University of Pittsburgh
August 24, 2008

Pitt Launches Student Challenge to "Green" Old Buildings

$5,000 cash prize to Southwestern Pennsylvania undergrads who design affordable energy-conserving method that pays for itself in one year
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH-The University of Pittsburgh's Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation will launch a cash-prize design challenge to undergraduate students in Southwestern Pennsylvania to create a technique for "greening" old buildings that carries a low-price tag and a quick payoff, a significant issue in older cities such as Pittsburgh.

The 2008 Energy Efficient Building Technologies Challenge is intended to hasten the public's interest in sustainability by diminishing the high cost and sluggish return often associated with retrofitting older structures with energy-saving features. Contestants must create a product or system that reduces electricity consumption and would pay for itself in subsequent savings within one year. Projects also will be judged for originality, possibility of successful implementation, and by the level to which they allow people to maintain their quality of life.

The winning team receives $5,000; second-place receives $2,500; and third-place, $1,000. All winners will be invited to present their projects at the 2009 Pittsburgh Engineering Sustainability conference hosted by the Mascaro Center. Teams of two-to-five students from any university or college in Allegheny, Butler, Washington, and Westmoreland counties are eligible to participate. Students are encouraged to form multidisciplinary and cross-institutional teams. Project concepts are due Oct. 17. Five finalists will be chosen Oct. 31, and each will receive a $2,500 grant for supplies, equipment, travel, and other project expenses.

Buildings are one of the United States' largest energy drains, accounting for 39 percent of the nation's total consumption and claims 71 percent of spent electricity. While new buildings often boast energy-saving features, older buildings commonly hemorrhage energy because of poor insulation, old wiring, and outdated lighting. To fix these shortcomings, property owners typically pay contractors large sums for solutions with a long payback time. The outfitting of older buildings with energy-conserving features is a considerable issue in areas such as the Pittsburgh region, which hosts many buildings and homes built prior to 1940.

The Mascaro Center, housed in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, specializes in sustainable-design research and innovation. Support for the design challenge also comes from the Heinz Endowments. Complete rules and deadlines are available on the Mascaro Center's Web site at