A team of undergraduate mechanical engineering students at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) has impressively designed and built a unique, energy-efficient home. Starting from a mere grant application and an innovative idea, these students, with no prior experience in architecture or construction, successfully created a house that operates entirely on solar electricity, making it independent of the grid.
After showcasing part of their house at a home design show in Orange County, they received a $100,000 grant and an invitation to compete in the international Gateway Decathlon in St. Louis in 2025. Cooper Proulx, the project leader, expressed excitement about applying their learnings to build an even more sustainable and affordable home in the upcoming project, “The team and I have learned so much from the first project and we believe that we will be able to build even more sustainably and affordably throughout this next project.”
The 1,154-square-foot home features a distinctive hexagonal floor plan designed both for aesthetics and energy efficiency. This inventive design strategically eliminates space-consuming hallways, optimizes sunlight exposure to keep the house cooler, and maximizes natural light while reducing heat gain. The house also benefits from 6-inch-thick exterior walls for better insulation.
The project’s sustainability extends to its energy generation, with solar panels powering the home and storing excess energy in batteries. The modular design allows for easy disassembly and relocation. These attributes, combined with reduced material requirements and the absence of electricity bills, contribute to the home’s affordability.
Tackling Southern California’s housing affordability crisis, Proulx highlighted the team’s aim to build an environmentally and economically accessible home. The project, under the supervision of Professor Sundararajan Venkatadriagaram, was a testament to UCR’s commitment to multidisciplinary, student-led initiatives, blending aesthetic appeal with functional and sustainable living.
The project originated from a state grant opportunity presented in Professor Venkatadriagaram’s “Introduction to Mechanical Engineering” class. The team, initially comprising about ten students and later expanding to 45 members from various disciplines, finalized the hexagonal design after numerous software simulations.
Despite the learning curve in construction skills and the challenges of working in high temperatures, the students’ dedication led to the house’s successful completion. Currently situated on a vacant lot near UCR’s student recreation center, the house awaits relocation to a permanent site, with plans for solar panel installation by Riverside-based Solar Max.
Professor Venkatadriagaram hopes to place the house on the UCR campus to exemplify the university’s innovative and hands-on educational approach.