After the Solar Decathlon competition in 2011, the winning team comprised of Parsons The New School and the Stevens Institute of Technology students, received the green light to build their Empowerhouse at a display site on the National Mall and have it serve as a real home for local families. The team partnered with DC Habitat and the DC Department of Housing and Community Development to secure a plot and find a family to live in it, becoming a two-story, two-family duplex. The house was built using Passivhaus principles, requires minimal amount of energy for heating and cooling and is equipped with solar panels. Since the start of the project, half a dozen of these homes have been completed and The New School is pursuing a similar project with Habitat for Humanity in Philadelphia.
The building won the inaugural award for affordability at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon in 2011. After the competition, this striking energy-efficient home was moved off the Mall and taken to the Deanwood neighborhood to its new location. Additional modules were brought onto the site where they were assembled into a duplex equipped to provide housing for two families. The house uses Passivhaus design principles and is net-zero energy thanks to a solar photovoltaic system. It has superior installation and uses 12-inch wooden I-joists for walls, with cavities filled with dense pack cellulose insulation.
For its D.C. version, the original design was adapted to Washington’s humid climate, with optimized solar gain. The project is expected to have a broader impact and serve as a real home for families across the country. Following the success of its D.C. version, the project will see its continuation in Philadelphia. Which just goes to show that the solar decathlon is more than just a competition — it provides a progressive platform for students to provide solutions to real-world housing needs. We’re so happy to see this project evolve as well as it has.