Purdue School of Engineering and Technology

Purdue School of Engineering and Technology

IUPUI Team Competes in DOE's Net-Zero Design Competition

March 5, 2018

Lilian Nguyen

Lilian Nguyen

The countdown is on for IUPUI’s first team, Nulla Industria Villa, to become a finalist in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Race to Zero Student Design Competition. On March 6, the team will learn if months of hard work moves them forward as one of the 40 finalists from a field of 84 competitors. Open to students and faculty from any collegiate institution, this fifth annual competition challenges participants to renovate or create a new model of a net-zero residence or K-12 school.

Last fall, Nulla Industria Villa applied to the competition, choosing to design a single-family suburban home that meets DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program requirements. The team’s home design must be so energy efficient that renewable power generation can offset its yearly energy consumption.

Team members include: Lilian Nguyen (student lead, Energy Engineering major), William Simon (student lead, Energy Engineering major), Cody Hayes (Energy Engineering major), David Browning (Energy Engineering major), Zachary Owens (Energy Engineering major), Abdul Ayoub (Energy Engineering major and Mechanical Engineering graduate student), Ryan Camp (Sustainable Management and Policy major), and Andrew McNeely (Technical Communications graduate student).

The team’s faculty advisors are Dr. Ali Razban (faculty lead) Director of the Bachelor of Science Energy Engineering program and Assistant Director of the DOE Industrial Assessment Center, and Dr. Sanjeev Adhikari, visiting Associate Professor of Construction Engineering Management Technology.


Nguyen explained that their project, called The Living House, redefines average suburban living conditions and introduces a more sustainable method of living. The Living House is capable of minimizing energy consumption by incorporating proper building science principles, mechanical applications, renewable energy systems and sustainable attributes.

“The Living House is designed specifically to incorporate the outdoors into the owner’s daily lifestyle while providing water, energy and food sustainability,” Simon said. “Materials are repurposed from pre-existing local structures, sourced locally, or are from the property itself. We have designed The Living House to be an option in the suburbs where homeowners can quickly become mortgage-free by having almost no monthly energy bills while creating a sustainable home, lifestyle and community.”

To obtain a Net-Zero Energy profile, the team had to consider many variables. They divided their analysis into categories: architectural design, electrical design and consumption, indoor air quality and ventilation, heating and cooling, and plumbing. Part of their challenge was to first satisfy national, state and local building codes before pursuing the competition’s additional requirements.

The Living House contains three bedrooms, two bathrooms and two stories. A loft sits above the kitchen area that leads outdoors onto a balcony overlooking the backyard. The house’s orientation to the south is critical to reducing heating loads since the sun's radiation can penetrate the home's windows and contribute to heating needs.

The team got creative when it came to reducing and recycling resources like water. For example, the house design recycles gray water (domestic waste from baths, sinks and washing machines) and recaptures rain water for toilet flushing and/or irrigation needs. Nulla Industria Villa developed sustainable concepts in the house design that challenge conventional ways of residential construction.

 “The underlying concept is that an entire family can live, work, and grow their own food at home,” explained Dr. Razban. “This team has done incredible work on the Race to Zero project, and we’re anxiously waiting to hear if we’ll be competing in the finals.”

According to the DOE, this contest is meant to “advance and enhance building science curriculum in universities,” and “inspire collegiate students to become the next generation of building science professionals… Students become part of a new leadership movement to achieve truly sustainable buildings.”

Finalists will complete their project submittals by April 3, and compete by making presentations about their designs to industry leaders at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory April 20-22 in Golden, CO.