Empowerhouse - New Model for Green, Affordable Housing, Now Open

Empowerhouse: New Model for Green, Affordable Housing, Now Open

Solar Decathlon Team, Habitat for Humanity and D.C. Goverment have completed Empowerhouse, an innovative model for affordable, energy efficient green housing located in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington.

Created by a team led by The New School and Stevens Institute of Technology, Empowerhouse is the first Passive House-the leading international energy standard-in the District of Columbia, and already a recipient of a Mayor's Sustainability Award.

"This project fulfills a longstanding vision of our team to create a house that would endure in a meaningful way after the Solar Decathlon was over," commented Joel Towers, executive dean of Parsons The New School for Design. "Empowerhouse illustrates The New School's commitment to design-led civic engagement, and is a true model of affordable sustainable housing that has the potential for national as well as international replication. Due to the success of this project, Parsons is now in the planning stages of a second project to build a home with Habitat in Philadelphia."

Each unit of the two-family house is designed as a "site net-zero" system (producing all of its energy needs), but each achieves peak efficiency when joined. The house adheres to Passive House principles, which have only just begun to be recognized in the United States, and consumes up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a typical home. Through the use of these principles, the house had one of the smallest photovoltaic arrays of any in the competition, and its heating and cooling will require the same amount of power as it takes to operate a hair dryer.

Building on the theme of self-sufficiency, the house is designed not only to provide its own energy needs, but the team also is working with Deanwood's Lederer Community Youth Garden to provide plantings for a roof garden and vegetable window boxes, to provide families with the opportunity to grow their own food. The house has a comprehensive water strategy that includes a rainwater harvesting system that will capture and store rainwater not only from the site but surrounding homes for use in the garden, with the ultimate goal of minimizing the water that is drained into the public sewer system.

Deanwood, a primarily working-class, African-American community, was selected as the site for the project due to its location in one of the greenest wards in Washington, D.C., and its history of community activism and self-sufficiency. The community played a direct role in building the house, in keeping with the Habitat for Humanity mission, and the house features an innovative construction system that will made it easy for volunteer participation, as well as many off-the-shelf components that are available in home improvement stores. The construction process was so affordable that in June, DC Habitat announced it was breaking ground on six new energy-efficient town homes in the Ivy City community that use the Empowerhouse team's Passive House design standards.

"Because the passive house design can reduce a home's total energy consumption by 80-90 percent, the owners of the Empowerhouse units will enjoy substantially lower energy costs throughout the lifetime of their homes," said Susanne Slater, President and CEO of DC Habitat. "DC Habitat is thrilled to offer two hard-working families the added affordability of this model. For some families, a significant savings on energy can mean the ability to afford a summer vacation or help pay for college tuition."

Photos: Martin Seck