will lead to constructing the 1,000-square-foot Living Light structure.

[flowplayer video=”mp4:UT_ZERO_ENERGY” width=”480″ height=”295″ captions=”” splash=”” /]

“During the design process we kept returning to the phrase ‘Living Light’ for inspiration,” Rose said. “We have incorporated multiple interpretations of this concept into the design including maximizing transparency and open space, minimizing energy use, and incorporating built-in storage to reduce clutter.”

The interior of the rectangular-shaped structure will be a large multifunctional space with floor-to-ceiling glass panel walls. The house also will utilize passive energy systems by taking advantage of natural conditions to minimize energy use. For instance, the Living Light House will make use of a sunspace that can heat the home in the winter when the interior windows are opened or buffer against the summer heat when they are closed. Another technology with potential application beyond the Solar Decathlon is a roof-mounted solar array that combines the functions of electrical power generation, sun shading, hot water heating and building heating.

Initial prototypes of these features were tested on the Zero Energy House. The team will continue to test different designs, programs and technologies on the Zero Energy House in order to monitor performance and gain information on how to make the Living Light House function better.

“The Zero Energy House is an experimental project focused on sustainable design and energy conservation, with advanced strategies for minimal environmental impact,” said John McRae, dean of the College of Architecture and Design. “The house is only a glimpse of what Team Living Light is capable of creating — with minimal funds even. I am excited to see their finished project for the Solar Decathlon competition and am certain that their intense creative efforts will pay off.”

Like the Olympic decathlon, the Solar Decathlon consists of 10 contests, which are designed to gauge how well the houses perform and how livable and affordable they are. For example, in the Appliances Contest, teams earn points for refrigerating and freezing food, washing and drying laundry, and running the dishwasher. Teams are scored on how well they balance production and energy consumption.

The winning team will be whoever best blends cost-effectiveness, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

“I feel really good about our proposal, and we have a fantastic support team from the university,” Stach said. “We have all the key players on board and all the effort that we need to be really successful. Participating in this competition will affect how we think about sustainability, high-performance buildings, and it will change how we interphase and collaborate with other disciplines.”

The team hopes to complete the Living Light House early enough to conduct practice runs of the Solar Decathlon contests, but the team has a long way to go. Details of the construction, including the building site, have yet to be determined. And the group, which will begin initial steps of the project this summer, is looking for sponsors willing to donate money, products and expertise.

If you are interested in becoming a corporate sponsor of the Living Light project or want to read more about UT Zero and the Zero Energy House, visit

The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002; the competition has since occurred biennially in 2005, 2007 and 2009. The next event will take place in fall 2011. Open to the public and free of charge, the event takes place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Visitors can tour the houses and learn how energy-saving features can help them save money today. For more information on the Solar Decathlon competition, visit

C O N T A C T :

James Rose,, (865) 974-5267

Kristi Hintz,, (865) 974-3993