Solar Decathlon 2011: Parsons School/Stevens Institute, Empowerhouse

[Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing coverage of Solar Decathlon entries leading up to the event’s kick off on Sept. 23.]

For the 2011 Solar Decathlon, Parsons the New School for Design and the Stevens Institute of Technology teamed up to create the Empowerhouse that uses a highly efficient building envelope and a micro-mechanical system to reduce unneccessary energy use. Working within the parameters of not only the Solar Decathlon, but of Habitat for Humanity as well, the team designed the Empowerhouse for a family of adults and one child with an annual income of about $50,000, and its concept is based upon the Habitat for Humanity philosophy that all people deserve safe, comfortable and affordable shelter.

Empowerhouse is a 1,000-ft2 one-bedroom home designed for an urban setting, specifically Washington, DC, and is constructed with sustainable materials for lower costs and a healthier setting The shape, building envelope, window placement, and shading were optimized through feedback from energy modeling. It is expected to use 90% less energy for heating and cooling than the typical DC home thanks to passive technologies. Daylight and occupancy sensors for the LED and linear fluorescent lights throughout the house also help reduce energy use. The roof-mounted PV panels are fitted with modules that modify the more extreme temperatures on the roof.

Image via Parsons the New School for Design

A public porch on the house’s north side encourages community gathering, while a private porch on the other end has a built-in cooking area for family cookouts, as well as a composting unit for sustainable cleanup. The house also features natural light, such as in the Light Loft, which provides a separate area from the main house while letting light spill into the rooms below.

After the Decathlon, the house will become an actual home in the Greater Deanwood area of Washington, DC. Habitat for Humanity will be selecting the family, and is looking for people who have faced unsafe living conditions and/or unfair rent and who are willing to help construct and maintain the house. The Parsons/Stevens team has worked with residents of Greater Deanwood residents during the Empowerhouse’s designing to better understand the needs of the people living there.

Laura Caseley is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and a resident of New York State’s Hudson Valley. She writes for several publications and when she’s not writing, she can usually be found painting in her makeshift studio or enjoying the scenery of her hometown.