Continuing our coverage of the Solar Decathlon, the results of the competition’s newest category of affordability are in! And, this year’s winner is Empowerhouse, a collaborative effort among students from Parsons The New School for Design, Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at The New School, and Stevens Institute of Technology. Of the 19 participating teams, only Empowerhouse and Purdue University’s residence stayed under $250,000; yet, Empowerhouse achieved the lowest construction costs of all at $229,890 – roughly $20,000 less than Purdue. The project was conceived as a prototype for affordable, net-zero housing as a way to make green technologies available for everyone. Working closely with Habitat for Humanity of Washington, DC, and the DC Department of Housing and Community Development, the students have developed a scheme that can, and will be replicated, after the Decathlon.
More about the residence, including a video, after the break.
Throughout the process of the competition, the students focused on creating a new model for affordable, energy-efficient housing for DC Habitat, which resulted in a residence that will be ultimately be sited in the underserved DC neighborhood of Deanwood. Deanwood is Habitat’s playground for developing a sustainable housing model, and after the competition, Empowerhouse will be home to a single mother with three young children, who visited the house for the first time at the start of the Decathlon.
Staying under budget was a major concern for the team, and the design was ruthlessly analyized by students in the Community Development Finance Project at the Milano School, and, in turn, constantly refined to make certain it would meet the budget goals. Last Decathlon’s winning residence had a large impact on the Empowerhouse team as the $2 million dollar German project screamed of flashy energy efficient technology with its skin of solar panels, yet seemed out of grasp to most potential homeowners. So, the Empowerhouse team took a new approach to utilizing solar energy.
By applying Passive House principles, the team was able to cut energy consumption by 40% with its virtually air-tight design. The super insulated house incorporates cellulose insulation, triple-paned windows, and micro-mechanical and smart electrical systems to minimize the need for solar energy. This resulted in Empowerhouse having one of the smallest solar arrays in the competition, which normally represents one of the largest expenses in green construction.
“These 2011 teams have shown that solar houses can be affordable while still being innovative,” said Matt Hansen, Affordability Contest juror. “[Empowerhouse] truly exemplified the can-do attitude. The house is based on the affordability needs of the team’s target market in an urban context: low initial costs, low maintenance costs, and low utility costs.”
Congratulations to the Empowerhouse team! We look forward to hearing the results of the architectural winner tomorrow.