By: John Stoesser

Next fall a group of Algonquin, Carleton and Queen’s students will load a custom-built house on two flatbed trucks and drive it 4,388 km from Perth, Ont. to Irvine, Calif.

Known as Team Ontario, the students are competing against 20 other teams in the US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon to create the best solar-powered, cost-efficient house.

“We are building a net-zero house using solar energy,” said Luke Berga, an Algonquin student and the lead architect for Team Ontario. “Net-zero is producing enough energy needed to function. Aside from water supply, the house functions without any additional power from the grid.”

Team Ontario calls their prototype ECHO, which stands for ecological home.

ECHO uses active and passive techniques to capture solar energy said Berga. Solar panels, or solar voltaic cells, actively collect solar energy providing electricity for the house. The passive solar techniques cool the house in the summer and heat the house in the winter.

“Solar panels are efficient enough to power a whole house but we need a lot of them,” said Berga. “The problems that arise are creating an integrated system where everything works together.”

Berga coordinates the architectural aspects of the project. He is tasked with integrating exterior, mechanical, electrical and plumbing design.

Another team member, William Klassen, is an Algonquin graduate, a volunteer architectural technologist and lead draftsperson for Team Ontario.

“We are in charge of producing all the drawings for the home to be built,” said Klassen. “When working with multiple institutions on a single project, which requires expertise from different disciplines, communication is essential.”
Always in contact through email, the Algonquin, Carleton and Queen’s members also connect via weekly conference calls.
Not a decathlon in the traditional sense, Team Ontario’s entry is judged in 10 different contests that range from architecture and engineering to affordability and market appeal. They will be up against teams from schools across the US such as Stanford University and around the world such as the Vienna University of Technology.

Student members of Team Ontario face other challenges apart from the tough competition and the complicated technical design. Team Ontario members are volunteers taking the extra responsibilities on top of their school workload.

“The main challenge I had to overcome last year was time,” said Stephany Davila, an Algonquin graduate and last year’s lead architect for Team Ontario. “It was very tough but it all comes down to knowing your priorities and enjoying the work you do.”

Transporting ECHO across the continent poses another challenge for Team Ontario. The prototype is constructed at Algonquin’s Perth campus in two modules.

“We will do a practice run taking it apart and putting it back together, making sure all the parts fit,” said Berga. “That will happen next summer. Then we will take it apart one more time and ship it down to California.” The route is planned with precision, keeping overpass height restraints of each state in mind.

Difficulties aside, the team is looking to create something for the future.

“We believe that by changing the way young, prospective homeowners live and think, we can set a new standard that echoes into future generations,” said Klassen.

Team Ontario’s website is Find more information on the Solar Decathlon at the Department of Energy’s website,