Sunday, December 30, 2012

EmpowerHouse - Solar Decathlon Team, Habitat for Humanity and D.C. Goverment Celebrate Completion of Innovative Model for Affordable, Green Housing
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)...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.
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....
Each unit of the 2,700 square foot 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. The principles followed include high levels of insulation, airtight construction, high-performance windows and doors, minimized thermal bridging, and windows and shading placed to control solar heat gain....
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 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.
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..., 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.

At the Solar Decathlon, which ended on October 2, the competing houses were judged in several categories including affordability, architecture, engineering and market appeal. The results from each category were then averaged together to decide a winner. Though rated first in affordability, Empowerhouse finished 13th overall in the competition, with the University of Maryland’s project taking home the top prize.
The lower energy requirement is accomplished by optimizing the building envelope so that it is very well-insulated; incorporating energy-efficient appliances; maximizing natural light with well-placed windows and shading; and installing micro-mechanical and smart electrical systems that use approximately the same amount of power as a hair dryer. The Empowerhouse had one of the smallest photovoltaic arrays (4.2 kilowatt) in the competition.... Heating and cooling is provided by a small mini-split heat pump; the highest tech item in the home is the ERV. (energy recovery ventilator). The photovoltaics on the roof feed into the city grid.  The house as a kitchen island that transforms into a large dining table.

According to  , writing on December 5, 2010 in Inhabit at
In 2011 The Solar Decathlon organizers added a new category so that teams could earn points for affordability after some criticism that homes were getting out-of-control-pricey and therefore weren’t realistic real-world models. A home from Germany, for example, cost upwards of $2 million. Each unit of the actual Empowerhouse in Deanwood (there are two apartments in the mini-complex), cost just $250,000, making it affordable in that neighborhood, according to a spokesperson at New School.

The bright, bold exterior lights up the whole block. The healthy, light-filled interior is built out of sustainable, recycled materials. And the landscape architecture was integrated into the project from the beginning....Each unit has terraces with green roofs and small plots for urban agriculture that are designed to capture some water. In the rear of each building is a rain garden that captures any rainwater that escapes from the roof gardens. Each unit also has its own underground cistern, where rainwater is collected and then used to water the property.
New School for Social Research
Press Release dated December 4, 2012

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