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UM Solar Decathlon/ Solar House Project


The Birth of MiSo*

The Michigan Solar House (MiSo*) began in the summer of 2003 when it was one of nineteen colleges and universities selected by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. That same summer, team leaders traveled to Washington DC, the location of the Solar Decathlon in September 2005, to select the team’s competition site on the National Mall and learn about the Decathlon’s rules and regulations. Laying claim to an area directly across from the Smithsonian Castle, Team MiSo* returned to Ann Arbor to begin organizing its approach and strategies.

From the outset, Team MiSo* has been based in the Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning curriculum and now provides opportunities for curricular and extra-curricular work in each of the partner schools and colleges within the University.

Early Exploration

In the fall of 2003, a graduate level research seminar convened to focus on the architectural research for the MiSo* project. The end product for this class was the MiSo* Manual, a comprehensive overview of the 2002 Solar Decathlon along with a full range of recommendations to pursue during the design process.

Armed with the MiSo* Manual, a new set of students embarked on the 2004 Winter semester engaged the MiSo* Design Studio. Through a collaborative design process, the studio developed a set of schematic design options, additional research on the various contexts MiSo* could reside in and a taste for exactly how challenging it could be to design an 800 square foot building.

March 2004 marked the formation of the MiSo* Management Team, which includes representatives from each of the five subsets of Team MiSo*: Design, Operations, Building Systems, Public Relations and Finance. While still adjusting the newfound breadth of the project, Team MiSo* submitted its first Project Summary and Official Website to Decathlon organizers on April 15th. The management team along with the Winter Design Studio hosted an open house for students, university members, industry professionals and community members to showcase the design to date.

Seeing (or Simulating) How the Sun May Shine

With southeastern Michigan receiving a little more sun each day, the 2004 spring term studio featured four teams working simultaneously to create a set of design development documents, perform digital and analog testing and write the Simulation Analysis Report for the June 15th Decathlon deadline. Throughout the summer of 2004, a team of new and experienced students continued development of the design in preparation of fabrication of the MiSo* prototype during the fall of 2004.

Joining the Design Studio this fall will be several other academic courses in mechanical engineering, landscape architecture and business. House construction is slated to begin in January 2005 and will occur primarily through the MiSo* Construction Seminar, offered during both winter and spring terms of 2005. The management team will continue to oversee all aspects of the project through both curricular and extra-curricular efforts.

Only The First Stop…

After the unveiling of MiSo* at the Solar Decathlon, Team MiSo* will continue the project locally. Working with governmental and non-profit partners, the team will move the solar house into the community for use by a real-world client, providing the ability to evaluate the long-term success of MiSo* strategies. In this way, the MiSo* house can serve both the community and the academy as a model for innovation in energy-efficient living.


The U.S. EPA provided support under the P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2004)


Space in our nation’s landfills is rapidly running out due, in a large part, to waste from the residential building industry. To combat this problem, a diverse group of students and faculty from the University of Michigan have begun to rethink conventional building practices and establish a new system through which production waste can be reduced and sustainable and environmentally friendly products can be used in innovative ways. This proposal will design and produce a fully integrated modular panelized building system that integrates multiple building components. The proposed panel-based system will maximize building efficiency, longevity, sustainability and reuse, thereby reducing pollution, inefficiency and landfill waste. Project results were measured and evaluated through simulations and a built prototype that compares traditional and proposed building techniques in terms of consumption of energy, raw material and disposal costs. The panelized system will be implemented through the construction of a solar home built using this new technology. Finally, P3 concepts already play a large role in the education of University of Michigan students. This project will increase the prevalence of these concepts through student course work, collaboration with different University units and private corporations, and through increased involvement with green policy and planning initiatives in Southeast Michigan.


Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The Michigan Solar House Project (MiSo*) team investigated the feasibility of structural insulated panels (SIPs) as a core component in a sustainable residential building system. Through energy simulation modeling, the original rectilinear building design was deemed insufficiently responsive to climatic variations outside of temperate zones of the United States. Developing a passively performing design, a full-scale building section with a solar chimney was designed and built. Periodic sensor data over a three month period indicated that a solar chimney coupled with thermal mass would be an effective strategy to achieve thermal comfort for much of the year, even in the climate of South Eastern Michigan.



Quantitative Life Cycle Assessment provides an incomplete picture when assessing the environmental impact of a solar building prototype in which there is no grid tie to utilities. A cradle to cradle analysis would provide a more balanced analysis of environmental impact. More in-depth research should be conducted to develop Smart SIPs. This innovation would facilitate electrical and mechanical connections as well as to accommodate future remodeling to residential structures. SIPs are a viable component in the construction of modular housing. The effectiveness of a solar chimney can diminish the overall energy load created over a building’s lifetime. The application of the solar chimney as a passive strategy is not limited to the continental United States. The solar chimney configuration can have wide ranging geographic importance.

Proposed Phase II objectives and strategies:

The MiSo* project’s objective is to continue to refine SIPs into smarter building components within a larger modular system. The objective has two areas that are of specific interest are creating smarter SIPs allowing for interchangeability of the panels as the space program changes and a ‘smart SIP junction box’ enabling easier electrical and plumbing connections. The strategy behind the smarter panel allows for the typical modular SIP panel to remain unintelligent and focusing all of the building systems into the refined SIP sixteen inch wide. These building systems inserted within the redefined “smart” panels include electrical, mechanical and plumbing applications. In comparison to the standard SIP, the “smart” SIP panel allows for minimal installation of systems, saving the consumer labor costs and not compromising the structural integrity of the panel itself. These objectives for creating a smarter panel were evaluated both for their economic benefits or short comings and for their LCA attributes in comparison to the standard SIP panel. The smart SIP junction box’ simplifies floor running conduit into pre-routed areas for ease of connection and service.

University of Michigan - Architecture and Urban Planning
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
United States Department of Energy
Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment