Last month, after more than a year of planning, four months of construction, a cross-country voyage, and nine days of on-site assembly, Chris Hamm ’14 and his teammates from Stevens Institute of Technology were ready to show off their work: SURE HOUSE, a “sustainable and resilient” solar-powered home that was among more than a dozen entrants in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Irvine, Calif.
The biennial competition rates projects in 10 categories, including architecture, engineering, and energy balance. At the end of more than a week of judging, the Stevens team topped the final rankings.
For Hamm, a master’s student who directed energy analysis for the project, creating the 1,000 square-foot home presented challenges he’d never encountered before. “Seeing a project through, from the beginning design phases to actually building it, requires another level of collaboration and compromise,” he said.
Hamm studied environmental engineering at Princeton and took a strong interest in sustainable building and energy modeling during his junior and senior years. His undergraduate thesis explored strategies for adapting Passive House, a popular building-energy standard developed in Germany, to apply to homes in various climates in the United States.
During his thesis work, Hamm realized that he wanted to help build a Passive House. He made contact with the project manager for the Solar Decathlon team at Stevens and eventually decided to join the team while pursuing a master’s degree.
SURE HOUSE was inspired by the homophonous shore houses damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The team designed “a low energy, solar-powered, storm-resilient home for vulnerable coastal communities,” according to its website — and accomplished those goals without sacrificing aesthetics. The house earned a 98 on a 100-point scale in the decathlon’s “market appeal” ratings.
Hamm, who is on track to complete his master’s program in the spring, hopes to work in Passive House consulting or some other aspect of energy modeling and green building — a professional community that employs many of the same skills that the Solar Decathlon teams relied on. “It’s been an awesome opportunity because I’ve been able to get my foot in the door,” he said.