Student Team Honored for Work to Enhance Fire-Resistant Home Construction

A wildfire rages behind a home near a wooded area

May 12, 2016

SPOKANE, Wash. – A team of Gonzaga University students won the Vitruvius Award from Eric Corey Freed, founder of the firm organicARCHITECT, at the recent USA Science & Engineering Festival for developing an approach to home construction near wilderness areas that could better protect homes from fires.

The students’ project is titled Fire Ignition Resistant Engineering for Sustainable Solutions. Gonzaga was among three dozen universities that had received Phase I funds from the Environmental Protection Agency’s People, Planet and Prosperity Program with an opportunity to display at the festival held April 16-17 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

Following the devastation wrought last summer by the Okanogan Complex of five wildfires, the largest in state history, Gonzaga civil engineering Professor Noel Bormann and his team of students received a $15,000 EPA grant to develop the project to help minimize damage from future fires.

The festival provided student teams with an opportunity to present their projects to judges from various organizations for special awards on sustainability, suitability for developing countries, energy and organic architecture.

Working with community and industry project partners from Okanogan County, the Gonzaga team  conducted research and shared information with property owners in the Okanogan Valley. The team used energy modeling of efficient buildings and statistics of historical wildfires to suggest construction methods to reduce exposure to wildfires and increase potential energy savings. The methods suggested comply with current building codes.

The effort was part of the senior capstone program for students Ian Morrell and Jon Thorpe (civil engineering); Lauren May and Luke Blanchart (mechanical engineering); Daniel Barad (biology and environmental studies); Madeline Fritzen (environmental studies); and international exchange student Gabriel Agrisi Paigel.

“The sustainability challenge of this project is to increase the energy efficiency of new housing, and to reduce waste generation from fire debris and reconstruction required from fire damage,” Bormann said. “In addition, it will reduce the horrible suffering of people who lose homes to fire.”

For more information about this project, please contact Professor Bormann at (509) 313-3528, or