Iowa State University students are building a solar house for a national competition in Washington, D.C. against other universities in the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. Jennifer Ross is a graduate student in architecture and one of 75 students now working on the house.

Ross says the parameters require a completely student-designed, engineered and built home. It has to be 800-square feet or less and run on solar power. Ross is from Eagen, Minnesota, and says building a home in the midwest requires design ideas that other schools won’t face. She says Iowa has one of the most extreme climate situations from subzero temperatures to 100 degrees and extremely humid.

Ross says the house design is very flexible to handle the temperature changes, and includes three modules, including one that can open the living room to the outdoors. Ross says the home incorporates some unique features of the state and Iowa State University.

That includes some biocomposites made of soy and corn and they are tearing down a barn and reusing the barn siding on the home. Ross says the goal is to come up with green designs that can eventually be used to build homes for everyday use. But for now the project took thousands of dollars.

She says because it’s a prototype house, all the work, materials and transportation to Washington, D.C. are costing around $800,000. Ross says they are working on figures for what the house would cost if built by an individual. The houses will be put together on the National Mall in Washington in October of this year and then judged in 10 areas. The I.S.U. home and those from 19 other schools will then be open to the public in a solar village.