There are 10 contests on which the respective teams are judged upon.
• Architecture — 100 points
For the Architecture contest, teams competing in the Solar Decathlon are required to integrate solar and energy efficiency technologies seamlessly into their home designs.
To judge this contest, a jury of professional architects assesses team construction documents and tours the homes. They evaluate three main factors:
- Architectural elements
- Holistic design
• Market Viability — 100 points
For the Market Viability contest, teams participating in the Solar Decathlon build their houses for a target market of their choosing. Teams are then asked to demonstrate the potential of their houses to keep costs affordable within that market.
A jury of professionals from the homebuilding industry evaluates the following to determine each house's market viability:
• Engineering — 100 points
The Solar Decathlon Engineering contest rewards teams for their engineering excellence, as a jury of professional engineers evaluates each home for:
• Lighting Design — 75 points
In the Solar Decathlon Lighting Design contest, a jury of lighting designers and industry experts evaluates each house's lighting selections. Teams earn points in this contest by designing functional, energy-efficient, and aesthetically pleasing lighting systems.
The Lighting Design jury evaluates the following in each house:
- Electric Lighting Quality
- Daylighting Quality
- Ease of Operation
- Energy Efficiency
- Building Integration
• Communications — 75 points
The Solar Decathlon challenges teams to communicate about the technical aspects of their homes, as well as their experiences, to a wide audience through Web sites and public open houses. The Communications contest awards points to teams based on their success in delivering clear and consistent messages and images that represent the vision, process, and results of each team's project.
To judge this contest, a jury of Web site development and public relations experts evaluates the team Web sites, communications plans, and student-led house tours for effectiveness. In addition, the jurors assess each team's:
- Planning and audience analysis
- Web content quality, appropriateness, and originality
- Information presentation, including graphics, photos, Web site organization, and on-site displays
- Branding to help make the project identifiable or memorable in some way
- Delivery of team messages to target audiences and people of all abilities
- Innovation of methods to engage audiences, including the Web site visitors and people waiting to tour the home.
• Comfort Zone — 100 points
Teams competing in the Solar Decathlon design their houses to maintain steady, uniform, and comfortable temperature and humidity throughout.
For the Comfort Zone contest, teams receive full points for maintaining narrow ranges of temperature (72°F/22.2°C to 76°F/24.4°C) and relative humidity (40% to 55%) inside the houses.
• Hot Water — 100 points
The Solar Decathlon Hot Water contest demonstrates that solar hot water systems can supply all the hot water that households use daily.
Teams score points in this contest by successfully completing “shower tests” over four days of the competition. The goal during these tests is to deliver 15 gallons of hot water (110°F/43.3°C) in 10 minutes or less.
• Appliances — 100 points
The Appliances contest during the Solar Decathlon is designed to mimic the appliance use of the average U.S. home while using less energy.
To earn points, student teams must:
- Maintain refrigerator temperature ranges within 34°F/1.11°C to 40°F/4.44°C.
- Maintain freezer temperature ranges within -20°F/-28.9°C to 5°F/-1.5°C.
- Wash and dry 10 loads of laundry during the contest week.
- Run the dishwasher five times during the contest week.
• Home Entertainment — 100 points
The Home Entertainment contest is designed to demonstrate that houses powered solely by the sun can deliver more than just basic household functionality. They can also provide a comfortable setting with power for the electronics, appliances, and modern conveniences that we love.
New to the Solar Decathlon in 2009, the Home Entertainment contest gauges whether the house has what it takes to be a home. Can it accommodate the pleasures of living, such as sharing meals with friends and family, watching television, or surfing the Web? The contest includes:
- Holding two dinner parties for neighbors. Guests award the host team points based on the quality of the meal, ambiance, and overall experience.
- Sufficiently illuminating work areas and keeping all interior and exterior house lights on during specified periods of time.
- Operating a TV, computer, and other devices during specified periods.
- Hosting a movie night for neighbors, who rate their hosts based on the quality of the home theater system, as well as design, ambiance, and overall experience.
- Simulating cooking by using a kitchen appliance to boil and vaporize 5 pounds (80 oz or 2.268 kg) of water within a specified period of time over several days.
• Net Metering — 150 points
In an effort to reflect how most residential solar systems operate when connected to the power grid, the 2009 Solar Decathlon features a new Net Metering contest. Each team house will be equipped with a utility meter that moves in two directions. This will enable competition organizers to measure how much net energy the house produced or consumed over the course of the competition. Teams score points for producing as much or more energy than they need. When the solar system produces excess electricity, it forces the electric meter to turn backward, enabling surplus electricity to be measured.
The Net Metering contest comprises two parts:
- Energy Balance — Teams receive 100 points for producing at least as much energy as the house needs, thus achieving a net energy consumption of zero during contest week. This is accomplished by balancing production and consumption. At the end of competition week, when competition officials read the house electrical meter, it must be zero or less for the team to receive 100 points.
- Energy Surplus — Unlike consumers, who in most cases do not benefit from producing more energy than consumed, Solar Decathlon teams can receive up to 50 additional points for producing surplus energy over and above what they use during the contest week. When a team generates surplus energy, the house electrical meter turns backward past the net zero point to indicate a negative reading.