Since 2002 The U.S. Department of Energy has hosted a collegiate competition called the Solar Decathlon. A competition of 10 contests that challenges student teams to design and build full-size, solar-powered houses, it has become a benchmark for educational programs, builders, designers, engineers, and young scientists, alike, for its duration. The winner is the team that best blends design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market potential, and energy and water efficiency. That is where the Colorado School of Mines comes in.

Based in Golden, CO, Mines is a public teaching and research university devoted to engineering and applied science, with special expertise in the development and stewardship of the Earth’s natural resources.

For the past two years, Mines Tiny House team members have spent weekends, evenings and countless hours between classes researching, raising funds and building what they say is one of the world’s most technological tiny houses. At 220 sq.ft. the Mines Tiny House is complete with a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping loft, and deck. It is built on a triple axle TrailerMade trailer and officially began in August 2016. From the subfloor to the siding, it truly is a net zero (creates at least as much energy as it consumes) tiny house. It is also serving as a model house and model build for the larger house the school will begin designing in 2018 for the 2020 Decathlon.

To fulfill their net-zero rating the tiny house incorporates energy-producing solar panels, a composting toilet, wax-based insulation to control interior temperature and a living wall — a self-sufficient vertical, indoor garden — to boost air quality.

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the house is that even though it is being built with stringent ideas geared toward solar decathlon victory, any student with a few extra minutes is invited to stop by and lend a hand. The core team is about 20 students of mostly physics and engineering majors but the Mines Tiny House is admittedly a collaborative effort beginning with the actual build.

When completed, the tiny house will sit on the Colorado School of Mines campus and be used as a research site to study energy and sustainability, as well as travel around Golden and the surrounding community for education and outreach. It will also be on display at the 2017 Solar Decathlon in Denver in October.

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