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DHCD Partners with Habitat for Humanity and University Students to Construct Solar-Powered Home

Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Project is one stand-alone house that will be constructed and exhibited at the 2011 Solar Decathlon completion. After the competition, the house will be relocated to Deanwood, where it will be joined to a second house.

Rendering of Home(Washington, DC) –The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Washington, DC and students and faculty from Parsons The New School for Design, Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy, and Stevens Institute of Technology on a project to build a solar-powered passive design two-family house in Ward 7.

The project, called “Empowerhouse,” includes one stand-alone house that will be constructed and exhibited at the 2011 Solar Decathlon competition on the National Mall in October 2011. Following the competition, the house will be relocated to Deanwood where it will be joined to a second house that will be built by students from Parsons The New School and Stevens Institute of Technology, Habitat for Humanity volunteers, local residents, and other volunteers.

While each house is designed as a "net-zero" system (producing all of its energy needs), only in its final form as a two-family unit will it achieve peak efficiency. In addition, both houses will incorporate cutting-edge design innovations that adhere to Passive House principles—today's highest energy standard—and will consume 90% less energy for heating and cooling than a typical home.

“The District of Columbia’s Department of Housing and Community Development is excited to partner with Habit for Humanity of Washington, DC, Parsons The New School, Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy, and the Stevens Institute of Technology to make the Empowerhouse a reality,” said DHCD Director Leila Finucane Edmonds. “This innovative project provides a unique opportunity for us to highlight and demonstrate our commitment to creating sustainable affordable housing for the residents of the District of Columbia.”

All DHCD supported developments incorporate green building requirements as specified by the Green Building Act of 2006.

The Solar Decathlon is a biennial international competition hosted by the US Department of Energy that challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate a solar-powered house. The purpose of the Solar Decathlon is to educate student participants and the public about the many cost-saving opportunities presented by clean-energy products; to demonstrate to the public the opportunities presented by cost-effective houses that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable energy systems that are available today; and to provide the students participating in the competition with unique training that prepares them to enter the nation’s clean-energy workforce.

Following the 2009 Solar Decathlon, The New School approached DHCD with a proposal to develop and install its 2011 Solar Decathlon design in Washington, DC.  The New School’s Empowerhouse team hosted design charrettes with DHCD staff and community members; performed extensive analysis of the vacant properties selected by the city; and conducted extensive research into the neighborhood, including its rich architectural history and sustainable practices and resources. Once all regulatory, permitting, and administrative approvals have been obtained, and all terms and conditions of a Property Disposition Agreement have been satisfied, DHCD will donate the property to Habitat for Humanity of Washington, DC, upon the condition that the resulting units are sold as affordable units.

Deanwood was selected as the site for the project due to its strong, diverse base, its location in one of the greenest wards in the District, its unique architectural heritage, and history of community activism. Several well-known African-American architects, including W. Sidney Pittman and Howard D. Woodson, and many skilled local craftsmen designed and built its homes. Residents recently participated in the CarbonFree DC "Extreme Green Neighborhood Makeover," which retrofitted low and moderate-income homes.

"Sustainable design intersects a number of fields. Our team brings together students with a wide range of expertise and an ambitious goal: to create a new model for affordable housing," said Hannah Zingre, an Environmental Studies student at Parsons The New School for Design. "We are excited to be working with local residents, the Department of Housing and Community Development and Habitat for Humanity to make our vision a reality—a home that is not only attractive and welcoming, but most importantly is economically and environmentally sustainable."

In addition to creating new residences, the Empowerhouse team is looking to extend the impact of the project by leading workshops this fall and spring that will educate all residents on how to make their homes more sustainable – from retrofitting solar panels to community gardening and more.

"Empowerhouse will serve as a grassroots model to other neighborhoods in DC and nationwide," said Sylvia Brown, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for Ward 7, which includes Deanwood. "For the past six months, these students have taken the time to really get to know Deanwood and how sustainability efforts can best impact the lives of our residents. The project is really a true collaboration with our community."

In keeping with the Habitat for Humanity mission, members of the Deanwood community will play a direct role in building the house. Habitat will select the families who will occupy the home this fall.

"Over the past 20 years, we have worked side by side with local residents to build more than 100 homes in our nation's capital," said David Gano, Director of Construction, Habitat for Humanity of Washington DC. "As our knowledge of energy efficiency has increased, we have taken initial steps to 'think green', but Empowerhouse gives us the opportunity to take our efforts to a new level. These students' out-of-the-box thinking is making possible a new scenario where families live in a comfortable home where they pay no utilities, breath clean air, and rainwater is used to grow vegetables that protect the house and sustain the family."

The start of construction on the house in Deanwood is expected to begin in the spring 2011.