Campus & Community

Stevens Students Design Zero Energy Home as Part of Solar Decathlon Competition

Construction has begun along the Hudson River near the Stevens Institute of Technology campus where students are designing and constructing a zero-energy home. The venture is part of the Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon Competition. Stevens, along with Parsons The New School for Design, and Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy, comprise the Empowerhouse team which is creating the home – set to be a new vision for affordable housing.
“The students benefit from this experience – it probably gives them five years of experience in one year’s worth of work,” says John Nastasi, Industry Professor and Director of the Product-Architecture Program at Stevens. “They’re dealing with green engineering, D.C. bureaucracy, and design build-criteria deadlines.”
Along with strict restrictions set by the Department of Energy for the competition, the team has gone a step further, applying Passive House principles—today’s highest energy standard—to this project. The home will consume 85 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a typical home.
The thinking is that by restraining the rules of the competition, you will foster innovation.  The home has to be interesting in design and zero energy – a combination that is not always easy to master.
“Every design decision is crucial because it impacts other things. It forces the students to question how they make important decisions while not sacrificing design,” explains Nastasi.
“This project demands a more all-inclusive approach to design.... you need to have an understanding of things some people often disregard,” says Peter Russell, Industry Assistant Professor at Stevens and Engineering Lead Faculty on the Empowerhouse project. ”Students from different disciplines must rely on each other's input which is a valuable lesson for the real world".
The home should be complete and on display along the waterfront by the end of August.  Events are being planned during late summer, which include public viewings and tours, as well as demonstrations of some of the systems and technologies.
At the beginning of September, the house will be disassembled and moved to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  and as part of the competition (Sept.23- Oct.2), it will be judged in ten sub-contests. The Empowerhouse team is competing against 19 other teams.
“Unlike the other contenders our house has a life after the competition,” states Keith Sheppard, Professor and Associate Dean of Engineering & Science at Stevens. “From the mall, the home will move to the 7th ward in D.C. where it will become a Habitat for Humanity project.”
Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C., and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development is working alongside the Empowerhouse team to build a second home in Deanwood, an underserved neighborhood in Northeast Washington, D.C.  At the conclusion of the competition, the competition home will join the second home in Deanwood to form a side-by-side duplex for two families chosen by Habitat.
“We’re building the home to not only win the competition, but to fulfill a real need, as well as provide a new standard for builders across America,” says Sheppard.
While sustainability and solar energy are now global issues, the team has a vision that this home will set a model for affordable housing while still remaining true to its unique design.
“This has been a unique opportunity as it has allowed the students to design, analyze and build in a multi-disciplinary environment,” concludes Russell.