Solar Strength


Efforts from University of Michigan students and a local design/build contractor are bringing a green home prototype to life. 

Many homeowners are interested in living simply and having a sustainably built home, but to truly achieve those goals, many homes need to be custom built. That often comes at a high price, but the Michigan Solar House (MiSo) aims to create an environmentally friendly prototype capable of being mass-produced and customized for owners.

The Michigan Solar House is an innovative 660-square foot, solar-powered home collaboratively designed and built by an interdisciplinary team of architecture students and faculty from Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at The University of Michigan for the 2005 Solar Decathlon, in Washington, D.C.

Employing passive energy methods with the aim of net zero-energy consumption, the structure is fed by solar power and heating. Conceptually, like an automobile, MiSo was envisioned as a residential module that could be universal, autonomous and easily transported around the globe.

Ann Arbor-based Meadowlark Design + Build, an award-winning residential design/build construction company, is restoring MiSo to a permanent residence for its new owners, Lisa and Matt Gunneson, who bought the iconic home at auction. In late January, Meadowlark assisted in moving the MiSo to the Gunneson's property in Evart, Mich.

During the past 10 years, the house has been used as an exhibit at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, Mich. The house went to auction in October 2016, and the Gunnesons placed the winning bid. 

"We have an emotional connection to the MiSo, as Matt and I had our first date at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, and were married there in 2015," says Lisa Gunneson, a natural health therapist and educator. "When we heard the solar home was up for auction, we put in a bid because we really want to live a simple, self-sufficient kind of life."

The Meadowlark team is now working to provide for a net-zero impact home. The Gunnesons hope to be living in the house by spring.

"This is a one-of-a-kind home, and our expertise in sustainable construction will help ensure the Gunnesons transport and restore the home exactly to their specifications," says Doug Selby, CEO of Meadowlark Design + Build. "It's also a labor of love, as two of our staff members, Jen Hinesman and Melissa Kennedy, were part of the University of Michigan team that created the MiSo back in 2005."

Moving to a net-zero home would normally be a challenging process, but this structure is unique in that it was purposely built to be sustainable in a variety of environments. The house is modular in nature, making it somewhat portable. It's the original “tiny house” concept without the need for any additional power inputs to be fully operational.

The house captures solar energy from both photovoltaic and solar-thermal systems, and converts it to hot water for the radiant floors and electricity, which powers all energy-dependent elements including appliances, lighting and pumps. The frame is made of aluminum to help cool the home in the summer.

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