Fraser resident looking to ease housing crisis with unique approach — building a solar home |

Fraser resident looking to ease housing crisis with unique approach — building a solar home

Kristen Taddonio and Hannah Blake were looking at the Missouri University of Science and Technology Team's SILO House during the Denver showcase in 2017 when they met.
Dennis Schroeder/U.S. Department

Like many Fraser Valley residents, Kristen Taddonio currently lives in a small apartment, but would like to move into her own home one day. Also like many Fraser Valley residents, Taddonio finds herself mostly priced out of the current housing market, so she turned to an unusual solution.

Taddonio is partnering with a team of students at the University of Colorado in Boulder to build a modest and sustainable home as part of the students’ project for the international Solar Decathlon competition.

“My husband and I were interested in a home that is fairly modest, small and sustainable and it just had turned out that that’s more or less what the solar decathlon team was interested in demonstrating, too,” Taddonio said.

The CU team, led by juniors Hannah Blake and Gabriella Abello, hopes to build an approximately 1,000-square-foot home that can be both temporarily self-sustaining and connected to the local energy grid. The goal is to build a sustainable model that can also be replicated in other communities, Blake explained.

“So, we see it as we’re addressing this local challenge, but in a way also responding to this national call for affordable housing,” she said. “One of the key tenets of the competition is all the homes strive to be replicable and influential.”

Taddonio is supplying the land where the house will be built, which is located on about an eighth of an acre on Ferret Lane in Fraser, and she highlighted Grand County’s good environment for solar resources.

“In some ways Fraser is an amazing place to demonstrate a solar powered house or a house that can produce as much energy as it consumes,” she said. “820 Ferret Lane is little bit of a challenge, though, because it’s a tight lot and it reflects real-world challenges that builders and homeowners have to deal with. Not everybody has a big, open lot, sometimes you have to deal with more urban lots or tree cover.”

Taddonio will also act as a client and advisor for the solar decathlon project, since she and her husband ultimately plan to buy the house, but wants to leave most of the project in the team’s hands.

“I have a lot of confidence in this team and their ability to put something together that’s going to be a winning entry, but that is also going to be something that we love,” she said. “The reason I have that confidence is just seeing the student team take the time to come to Fraser and talk with our town council members, with our city planners, to look not only at the lot, but at the community.”

The house

Blake and Taddonio met at the 2017 Solar Decathlon showcase in Denver. The two were examining the same project when they discovered a mutual interest in sustainable housing.

Blake, who is studying architectural and energy engineering, was inspired to create her own team at CU and Taddonio, who previously worked for the U.S. Department of Energy, wanted to prioritize sustainability in her own home.

“Naturally, I was interested and serendipitously, I had just closed on a plot of land in Fraser,” Taddonio said. “It turned out to be really good timing, but also it’s a dream to work with a solar decathlon team, especially with the kind of project they’ve proposed.”

Once Blake’s team, which is made of around 30 members and eight subteams, was selected by the solar decathlon for the 2020 Build Competition, she and Taddonio began discussing how the project could be affordable and sustainable to address the housing issue in mountain communities.

“We identified this massive problem that mountain towns are facing, which is this lack of affordable housing options and people getting pushed out and expensive construction costs,” Blake said. “Us being in the local division, which this is the first time that division has existed, but it totally made sense for us to target a local problem.”

The CU team has already gotten started on the planning process for the house and plans to start building this fall. The house has to be completed by May 2020 to compete in the Solar Decathlon Build Challenge.

Blake said the project budget is $500,000, which the team will fundraise and Taddonio will help sponsor. The cost does include competition expenses, but doesn’t include the cost of the land.

The competition

Once the house is built, it will be judged against 10 other teams from around the world. The house will be scored on 10 contests, including energy performance, architecture and financial feasibility.

“They say the team that best blends engineering excellence with architectural design wins the competition,” Blake said.

Since the CU team is competing as a local build challenge team, they won’t have to move the home to Washington, D.C. for judging and instead it will be judged in its natural environment.

The top three teams win a cash prize, which Blake said her team wants to use to start a seed fund for future teams if they win. Blake’s team is the first team at CU in 10 years, but she thinks the opportunity is so valuable that she doesn’t want this to be the last team.

“It’s such an influential thing to be a part of,” she said. “You learn so much, you have so much hands-on experience at the end of it, you really learn real-world skills.”

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