Purdue's INhome team at their recent "Topping Out" party (note the little tree on the roof of the house). | Photo Courtesy of the Purdue INhome Solar Decathlon team

In honor of the U.S  Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon -- which challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive -- we are profiling each of the 20 teams participating in the competition.

One of the newest teams to the Solar Decathlon this year is Purdue University of West Lafayette, Indiana. The fresh team has joined this year to rally against many of its Big Ten competitors and prove that even without an architecture program Purdue can succeed on the National Mall.

Starting with just four students in 2009, Purdue’s team has grown to a group of 200 people planning, designing, engineering and building the last two years. To get the inside scoop, we spoke with Project Manager Kevin Rodgers about Purdue’s Net-Zero INhome (Indiana Home).

Purdue’s Solar Decathlon team is using three words to describe the INhome: efficient, practical and essential. “We are going with a home that is very realistic, but appealing to a specific Midwestern style to fit in most neighborhoods,” said Rodgers, who also works as a mechanical engineering technology research assistant.

Purdue’s INhome will showcase a very practical design during the 2011 competition. “…Our home is very unique in that it’s very deep,” said Rodgers. “Usually Solar Decathlon homes are very long for transport. We wanted our home to look more traditional so we sat down with some engineers and designers to make it feasible. It’s almost a square floor plan and feels more like a real home instead of something designed for being on the road.” The home is also very unique in that it is the first to feature an attached single vehicle garage, something most residents of Indiana find a necessity.

The house features all-electric high efficiency appliances, structurally insulated panels in the walls and floors, as well as triple-paned operable windows above high ceilings, with passive design in mind to allow for optimal ventilation in the summer, and heating through the windows in the winter. The entire home is powered by an 8.6 Kilowatt solar panel system on the roof.

IN Home has one master bedroom, an office that can be converted into a second bedroom, one bath, a kitchen, living room and utility room along with the attached garage. Outside of the home are gardening areas, wheelchair accessible ramps and a deck patio. At 990 square feet, InHome maximizes space with a price point just under $250,000.

A model of the INhome design sits in front of the house during construction. | Courtesy of the Purdue INhome Solar Decathlon team

Rodgers says he loves that the affordability category was added to the 2011 competition, and that Purdue looks forward to doing well in this category as well as in engineering and market appeal.

But not all has been easy for the Purdue team. One of their largest challenges was fundraising for the event during a recession. “The Department of Energy gives us a certain amount, but the rest is up to the team while building and designing the house. Even organizing the monster that is the Solar Decathlon is a very time consuming project,” said Rodgers.

In addition, Purdue’s team faced another challenge. Most Solar Decathlon teams are started by the universities’ architecture schools. Rodgers said they needed to come up with another way around it. “We had a faculty adviser who was an architect and interior design students help design and plan our home.” Two years and 200 students from six different Purdue schools later, Purdue threw their Topping Out party in April.

“I think we will do very well. We will be very good…I think the public can make a connection between this home and their own, and that’s very good for the team,” said Rodgers.

After the competition, Purdue University’s INhome will be situated in LaFayette, Indiana where it was built and donated to a family for long term research.