The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced winners of its third annual Race to Zero Student Design Competition, a collegiate competition engaging university students to design zero energy ready homes.

The competition was held at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo., to inspire next-generation architects, engineers, and construction managers to apply the latest building science innovations in new and existing homes. The awards recognize students who excel at integrating solid building science principles into designs for zero energy ready homes including creative solutions to real-world problems.

This year's competition featured 31 teams from 25 universities. A group of architecture students from Prairie View A&M University won top honors, reports Green Building Advisor's Scott Gibson, who took a detailed look at the innovative project.

In its report on the project, the group said it designed the three-bedroom, 1,567-square-foot home to fit in a Houston neighborhood called Independence Heights, an area with narrow lots and a 40% vacancy rate. Their idea was to develop clusters of single-family homes into "pocket communities" with shared open space.

The lot the group selected for development is a 15-minute drive from downtown Houston, but only a 1-minute walk to a public bus stop, and within biking distance to a light rail stop. It's also next to a community garden.

"Community residents expressed a desire for the concept to be inspired by the modest efficiencies of a ‘shotgun’ vernacular home," the project report says. "A home style native to the area, the ‘shotgun’ was designed to allow for natural ventilation and fit the long narrow lots. Design features include a gable roof, rectilinear floor plan with side circulation, front deck, and wood cladding."

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