From Miami to D.C. and back again: The journey of a net-zero Solar Decathlon house

In 2011 while I was in my final semester as a construction management master’s student at Florida international University, my department’s dean asked if I would help put together a team of construction management students to assist in the construction of the FIU Solar House for the U.S Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

The FIU Team – a consortium of architecture, engineering and construction management students with the support and oversight of Skanska USA – contributed countless hours to construct the home under an aggressive schedule.  The FIU design – which we called PerFORM[D]ance House – made it to the top of the preliminary competition, beating out many other schools to be just one of twenty universities selected to bring their building to life in Washington, D.C.!

FIU Solar House

Photo Credit: FIU Solar Decathlon

With Skanska’s support, my fellow students and I started construction in early July 2011 and had to have the house completed by the end of that August. The house consisted of two separate modules; this approach facilitated the process of dismantling and shipping the house 1,056 miles from Miami to the National Mall on the back of seven trucks. Overall, our project placed first in the Energy Balance competition and we finished 11th – ahead of several countries! Throughout the competition, Skanska USA served as the general contractor of record on our project, and helped guide and advise our construction process. Thanks to Skanska’s support, I was fortunate enough to meet Jorge Moros, one of Skanska’s project executives, who oversaw the Skanska team. He later recruited me to join Skanska.

Balancing livability and sustainability

The Solar Decathlon competition aims to bring the latest and most advanced sustainable technologies integral aspect of the housing design challenge. As such, the PerFORM[D]ance House combines technology and design to achieve both livability and sustainability. Designed and built to meet LEED Platinum standards along with the rigorous demands of the Decathlon competition, the PerFORM [D]ance House, was given this name due to its ability to perform in real time by sensing and responding to the generation and acquisition of energy. The house is completely solar powered and produces as much energy as it consumes (net-zero energy): photovoltaic panels on the roof collect energy from sunlight, which is then converted into A/C power that drives the home’s heating, cooling and appliance functions. What’s more, the house “Dances” in response to the external conditions of its environment and the internal conditions of its use.

The Solar House was designed to take advantage of Miami’s tropical climate while creating innovative solutions that make the house sustainable, affordable and educational. Inspiration for the design came from the architecture of hot and arid climates, including Central and South America. With this, open framing enables maximum cross-ventilation to cool interior spaces, and large overhangs protect from intense sunlight. Other key sustainable features on the house include a ductless heating and cooling system, solar thermal tubes, Nano energy monitoring systems, local wood floors, rainwater capture and high-efficiency lighting and appliances. These innovative strategies produce electricity, cool and heat interior spaces, and heat and store water in the most efficient way possible. What’s more, the structure’s bi-directional meter can put unused energy back into the grid.

Two years later

Fast forward to 2013, and Skanska is currently working on FIU’s Academic Health Center 5 Project.  As part of our work on FIU’s campus, FIU has asked Skanska to rebuild the PerFORM[D]ance house to serve as its Office of Sustainability. It’s a labor of love to see this project come back to its original home.  We are currently installing the home in its new location with the help of MC Harry & Associates. Chrissy Perez is the lead architect for MC Harry on this project, and the irony is that she was the lead architect for the Solar Decathlon as a student.  We laugh when we now look back at building it once as students and now as professionals. As the Office of Sustainability, the Solar House will serve as a green beacon and an educational tool for sustainable design.

Sustainability is one of Skanska’s core values. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to work on projects like these that push the envelope for creative and sustainable design. Even better, I love that this project will find a new life at FIU and hopefully inspire future generations to build in even greener ways.


Ryan Reznichek

Skanska USA Operations

More Posts - Website