Solar Decathlon Home To Become Residence

After the biennial competition on the National Mall, Solar Decathlon homes are typically disassembled and taken back to the universities that created the projects. There, they are reassembled and used for further research. But in 2011, when the U.S. Department of Energy-run event is held again, something very different will happen: In addition to building a house on the Mall, one of the teams will design and construct a solar-powered house in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood. And when the competition is over, the two houses will be joined together to create one two-family, semi-detached home for local residents.

Empowerhouse” is the name given to the project by the team from Parsons The New School for Design, Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy, and Stevens Institute of Technology. The team has partnered with Habitat of Humanity to transform Solar Decathlon House into Real House—and the organization says it’s getting more than a home out of the deal.

image via Parsons NS Stevens

“We have taken steps to ‘think green,’ but Empowerhouse gives us the opportunity to take our efforts to a new level,” Habitat for Humanity’s David Gano said in a press release. “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, breathe clean air and harvest rainwater runoff to grow vegetables.”

The first Solar Decathlon was in 2002. Since 2005 it has been held every other year, with 20 universities challenged to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are affordable, energy-efficient and attractive. The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory organizes the competition, with corporate backing.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.