New School News

Solar Decathlon Ends, Empowerhouse Lives On

Empowerhouse team celebrates their win in the Affordability contest.Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department. of Energy.

At 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 1, participants in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon breathed a collective sigh of relief. The competition was over. Contests had been scored, and winners had been announced. All that was left to do was pack up the projects and head home. For every team except one, that is.

For Empowerhouse, the university’s entry into the competition, the journey has just begun. When the house is transported from the National Mall this week, it travels to the northeast DC neighborhood of Deanwood. There it will ultimately become a home for two local families, including that of Lakiya Culley and her three small children. Habitat for Humanity of Washington, DC, a partner on the Empowerhouse initiative, recently selected Culley’s family as the first of two homeowner candidates.

We still have a lot left to do,, said Laura Briggs, a Parsons faculty member and the project lead, moving the house to Deanwood, building it out into a two-family home, testing the systems. This is just the beginning.,

From the start, the Empowerhouse team set their sights far beyond the competition on the Mall. Students and faculty from Parsons The New School for Design; the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy; and Stevens Institute of Technology focused on creating an affordable green housing model that could be adapted by Habitat for Humanity. The Empowerhouse vision was advanced significantly on September 27, when the team scored a huge victory in the Affordability category by coming in nearly $20,000 under budget. With an estimated cost of just under $230,000, the house will serve as a model for future Habitat projects in DC and elsewhere.

Although Empowerhouse didn’t win the overall competition, the team wouldn’t trade the experience, all the months of work and sleepless nights, for anything. Asked if they’d do it again, team members didn’t hesitate. For everyone involved in this project, it was always about passion,, Briggs said. We were all so passionate about this idea, and that’s what kept us going.,

If the steady stream of visitors that braved Saturday’s rain and wind to tour the Empowerhouse entry was any indication, the public also seemed inspired by the team’s mission. This house feels like a real home,, one visitor told a student leading crowds through the living area. You could really see a family living here., And for a few hours that morning, you actually could, as Culley came by to show the house to her three sons, CJ, Christopher, and Camari. I think this is going to change our life,, Culley said as her children explored their future bedroom.

For many members of the Empowerhouse team, this was the moment they’d been working for. Seeing those kids playing in their room, that feels great,, said Gal Gabriel, a Milano student.

To follow Empowerhouse’s journey, visit

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