After several years of planning, design and construction, a team of students from The New School and Stevens Institute of Technology who participated in the 2011 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon celebrated the completion of Empowerhouse, an innovative model for affordable, energy efficient green housing located in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington. Developed in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C. (DC Habitat), and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the project marks the first time in the Solar Decathlon's history that a team partnered from the outset with civic and government agencies to create a house specifically for a local D.C. community. It 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,” said 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."
The Solar Decathlon is a biannual, international competition that challenges collegiate teams from around the world to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses, which were exhibited on the National Mall in September and October 2011. The Empowerhouse team took the competition beyond the Mall by designing and constructing a house specifically for Habitat on a site in the Deanwood neighborhood east of the Anacostia River in Washington D.C. At the competition, it won the Decathlon’s first Affordability contest, as well as several additional categories. At the conclusion, it was moved to Deanwood and expanded into a two-family home for local residents. DC Habitat selected the two families that will occupy the final house. Lakiya Culley, a Deanwood resident and single mother of three young children, who works as a secretary for the U.S. Department of State, will move into the house in January. A second family was just approved, and will be transitioning from public housing.
Beyond bringing together the non-profit, academic and government sectors, Empowerhouse also brought to the table the knowledge and support of the design and construction industries, as well as important local stakeholders. This includes such project sponsors as Binational Softwood Lumber Council, Jones Lang LaSalle, Metlife Foundation, Tess Dempsey Design, and Sheila Johnson and the Washington Mystics; as well as community organizations such as Groundwork Anacostia River DC, which provides environmental education and restoration projects to neighborhoods along the river.
“This project has given students an extraordinary opportunity to address first-hand one of the most pressing problems facing the world today – affordable, sustainable housing supported by alternative energy,” said Dr. Michael Bruno, dean of the Charles V. Schaefer Jr., School of Engineering and Science at Stevens Institute of Technology. "The team has set itself apart by designing a house that is not only net energy neutral but also requires low energy consumption to operate – a welcomed feature for the Washington, D.C. family that will be living there.”
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.
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. Today, Deanwood and its surrounding neighborhoods are undergoing a powerful revitalization through economic development and environmental sustainability initiatives. Residents recently participated in the CarbonFree DC "Extreme Green Neighborhood Makeover," which retrofitted low and moderate-income homes.
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.
"The District of Columbia is on course to become the healthiest, greenest and most livable city in the country within 20 years," said Michael P. Kelly, director for the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development. "Our primary mission at DHCD is to create more affordable and sustainable housing options for District residents. Empowerhouse does a tremendous job of creating housing that's affordable for a first-time homebuyer to purchase and for the owner to maintain reasonable housing costs through low energy consumption."
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."
The Empowerhouse project was community-driven. Throughout the course of its development, the team hosted design charrettes with community members, and conducted extensive research on the neighborhood, including its rich architectural history and sustainable practices and resources. In addition to creating new residences, the team extended the project by leading workshops to educate residents on how to make their homes more sustainable—from retrofitting solar panels to community gardening. The team is also creating a new learning garden in Deanwood, working with Groundwork Anacostia and local volunteers.
“The team has taken an integrative approach that reflects both the wide range of issues in the project and the students’ wide array of expertise,” said David Scobey, executive dean of The New School for Public Engagement. "Empowerhouse has brought together over 200 graduate and undergraduate students in ways that connect sustainability with management, urban policy, engineering, and many levels of design—from architecture to fashion, to product design, to communication design, to technology. The project engages sutainability in a fully interdisciplinary way.”
For more information, visit http://www.empowerhouse-dc.org.
Empowerhouse is made possible in part through the support of its sponsors, which include Binational Softwood Lumber Council, District Department of the Environment, General Growth Properties Inc., Tess Dempsey Design, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, Clune Construction, Dow Solar, MetLife Foundation, Naturally:Wood/ BC Forestry Innovation, Sheila Johnson and The Washington Mystics, the John L. Tishman Scholarships for Sustainable Development, Design and Construction, Jones Lang LaSalle, 8 x 8 Construction, Bosch, Buro Happold, Case Design Inc., Columbia Forest Product, Delta Contracting Services Inc., Dewberry, Eastern Millwork Inc., Enterprise Community Partners Inc., Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, Freestate Electrical Companies, Eck Meng Goh, Joseph R. Gromek, Huber Engineered Woods, Intus Consulting, Lowe’s, M/E Engineering P.C., Michelle Miller, National Fiber, Nordic Engineered Wood, Passive House Institute U.S., Sika Sarnafil, Valley Crest Companies, Alan Wanzenberg, Zehnder, Cefas LLC, Hafele, JBG, Kohler, My Green Neighborhood, A. Joseph Schneider, AirDye, Airgenerate, AltPower, Boswell Engineering, Humanscale, Intesis Software, Dee L. McDonald-Miller, Mitsubishi Electric, N.E.W, Perkins + Will, Robert Bilicki, Scholes Electric & Communications, SCL Elements, SIGA, T.A.C. Ceramic Tile, Tyco, Viega, and Zavos Architecture+Design.
Parsons The New School for Design and the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy are vital parts of The New School, a university with a legacy of progressive ideals, scholarship, and pedagogy. One of world's leading schools of art and design education, Parsons offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in the full spectrum of disciplines, creatively and critically addressing the complexities of life in the 21st century. Milano trains leaders for the nonprofit, public, and private sectors, blending theory with hands-on practice, and progressive thinking with social commitment. For more information visit www.newschool.edu.
Founded in 1870, Stevens Institute of Technology, The Innovation University TM, lives at the intersection of industry, academics and research. The University's students, faculty and partners leverage their collective real-world experience and culture of innovation, research and entrepreneurship to confront global challenges in engineering, science, systems and technology management. Stevens offers baccalaureate, master’s, certificates and doctoral degrees in engineering, the sciences and management, in addition to baccalaureate degrees in business and liberal arts. For more information visitwww.stevens.edu.
Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C. believes that everyone deserves a house they want to call home. That's why we work to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness in the nation's capital by building affordable, energy- and resource-efficient homes for people in need. DC Habitat builds and rehabilitates homes in order to sell them to families who are ineligible for conventional financing. For more information, visit www.dchabitat.org.
The D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development creates and preserves opportunities for affordable housing and economic development and to revitalize underserved communities in the District of Columbia. The department fulfills its mission by providing gap financing; increasing first-time homeownership opportunities; providing funding to rehabilitate single-family and multi-family homes; supporting communities through neighborhood based activities; providing funding for homelessness prevention; addressing vacant and abandoned properties; and overseeing the administration of rental housing laws. For more information, visit www.dhcd.dc.gov.