Public Release: 

Solar pioneer John Wesley Miller receives Lasting Legacy Award

The Department of Energy recognizes a UA College of Engineering alumnus and Tucson homebuilder for his contributions to environmentally sustainable construction

University of Arizona College of Engineering

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IMAGE: Solar construction pioneer John Wesley Miller is only the second recipient of the DOE Lasting Legacy Award for housing innovation. view more

Credit: Randy Martin

John Wesley Miller, an alumnus of the University of Arizona College of Engineering and a pioneer in energy efficiency and green building, has received the 2015 Lasting Legacy Award from the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy's Zero Energy Ready Home program.

"One of the early adopters of green building, John did much to popularize these techniques and materials with his colleagues in the construction industry," said Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild upon learning of Miller's award.

Miller received the Lasting Legacy Award at DOE's Housing Innovations Awards ceremony on October 6, 2015, in Denver. He is the second person ever to receive it.

"Starting last year, we realized it was time to also recognize the vital role played by builders who have left a lasting legacy and transformed our vision, as well as the way we build and sell high-performance homes," said DOE chief architect Sam Rashkin in a letter to Miller announcing the award. "These builders took the challenge to demonstrate high performance was the future when it was much less obvious to the rest of the industry."

Born to Build

Miller, who as a child helped his carpenter father plane wooden doors, studied engineering at the UA, but the responsibilities of fatherhood forced him to leave school and he was unable to complete his BS in electrical engineering in 1955. He became a carpenter and built his own home in 1953. He has been building them for other Tucsonans ever since.

"At first, most of the solar energy went to heating water," said Miller, who ramped up his development of solar technologies at the UA Environmental Research Laboratory in the early 1970s. "There were not a lot of photovoltaics back then."

As founder and owner of John Wesley Miller Companies, Miller has built homes that were some of the first -- and today are some of the most -- environmentally sustainable in Arizona and the nation.

Hi-Tech Housing in Historic Neighborhood

The 82-year-old's high-profile construction projects include Biosphere 2, the UA's self-contained and enclosed research and education facility in Oracle, Arizona, and the Tucson Solar Village, now called Civano, in southeast Tucson. He is perhaps best known for the Armory Park del Sol housing subdivision, which opened in 2001 in Tucson's historic Armory Park neighborhood.

Armory Park del Sol includes nearly 100 single-family energy-efficient homes with photovoltaic panels, thermal mass storage in the walls and floors, and solar water heaters. Some homes also feature rainwater storage tanks, an electric-vehicle recharging station in the garage, recycled-glass countertops and remotely controllable appliances.

Energy-efficient homes don't come cheap, but they can generate big savings, Miller said, noting that Armory Park del Sol residents have reported annual average heating and cooling bills of $300. He is optimistic about the growing public support for green building and hopes to see sustainable homes become more affordable.

"I predict 25 percent green building in Tucson by 2025," he said.

In 2009, Miller led a team of volunteers who razed and rebuilt a mold-infested home that had become unlivable for Lizzie Bell, a child with a rare blood disorder. The home was Tucson's first featured on the TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Miller's local, regional and national leadership roles have included chairing, under four governors, the Arizona Solar Energy Commission and directing the National Association of Home Builders and helping to draft its green building code.

His growing pile of awards may need a new building of their own. Just in the last decade, Miller has earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from Tucson Electric Power, an Arizona Innovation Award from the Arizona Governor's Office and a Nation's Most Energy Efficient Builder of the Year Award from the National Association of Home Builders.

Dedicated Wildcat

Miller will celebrate his 60th class reunion at the College of Engineering's Homecoming on October 23. He is a generous donor to many UA programs and has worked on many sustainability projects at the UA as a longtime member of the President's Advisory Council on Environmental Sustainability.

"John has helped the university and its over 40,000 faculty, staff and students learn, live and work on a campus nationally recognized for energy and water conservation, sustainable food production and multi-modal transportation," said Janice Cervelli, co-chair of the council and dean of the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. "Thanks, John!"

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