It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a year since Empowerhouse was in the Solar Decathlon (where it won the competition’s first Affordability contest). Now, after several years of hard work by the Empowerhouse team and our partners, this project will become a real home for two local families in the D.C. neighborhood of Deanwood, and the District’s first passive house (meeting today’s highest energy standards). At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on December 4, the project partners will gather one final time to celebrate with the community, and welcome two lucky homeowners to their new homes.
Making a real difference has been the goal of the Empowerhouse team all along. “When we first entered into the Solar Decathlon competition, it did not make much sense to us to expend all the effort in designing and building a model house if it would not have a real impact,” said Orlando Velez, who went from working on the project as a student at The New School to being hired as the Operations Director full-time after graduation. “All of us worked hard to make a house that’s amazingly energy efficient. It’s a really robust opportunity to teach the community about a whole host of environmental issues — green gardening, stormwater management, getting tax credits for using solar power, and more. It’s one of a kind. How could we just pack it up after the competition?”
Instead, working with project partner Habitat for Humanity, the house was moved from the National Mall to the Deanwood neighborhood east of the Anacostia River. Habitat and their volunteer builders fully realized the house designed by the students–adding a second story, and a second unit to make this a two-family home. They’ve hung drywall, put in innovative, sustainable landscaping, and conducted extensive sustainability testing on the heating, cooling, and other systems to ensure its maximum energy efficiency. In fact, construction has been such a success, and the house is so cost effective both to build and to live in (not drawing any power from the grid also means no power bills for the eventual resident), that Habitat for Humanity is exploring using these methods to build other projects around the country, and Habitat D.C. is planning to build six more in the D.C. area.
This year has also seen the house win a few more prizes and take part in more sustainability showcases. This summer, it earned a 2012 Mayor’s Sustainability Award from Mayor Vincent C. Gray. The team has also taken part in a pair of national sustainability events. In June, it was featured in World Environment Day, sponsored by Washington, D.C.’s District Department of the Environment (DDOE). As part of the event, they gave house tours and led workshops on low-impact and water-saving features, passive house construction strategies, and photovoltaic cells for more than 200 visitors. Later that same month, the team took part in another event, the D.C. Solar Flare. Dozens of people were lead through the project by members of the Empowerhouse team.
“We’re so happy with how this project has evolved,” says Velez. “More than anything, we’re honored that our project will become someone’s real home, and that it will continue to benefit them for as long as they live there by reducing their energy costs. Wherever it goes from here, we’ll always know we have helped these families. And that means a lot.”