Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.


Department of Housing and Community Development

DC Agency Top Menu

-A +A
Bookmark and Share

DHCD Partners with Solar Decathlon Team, DC Habitat to Create New Model for Affordable, Green Housing

Tuesday, September 27, 2011
For the first time, a passive-energy home exhibited during the Solar Decathlon competition will be moved to District neighborhood.

(Washington, D.C.) – The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has partnered with a team of students and Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C. (DC Habitat) to bring a unique, landmark opportunity to the District.  Empowerhouse, a team of students from Parsons the New School for Design, Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at The New School, and Stevens Institute for Technology, unveiled a new model for green-energy, affordable housing as part of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.  Developed in partnership with DC Habitat and DHCD, the project marks the first time in the Solar Decathlon’s history that a team has partnered from the outset with civic and government agencies to create a house specifically for a local D.C. community.  It will be the first house designed to Passive House standard – the leading international energy standard – in the District.

The Solar Decathlon is a biannual, international competition that challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses, which will be exhibited on the National Mall Sept. 23–Oct. 2, 2011. The Empowerhouse team has taken the competition beyond the Mall by designing and constructing a house for a specific site . At the conclusion of the competition, it will be moved to Deanwood and expanded into a two-family home for local residents. Recently, DC Habitat selected one of 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. 

DHCD, through our Property Acquisition and Disposition Division, donated three vacant lots for the project, and it is an example of how we are seeking innovate uses for vacant properties.

“Empowerhouse is an excellent demonstration of our commitment to creating sustainable, affordable housing for the residents of the District of Columbia.  DHCD is pleased that Parsons, Milano, Stevens and DC Habitat are bringing this innovative and forward-thinking project to the District,” said DHCD Director John E. Hall.  “This project provides a unique opportunity for the city and for the Deanwood community, and we expect that it will set a precedent for future Passive Houses in the nation’s capital and across the country.”

Said Joel Towers, executive dean of Parsons The New School for Design, “Going into this competition, we knew that we wanted to build a house that would be more than simply an exhibition piece and would make a lasting impact on a local community in Washington, D.C.  This project illustrates Parson’s commitment to sustainable design, and to confronting the complex problem of climate change that is so imperative for America and the world.  We are also happy to be creating a new model for affordable housing that Habitat for Humanity can replicate globally."

Each unit of the two-family house 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 up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a typical home. Through the use of these principles, the team’s entry will have 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.

“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.”

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 green retrofitted low and moderate-income homes; in addition, the neighborhood is part of Groundwork Anacostia River DC, which brings environmental education and restoration projects to the communities along the river. Groundwork Anacostia will be hosting tours of the Deanwood revitalization efforts during the Decathlon, on September 24 and 25. For more information please visit

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 community will play a direct role in building the house, in keeping with the Habitat for Humanity mission, and the house features an innovative panelization system that will make it easy for construction by volunteers, as well as many off-the-shelf components that are available in home improvement stores. “Energy efficient design results in healthier, more economically viable housing for the low-income families we serve,” said Kent Adcock, President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C.  “When design ingredients like those of the Empowerhouse reduce energy consumption by up to 90 percent, it’s a substantial savings to homeowners, possibly the difference between having access to childcare or healthcare, or even advancing their education.”

In developing the project, the Empowerhouse 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 has 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, and will be hosting volunteer sessions on September 24 and 25. For more information, visit

“The team has taken a whole-life approach that reflects the students’ wide range of expertise,” said Neil Grabois, dean of The Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at The New School. “Sustainability stands at the intersection of a number of fields. From beginning to end, Empowerhouse has brought together over 200 graduate and undergraduate students with backgrounds in management, urban policy, engineering, and design—from architecture to fashion design, product design, communication design, and design and technology—taking a fully interdisciplinary embrace of this challenge.”

For more information, visit


Parsons The New School for Design and 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

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 visit

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

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