Middlebury College's Race to Zero Team

Keep in touch with our team, as we work on designing a zero energy elementary school for the town of Middlebury Vermont


We won!

In a monumental upset, our rag tag liberal arts team took first place in the Race to Zero Elementary Design competition! Our team was up against graduate institutions with dedicated engineering and architecture programs, not to mention other schools that had spent over a year on their design. In the end, our team’s attention to detail and focus on how the building serves its people made us stand out. We are honored to have received formal recognition from the Department of Energy, and could not be happier with our experience at the competition overall!

The past few days have been an inspiration, as we met and befriended other teams from across the world. It is uplifting to see so many young professionals passionate about redesigning our world’s buildings for a sustainable future. Many other school designs were extremely impressive, and had their own strengths that made them stand out. If we are to achieve a sustainable future, it will have to begin here with a radical revamping of all modern building construction.

Middlebury Elementary’s focus on visible engineering, resilient design, and collaborative learning set us apart from the competition. Our interdisciplinary approach to design really shined, as some teams focused very little on the educational aspects of a school. Such a comprehensive and well thought out school truly could not have emerged from a team of only physics majors or mechanical engineers, and speaks to the value of a liberal arts education. Each and every one of our team members contributed an invaluable perspective to bring us here, and I am honored to have been part of such an inspirational and innovative team.

Thank you for your continued support,


– Alex ’18 Code Compliance / Electrical / Plumbing


P.S. As a final tidbit, I couldn’t help but notice that out of 8 school design finalists, only 3 were fully code compliant (one of which was ours!)



One presentation down, one more to go!

Hello from Denver!

Our team arrived late last night for the Department of Energy  Race to Zero presentations, bleary eyed but excited to be here. Since then, we have been running through our presentation over and over again to nail every detail and transition.  A few hours ago, we received our DOE ID cards and had our first introduction to the competition!

Tomorrow we will present at 10:45 am Mountain Time (12:45 pm Eastern time, 9:45 am Pacific Time) in front of the Jury. If you would like to watch our presentation, it can be found as a live stream by clicking here. There will also be a viewing party at the past Solar Decathlon House on Shannon street at 12:45 pm ET, click here for the facebook event.

From everything we heard in Middlebury, our Vermont counterparts knocked the symposium presentation out of the park! Its exciting to see how well all of our team members know every aspect of our design. Our Middlebury team lacked almost our entire mechanical team, yet still possessed an extensive knowledge of our building’s systems that allowed them to speak with confidence. Likewise, we are in Denver without our envelope design team and will need to do them justice tomorrow.

Wish us luck!

-Alex Browne ’18 Building Codes / Electrical / Plumbing

Come See Us Present!

This Friday, our team will audaciously split into two and give simultaneous presentations across the country! Six of us will have arrived in Denver to present for the Department of Energy, and the rest will be at the Middlebury College Spring Symposium for a 30 minute long presentation followed by a Q & A.

Our Middlebury presentation will take place Friday April 20th in McCardell Bicentennial Hall room 311 at 1:30 pm. If you are at all interested in zero energy design or have questions about our project, please come by! Our website has been deliberately free of details on our project, as we believe many of our decisions will give us a competitive edge. This Friday though, the cat’s out of the bag! We will lay bare our entire process, beginning with site selection and continuing all the way to energy and mechanical design.

Our team has spent considerable time the past two weeks preparing these presentations, and we hope to convey our design clearly and succinctly. The material is accessible to all audiences, no matter your previous knowledge of zero energy. Following this week’s competition, our team will open up our design for all to view. In early May we will again present to the Middlebury Select Board. As always, feel free to contact us with any questions or suggestions, and wish us luck!


-Alex Browne ’18 Building Codes / Electrical / Plumbing

Time to Sleep!

It’s been a while since our last post, and you might be able to guess why! Our team has pulled all-nighter after all-nighter to get our final report in. We have been busy crunching numbers, generating figures, and writing about all of our design decisions over the past year. Today, after a grueling 48 hours without sleep for some of us, we submitted our final two volume 100 page report that details plans for a new Middlebury Elementary school.

We are immensely proud of our work thus far, but it doesn’t stop here! In the next week our team must prepare for what the Judges have jokingly referred to as “the shark tank”.  We will develop new presentation materials and delve deeper into our design so that we can concisely defend every decision we’ve made. And while our written submission is final for the judges, our team will continue editing our document until we know that it is fully complete.

What’s next you may ask? Quite a bit! April 19th our team will split in two, half of us traveling to Denver to present at the National Renewable Energy Lab, and half of us staying in Middlebury to present at the Spring student symposium. Then in May our team will then present our final design to the Middlebury select board. Our team is now primarily tasked with effectively communicating all the hard work we’ve done and refining a few last minute details.

But before we begin to write and rehearse presentations, another perhaps more important task awaits us. Right this moment across campus our team members are emerging from dark rooms and breathing a sigh of relief that our report is finally in. Many of us owe friends and parents a phone call to explain our recent absence, and all of us could use a full night’s sleep. So goodnight to you all, and thank you for your continued support!

-Alex Browne ’18 Electrical/Plumbing/Building Codes

Down to the Wire!

The clock is ticking, and our team is actively working to finish our design for submission!

Many competing teams are made up of graduate students and have far more resources and team members than our rag tag bunch. In comparison, many sub-teams on our project are really only one person! The Electrical, Plumbing, Building Codes, Energy Modeling, Heating, and Ventilation are all done by individuals who must rise to the challenge on their own. While we are perhaps understaffed, our team has made up for it with dedication and a healthy (or perhaps unhealthy!) love of hard work. Our project in its early stages already demonstrated a level of professionalism and thoughtfulness that we hope will rival large institutions. I cannot help but be proud of the hard work that we put in, and the speed with which our team members have learned new software and trade skills.

Luckily, our team does have a few late additions, in particular Javier del Cid and Alex Carlson who will be helping out with our financial analysis. Tracking the financial feasibility of the building is of course an essential task, and not an easy one at that! Their assistance is especially welcome as we approach the deadline.

In the last week, our architecture team has finalized floor plans and passed on the torch to the MEP and interior teams to finish up interior renderings and finals HVAC schematics. With a set layout, both groups can begin adding in the final nuts and bolts to our system specifications. It is exciting to see the final pieces come together and humbling to acknowledge our progress so far. The next week will be busy, but I know that our team will rise to meet the challenge!


-Alex ’18 Building Codes / Plumbing / Electrical

Denver Here We Come!

MiddZEST strikes a pose to celebrate!

Today our team received news that we are a finalist for the Race to Zero elementary school design competition! Our team has made the top eight and will be traveling to Denver next month to present our final design. We are humbled to have made it this far, and are excited at the chance to further refine our plans and present next month.

It has been an instructive and rewarding  journey so far. Our success has been a product of a diverse and determined team of students. Projects such as the Race to Zero competition truly highlight the strengths and benefits of a liberal arts education. Taking a look at our team, I cannot help but be impressed by the wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines we all come from. Together, we represent over 12 majors ranging from the arts and social sciences to physics and mathematics. Each and every team member brings something to the table, and we are a more effective and creative team for our differences.

We are excited for what the next few weeks will bring, and the clock is ticking! Designing a school is no simple task, and there is a lot of work to be done. Now that we have moved on to the next stage, we will begin to focus on more specific elements of our building. Our mechanical team will develop more detailed heating and electrical plans, while our interior team will further develop our lighting systems. In addition to their current workload, our financial analysis team now has the added task of finding funding for us to get to Colorado!

We owe a debt of gratitude to all of the faculty, staff, and outside consultants that have thus far generously lent their time to this project. Check out our Acknowledgements page to see their contributions, and subscribe to our mailing list on the Contact Us page!


-Alex ’18 Building Codes / Plumbing / Website Design

First Draft Submitted

Today was one for the books!

This afternoon our team submitted our first design draft to the Department of Energy for evaluation. While we still have a long way to go, our team could not help but be a little proud of our work the past few weeks. We started out as only a few students with high aspirations to design a fully functional elementary school in 3 short months. We began by asking questions, many of which seem laughably naive and simple from our perspective today. Since those early days, our team has rapidly increased our knowledge of school planning, building science, and zero energy design techniques. Our questions have progressively become more precise and nuanced, to the point that we must now answer many of them for ourselves.

What happens now you may ask? Our work is far from done! The first submission is largely abstract and aspirational. Our team defined the parameters of our building, as well as general design goals and objectives. We produced a preliminary floor plan, and overview of the building’s envelope and HVAC systems. The next steps involve more advanced energy modeling and precise sizing and specification of the building’s systems. We hope to refine our design into a final product that we consider complete. Undoubtedly, there will be significant changes as we strive to meet the needs of students, teachers, staff, and the broader Middlebury community.

In ten days we will hear from the Department of Energy as to whether we will continue in the competition. While we of course anxiously await their decision, our team has already determined that we will see this project through to the end regardless. Check back regularly for updates, and wish us luck!


-Alex Browne, ‘ 18  Building Codes / Plumbing / Website Design

Welcome to our Homepage!

Hello, and thank you for taking the time to visit our new website. By popular demand, our team has decided to create and maintain an online presence so that students, faculty and staff, and community members can stay in the loop as our project progresses. We will continually update this site with information on our current endeavors and news of our competition status. Currently, our team is hard at work to finalize our first design draft for February 20th. We have come a long way in the last few months, and are excited by both our current progress and what the future may bring.

We would not be where we are today without the help of many community members and several Vermont based professionals who can be found on our acknowledgments page. We are always eager to hear from others as well, whether you are a structural engineer who specializes in zero energy design or an interested community member with thoughts on what they would like to see in a new school! Feel free to get a hold of us by navigating to the “Contact Us” page.

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.