The Northwestern University student group House by Northwestern unveiled its 100-percent solar-powered home, the organization’s first entry into the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday afternoon in Evanston.

The result of 17 months of design, market research and construction the students sought to develop a home that would appeal to active North Shore baby boomers looking to downsize and buy a home for life.

The two-bed, two-bath house was constructed on the parking lot behind the former Roycemore School at 669 Colfax St. It’s scheduled to be carted off on two trailers to the Solar Decathlon test site in Denver Colorado in two weeks.

A rendering of what the finished home would look like.

The home, dubbed “Enable,” is projected to be “net-positive,” meaning it produces more energy than it uses. It will generate enough solar energy to power the home and an electric vehicle, while excess energy can be sold back to the electrical grid. The house was designed entirely by students.

City building permit records indicate the construction cost of the home was around $400,000.

HBN’s student marketing team found that its target market ranked the following housing features as most important: comfort and livability, high-performance with functionality, easy home maintenance, sustainability and affordability.

A rendering of the home’s interior.

With those guidelines in mind, HBN’s design simultaneously achieves net-positive status and addresses the health and accessibility needs of aging boomers. Some of the house’s sustainable features, designed specifically to withstand Chicago weather, include:

  • Solar panels integrated into the main roof, which is slanted at 24 degrees for ideal solar collection
  • A residential smart battery system that stores excess solar energy and communicates with the grid
  • An operable south solarium that opens to maximize the home’s living space
  • Willow glass surfaces that look and feel like stone but have a smaller carbon footprint than natural stone

A collegiate competition covering 10 categories, the Decathlon challenges student teams to design and build a full-size, solar-powered home. The winning team will be the one that “best blends design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market potential and energy and water efficiency,” according to the contest’s website.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Good luck Northwestern Students

    Well done, NU students,  Hope that the design meets city building code as well. These would be a great addition to the affordable housing market. Perhaps they could be used to aid in meeting Evanston’s carbon footprint and Climate goals.   Listening, Mr. Mayor?

  2. Whoa!

    Unfortunately the article is missing two key bits of information. 1.) Square feet. 2.) A floor plan.

    The average construction cost per square foot in the Chicago area is in the range of $150 to $200/SF, depending on various factors, such as quality of materials, design details, etc. Assuming that the cost is $250/SF, to account for solar panels and other energy efficient features, this translates to about a 1,600 square foot house. This is a comfortable size for a family of 3-4, depending on the layout. However, when you factor in the cost of land, architect/engineer fees, permits, temporary fencing, etc. (somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000 to $400,000, depending on location in Evanston), the total project cost creeps up to $600,000 to $800,000.

    Add property taxes (more or less $10-12,000 in Evanston for a house like this) and insurance and the project becomes a difficult proposition for virtually anyone other than really high income earners or wealthy retirees. Monthly cost:

    $ 2,645  Mortage (assuming 20% downpayment)
          875  Taxes
            67  Property insurance
    $ 3,586  Total monthly payment

    Some of the costs may be offset by credits for solar panels and other energy conserving components, but I doubt that it would lower the monthly cost by a dramatic amount. Unfortunately, this is the landscape facing young people today. As for appealing to baby boomers facing retirement, good luck, unless they have an impressive investment portfolio to pay the property taxes. 

    Nevertheless, I’m certainly glad to see NU tackling such a design project. Solar is the future. 

    1. Size

      Hi John,

      The project website says the house is 994 square feet. There’s also a very small image of the floor plan on the website.

      City permit records say the construction cost was about $400,000.

      So, on a square foot basis, that suggests it’s a rather expensive house.

      — Bill

      1. Solar House

        Typical Evanston responses — negative, negative, negative!

        The negativity in Evanston continues to amaze me after many years of living here!

        1. Solar House

          I agree. At least someone is trying to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The world is changing fast. Time to wake up.

          1. I am awake

            Yes…we all get the point.   Saving energy is a great thing…….but it would have made a better point if the house was actually in a price range that people can afford……the “general public”…”average Joe”…Next time, make it something about half that price, that doesn’t have a huge mortgage payment. Then it would attract more people.   That’s the only issue.

          2. Solar House Costs

            Get some Evanston non-profit foundations ( there are lots of them & they are all tax-free) to get behind  the solar house & watch the cost tumble !

            Evanston : Quit complaint about projects like this because NU was involved and look for ways to get the entire COMMUNITY involved —- then watch the per-unit cost drop dramatically.   That’s how “manufacturing” works.

            maybe that’s A problem when the local economy is based on food, a movie complex & women’s stores.      Evanston :  No imagination // No economic progress.

  3. Outside appearance

    I went to see it from the alley. The inside [pictrue/drawing ?]  looks nice but from  the outside looks like two mobile homes [the kind you use to see in mobile home parks in the 60s] stuck together.

    1. and….

      A house that costs $400,000 to construct is most certainly NOT anything affordale……so what was the point?   Just to show that it can be energy efficient?   Big deal….it’s not wallet efficient.  Another waste of time , money, and high hopes.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *