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This year’s Solar Decathlon Design Challenge was held virtually in the wake of COVID-19. Collegiate teams compete in categories such as mixed-use multifamily, urban single family and suburban single family; winning projects feature innovative designs for buildings that excel in affordability, efficiency and occupant health.

If you’re wondering how your company can get involved with this annual Department of Energy competition, consider participating as a mentor in the Design Partners program.

Your company could gain exposure by providing student teams with real-life experience working on buildings and homes with your clients. Whether you’re a seasoned high-performance builder or relatively new to the market, the Design Partners program allows you to mentor students and receive a zero-energy design — i.e., a building that produces as much energy as it consumes — for a new or existing building in your project portfolio.

The program requires a 20- to 30-hour commitment over the course of a year of in-person or remote consultation with the student team to discuss your design requirements and give them ongoing feedback leading up to the competition. There are also minimum parameters depending on the building type. For example, in the urban single-family housing division, the building must be between 300 and 2,500 square feet, and the lot size can be up to 5,000 square feet.

In return for completing the consultation hours and fulfilling basic design parameters, your company will:

  • Have the chance to mentor and work with students;
  • Establish relationships with the younger workforce and build your company’s exposure for potential future employees;
  • Receive a zero-energy design for a real project in your portfolio that you are already contracted to design and build; and
  • Receive a basic cost estimate for the building.

To see how other organizations have contributed and interacted with the Design Partners program, visit the Solar Decathlon’s project profiles page or see how other NAHB members have mentored previous winners. If you have a project in mind and are interested in participating, the Design Partner form is now available.

For more information about NAHB’s sustainable and green building programs, contact Program Manager Anna Stern. To stay current on the high-performance residential building sector with tips on water efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and other building science strategies, follow NAHB’s Sustainability and Green Building team on Twitter.