Illinois Institute of Technology Entering DOE Student Home Design Challenge

GE Zero Net Energy Home Model

Among 18 other universities, Illinois Institute of Technology will be participating in a challenge that exemplifies a commitment to building energy efficient designs. Student groups will collaborate and used acquired skills to model a home that meets or exceed the DOE Challenge Home National Program Requirements.


Students will be challenged to create homes that maximize energy efficiency, show a dedication to improve indoor air quality, and making homes zero net-energy ready. In an effort to improve the awareness of environmental concerns, the US DOE and Building America Program have created this competition to direct students to building practices that help improve our world.

There are many benefits to participating in this program. Among being primarily student led, groups will learn to work in a professional environment and offer real world experiences most courses could not. Also, success in the competition would create national recognition and create many career-opening opportunities for participating students.

The DOE Student Home Design competition alternates between the DOE Solar Decathlon competitions. The design competition offers students the opportunity to learn the design phase of the building process whereas the Solar Decathlon offers the opportunity to continue onto the construction phase. Our success in the Student Home Design competition could potentially vault us into the following Solar Decathlon.

Useful technical skills will involve knowledge of modeling software such as Revit as well as building energy software tools such as THERM, Umberto, etc. All majors encouraged to join. Contact Brent Stephens for more information or visit


Shady Business

As energy prices keep rising, the cost of operating a building rises as well. With people always wanting to save money, more analysis and programs are being used to map and see how efficient a building’s design is. From envelope efficiency to structural reliability, computer programs have given us the ability to make quick changes and see the outcomes in a matter of minutes.  I came across an article that show cased on how lighting experts, architects, and clients worked together from the start to cut down on lighting costs. Since lighting accounts for 20 percent of the primary energy use in buildings, designing a well working lighting system will not only cut costs down, but make the spaces function better.  In the article many projects, ideas, and methods were shown on how certain elements can save money and turn spaces into magnificent enclosures.

An example that stood out to me a lot was the Sacramento International Airport’s Terminal B project. In this project the architects worked with the client and a lighting team to create a way to minimize glare inside the space. Since the client wanted a low maintenance system, the architect worked closely with the lighting team to see what products could be used. Once the architect knew what would work best for this situation they went ahead and modeled the building in a 3D program. After the building was modeled, the desired lighting products were applied, a time and day were set to the environment and a time lapse video was rendered out to show how sunlight and shadow moved across the space.  At the end of the project, the building was certified as LEED silver and used a combination of louvers and light sensors on the roof to cut lighting costs.

The video below shows a time-lapse rendering simulation compared to the actual space.  It shows us how far computer design has gotten and how close they can model spaces in actual time.


Without the help of computer programs, buildings might not be as efficient as they could be.  There are standard regulations and recommendations one can follow, but the ability to change one type of material, press a button and get a new value right away helps a lot. With the ability for programs to do multiple calculations and show us what is happening in our spaces shows us where things need to improve.


Thermo-Bimetal Paneling

In recent years, the topic of saving energy has much concerned to a point where a widely discussion has been aroused all around the world. According to the survey it is the construction energy that occupies most of the energy consumption. Buildings use 40% energy in the United States. What is more, building enclosures is important for energy use in the buildings. A large number of the enclosure functions are related to heat and moisture control which contribute to the energy. In according to this many building scientists and engineers are focusing on the building envelop materials to save energy as much as possible.

Doris Kim Sung, architect of USC, developed Thermo-Bimetal paneling, which changes shape with temperature and may let walls breathe and windows apply shading to themselves. Thermo-Bimetal called smart materials can be used to create self-managing systems for buildings. One important use is allowing buildings to react to sunlight, changing their configurations at different times of the day to prevent overheating. How it works is basically just that it is two different metals laminated together (usually steel and copper) and when they are heated one reacts more quickly and bends in one direction, then when they cool down they go back to their original position. The best part about using this material within building facades is that it reacts automatically with the sun or with heat to open and close, creating shade where and when it is needed without the use of electricity or power of any kind.

Thermo bimetal was originally thought of as a material that could be used to automatically create shade where it is needed but that is not the only way it could be used. It can be used as a ventilation system as well, by creating a system that when hot air rises up the metal above it opens to release it. Another way is that in high-rise buildings it could be used for ventilation from the outside where it covers up holes in the wall when cold and allows air to enter when it is warm. As she points out, these systems require no human intervention — even in the case of a power outage, they continue to work “tirelessly, efficiently, and endlessly.”

Thermo-bimetal is an innovative material. However this material is still being questioned by people, some people hold the idea that those metals are created with lots of energy and money which increase the initial cost. What is worse, many people doubt it tireless. They think the bimetal could not deal with hail, or salt corrosion near oceans. Anyhow with the endeavor of scientists and engineers, an increasing number of smart materials will show up in the future to solve energy problem.