Although facing an uncertain, venue-related future in 2013 and a slight location change this year, its all systems go for the 2011 Solar Decathlon taking place in Washington, D.C.’s West Potomac Park. I’ll be heading down to the Department of Energy’s solar home building competition from New York myself, fingers crossed that the weather behaves, unlike during my visit in 2009 (seriously, that was some crazy mud).

With only a few weeks until show time, I thought it would be only appropriate to spotlight a handful of the 20 homes that will be duking it out in D.C. from Sept. 23 through Oct. 2. And as you may recall, I previewed one of the competing homes, the Solar Roofpod from Team New York last September.

To kick things off, here’s a peek at the fine work of another N.Y./N.J.-based team: Empowerhouse, a joint project from three schools including an alma matter of mine (kind of): Parsons the New School For Design, Milano the New School for Management and Urban Policy, and the Stevens Institute for Technology.

Empowerhouse is a bit, shall we say, special compared to the rest of the 2011 Solar Decathlon homes as it’s not just being assembled and dissembled on the National Mall but is being constructed, in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity Washington D.C. and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, for real in northeast D.C.’s tight-knit green-minded Deanwood neighborhood. Post-Decathlon, the 1,000-square-foot competing home (pictured above) will be moved to the Deanwood build site and the two structures — ground broke at the Deanwood lot back at the end of June — will be joined together as a 2,700-square-foot two-family home (pictured below), “a model for affordable, net-zero housing that can be replicated around the globe.”


Designed incorporating Passive House principles — this will be Habitat for Humanity's first Passive House — and taking advantage of natural day-lighting, the air-tight, well-insulated Empowerhouse will draw up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling needs compared to the average home and 40 percent less than standard high-efficiency homes. Energy-saving green technology of the duplex residence includes efficient home appliances, LED lighting, a heat recovery ventilation system and, naturally, a photovoltaic array (the smallest in the competition). Outside, there’s a rooftop terrace for growing veggies and a generous front porch for neighborhood congregation.

And true to its name, Empowerhouse isn’t just an affordable green home building project. From the get-go, the team has been active in fostering community involvement though a serious of workshops and neighborhood greening initiatives including the creation of the Deanwood Learning Garden.

While construction gets underway in Deanwood and fishing touches are made on the competing house at a site in New Jersey before it’s moved to the National Mall next month, Habitat D.C., along with the Deanwood community, is in the process of selecting two families to eventually move into Empowerhouse once the two homes are joined. And since this is a Habitat house, the selected families must be willing to don hard hats and pitch in a bit with construction before they do so.

Read more about this unique entrant in the 2011 Solar Decathlon over at the Empowerhouse website where there’s plenty of great info about the home itself and about the community-building efforts underway in Deanwood. I’ve always wondered what happens to Solar Decathlon homes post competition … it’s reassuring to know that at least one is being relocated, modified and put to most excellent use. 

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