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Through competing in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2021 Build Challenge, the University of Colorado Boulder Solar Decathlon Team aims to address the housing attainability crisis and construction challenges faced by mountain towns across the country. By designing, building, and operating the zero energy plus SPARC House, we will demonstrate that high performance home design and attainability are not only possible, but also mutually beneficial. The five design pillars of the SPARC House include Sustainability, Performance, Attainability, Resilience, and Community.


The SPARC House aims to demonstrate innovative solutions to the lack of attainable and sustainable housing for mountain communities across the nation.

Behind the Name: The SPARC House


    • A triple-bottom-line approach to sustainability was fundamental in the development of the CU Boulder team's design philosophy. The SPARC house aims to address three principles of sustainability: economic prosperity, social equity, and environmental protection. The remaining four pillars that comprise the foundation of the SPARC House are all rooted in the core concept of sustainability.


    • High energy performance is critical to reducing the home’s environmental impact, as well as providing low operating costs for homeowners. SPARC incorporates multiple design strategies that improve performance, including a small footprint and highly insulated, airtight structure. The house maximizes natural ventilation and daylighting with orientation-tuned glazing and a low window-to-wall-ratio on the north façade. Additional high-efficiency equipment—such as zone-based ductless minisplit heat pumps, an energy recovery ventilator, a heat pump water heater, maximum power point tracking on the solar panels, and a central control system—help engage occupants in easy operation of the house.


    • To promote attainability, the SPARC House is designed to leverage prefabrication construction methods that can reduce building costs. An attached rental unit brings in supplemental income for the homeowners while offering more affordable rental options for seasonal workers who support tourism in mountain towns.


    • The SPARC House embraces the concept of resilience with on-site energy generation, electrical provisions for future battery storage, grid islanding capabilities, demand response capability, and a building automation system that can proactively control the space for daily energy efficiency and to achieve a grid-friendly electric demand profile. With demand response functions, the SPARC House can react to signals from the utility, if a local program exists, and reduce stress on the grid as needed. Additionally, the building envelope is made of durable materials that require minimal maintenance over time and can be repaired with relative ease.


    • The SPARC House’s rental unit provides a multifaceted solution to the displacement of seasonal and year-round service workers in mountain towns. The approach strengthens communities by meeting the needs of those who may not be able to afford typical living costs, but play an integral role in shaping local economies. Long-term rentals also foster interaction and communication within towns, promoting the development of new relationships and unified neighborhoods. With the adoption of the SPARC House, mountain towns will be able to showcase the power of sustainable housing and sustainable communities.

Our Team

As future leaders and industry professionals, our team as a unique sense of understanding the problems surrounding climate change, residential building, and the complexities of mountain town living. These problems motivate us to push the boundaries of design, all while making cost-cutting decisions to create attainable housing for mountain communities across the nation. Our team is comprised of interdisciplinary students from engineering, environmental design, and business majors.

CU Boulder's Solar Decathlon History

The University of Colorado Boulder participated and won 1st place in the first two Solar Decathlon Build Challenges, in 2002 and 2005. The team competed for a third time in 2007, and hasn’t been involved since then. That is, until now. For the 2019-2020 competition, CU Boulder is highly motivated and back in the game.