One of the great things about the U.S. Solar Decathlon is that instead of cramming all 10 contests (thus the decathlon-dom) into a couple of overwhelmingly action-packed days, they’re spread out over the span of a little over a week with the results of the more technical measured contests (Hot Water, Appliances, Hot Water, Comfort Zone, Energy Balance) trickling in over the first several days of the collegiate solar-powered home design/build/operate competition. The winners of the all-important juried contests (Architecture, Market Appeal, Engineering, Affordability, Communications) are announced toward the tail end of the Solar Decathlon.

The Home Entertainment contest, a contest that, among other things involves each competing team (this year there are 19) hosting both a movie night and two dinner parties for the contest judges and “the neighbors,” is both juried and measured. Just a taste: Team Czech Republic presented a meal of pea soup, trout, and apple dumplings one night while West Virginia University served up a pepperoni roll appetizer and a pork chop and sauerkraut with green bean casserole entrée. The team from Missouri University of Science and Technology treated their guests to cucumber cups, sausage wontons, and a delightful-sounding concoction called pork pasta toss. The Sci-Arch CalTech Team did burgers and fries.

Cooking for guests at Solar Decathlon house

Cooking for guests at Solar Decathlon house

But I digress (I’m feeling peckish and both UNCC and USC’s two menus look real good). The point is, the drawn-out nature of the Solar Decathlon makes for a more intense and dynamic competition. It’s also probably hugely exhausting and a bit anxiety-inducing for the student teams — some have traveled to the Decathlon from as far as Vienna and Vermont — that, in addition to assembling and dissembling their solar-powered prototype homes, must ensure that they're operating correctly while also giving tours to the general public on open house days.

For many Solar Decathlon participants, there simply isn’t any time to be homesick (or from the sounds of it, hungry).

Solar Decathlon tour

So, as the 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif., enters its second week, several front-runners have emerged. Earlier today, the scores of the first two of the juried contests, Affordability and Market Appeal, were announced with Stanford (Start.Home), the University of Las Vegas (DesertSol), Team Ontario (ECHO), Middlebury College (InSite), and Team Alberta (Borealis) emerging as the overall front runners.

That said, this is still an extremely tight competition (with a total score of 468.788, Stanford only leads Las Vegas by a little over two points) and until the winners of the final three contests are announced over the next couple of days, it's still very much up in the air as to which team will be crowned as the winner.

A total of three teams — Stanford, Kentucky/Indiana, and Norwich University — tied for first in the Affordability contest and were rewarded with a full 100 points for achieving a target construction cost of under $250,000. Norwich University's Delta T-90 House (ranked 10th overall as it hasn't performed so hot in the measured contests) was built for an impressive $168,385. Team Ontario and returning contender Middlebury College came in second and third places, respectively, with homes that didn't go too far over the $250,000 mark.

2013 Solar Decathlon house

What I find to be one of the more exciting/intriguing Solar Decathlon contests, Market Appeal, was won by the team from the University of Las Vegas. “The Market Appeal jurors loved the design of this house. The look, the feel, the energy blew us away of all the houses we saw, we thought that DesertSol best met the needs and desires of its target market. I’d buy it!" exclaimed Market Appeal Juror Susan Aiello in an announcement released by the Department of Energy. Team Austria's LISI came in second while Team Czech Republic's AIR HOUSE, a personal favorite of mine, and Stanford's Start.Home tied for third.

Santa Clara's Radiant House, an early leader that scored so well during the round of measured contests including coming in first in the Comfort Zone and Home Entertainment contests (make-your-own taco night must have had something to do with this), dropped to 11th place following the Market Appeal and Affordability contests. Team Capitol DC's Harvest House, another early high-achiever that dazzled with both a consistently comfortable interior and stand-out entertaining skills, is currently faring a bit better in eighth place. In last place is the cozy, log-clad PEAK from West Virginia University which has been struggling to move up the scoreboard since the get-go.

2013 Solar Decathlon house

I'll continue to keep on the eye as the scoreboard as the winners of two more big juried contests, Architecture and Communications, are announced tomorrow. And be sure to vote for your favorite Solar Decathlon Home as part of the People's Choice Award.

Any readers out there have the chance to swing by Irvine and check out the 19 competing homes in person? Did any in particular stand out to you?

More 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon stories on MNN

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Stanford's Start.Home takes lead at U.S. Solar Decathlon
Things are heating up in Irvine, Calif. as Stanford climbs up the scoreboard to take the lead (but not by much) in the 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon.