UMN Wins Race to Zero Student Design Competition

April 24, 2015
Photo of Grand Winner, Team OptiMN

Members of Team OptiMN who presented at NREL in Golden, Colorado on April 18, 2015 were, from left to right, Laurel Johnston, Cavan Wagg, Faculty Advisor Pat Huelman, Collin Coltman, and Peter Schneider.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s second annual Race to Zero Student Design Competition recognized the University of Minnesota’s Team OptiMN as the 2015 “Grand Award” winner. The team was comprised of 14 students from four different colleges:

  • College of Continuing Education (CCE)
  • College of Design (CDes)
  • College of Education and Human Development (CEHD)
  • College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Sciences (CFANS) - more specifically, our own Residential Building Science and Technology undergraduate program and graduate program


The students of Team OptiMN came together to design a Zero Energy Ready Home. They wanted a site that would be meaningful and have a positive impact on the community, so they chose an vacant lot in North Minneapolis. This area was hit hard by the foreclosure crisis followed by a series of tornadoes in 2011 that cut through the heart of the neighborhood. Green Homes North, one of team OptiMN's partners, plans on building 100 energy efficient homes in this area over a five year span. These homes are meanat to increase both market value and community pride. Team OptiMN made sure their Impact Home followed their guidelines. The team then partnered with Urban Homeworks to design a high performance, affordable, flexible home. Residential Science Resources stepped up to be the team's energy rater partner.


Team OptiMN’s design goals:

  1. DOE’s challenge to build a zero energy ready home
  2. Urban Homework’s mission to produce equitable, dignified communities
  3. Green Homes North Initiative to revitalize North Minneapolis neighborhoods with affordable, sustainable, and quality homes

The team set strict performance goals that met fortified home standards, achieves high indoor air quality, is zero energy ready, and fosters water stewardship. Through integrative design, the home’s estimated total monthly energy bill will be $93 a month, or $10 a month if built with a small solar panel system on the roof. 


Rendering of OptiMN's Impact Home

The OptiMN design is compact, with careful space planning to ensure no space goes unused. The first floor has an open floor plan with arched openings to define each room while still making the spaces feel larger. Operable clerestory windows bring in additional daylighting and natural ventilation. They also create unique sectional qualities and increase the square footage of the southern roof so more solar panels could be installed.

The OptiMN design uses durable and robust building systems that use a hybrid 2x4 wall with exterior insulation, high-performance windows, exterior foundation insulation, and airtight construction. The home's heating and cooling system incorporates a high-performance integrated space/water heating system with an inverter heat pump for cooling/dehumidification, energy recovery ventilator, and high-efficiency filter – all delivered through a compact, small duct distribution system. For outstanding indoor air quality, the design focused on pollution avoidance, source-point exhaust, continuous ventilation, and consistent distribution of fresh and filtered air to all habitable rooms.

The OptiMN design specifically grouped water fixtures in close proximity to each other and utilized an efficient demand recirculation loop to reduce hot water waste and wait times.

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