Las Vegas CBS KXNT – The student engineers and architects, who call themselves “decathaletes,” are just about ready to pick up the hammer and nails, and start building the net zero house they’ve been working on since the fall semester.

The completed house will be transported in the fall to a Solar Decathalon competition in Irvine, California. If the term “net zero” is unfamiliar, that’s because it’s a high-concept green design term.

“A net-zero home produces as much energy as it consumes,” project engineer Jinger Zeng told KXNT. “It’s a zero-energy home,” she said, which means the owner would be able to kiss the energy bill good-bye.

Like many green technologies, a net zero house is more expensive on the front end than the regular version. So the team has also recruited a graduate economics student to perform a cost-benefit analysis. Besides calculating the number of years the home would take to pay off in energy savings, the economist will also investigate consumers’ williingness to pay for the advanced features.

While it’s primarily a design-build project, Zeng told KXNT, there’s great value to the participants as they learn to communicate with non-technical professionals, such as graphic artists, local suppliers, and building officials. They’re also engaged more-or-less continually in promoting the project.

“How do we convey our ideas to the general public?” Zeng asked. “For us, those are valuable experiences.”

But there could be a larger payoff for the students. More than 90 percent of solar decathalon competitors end up with jobs in renewable energy or a related construction field, according to a study by the sponsors of the competition.


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