Can solar energy and other sustainable technologies create a new vision for affordable housing? That is the goal of the Empowerhouse Collaborative, a team of students from Parsons The New School for Design, Milano School for International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at The New School, and Stevens Institute of Technology. These students are participating in this year’s Solar Decathlon, a biennial competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy that challenges university students to design, build, and operate a solar-powered house on the National Mall. The Empowerhouse team is taking the competition a step further and is building a house that will ultimately become a two-family home for the community of Deanwood, a working-class, primarily African-American neighborhood in Northeast Washington, D.C.
The team is partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C., and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development on the project, to set a new model for sustainable, affordable housing and the first Passive Houses--the leading international energy standard--in Washington, D.C. Each unit is designed as a "net-zero" system (producing all of its energy needs), but will achieve peak efficiency when joined. The house adheres to Passive House principles, which have only just begun to be recognized in the United States, and will consume up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a typical home (about the same amount of power it takes to operate a hair dryer). Through the use of these principles, the team’s entry will have one of the smallest photovoltaic arrays of any in the competition.
Given today’s concerns about energy independence and an economic climate that is making it more and more difficult for working class families to meet their own basic needs, Empowerhouse could not be more timely. This community-based approach to green, affordable housing will be a model for affordable, net-zero housing that can be replicated around the globe.
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For access to the entire archive of videos from this team from Parsons The New School for Design, Milano School for International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at The New School, and Stevens Institute of Technology: Visit the Member Page or see all our Solar Decathlon 2011 videos.