General News

FAQ for the Deanwood Houses

Some frequently asked questions! Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any additional questions. Enjoy!

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(Q) What is the Solar Decathlon?
(A) The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is an award-winning competition that challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.” Since 2002 the competition has been held every two years in Washington, DC on the National Mall. More information can be found at

(Q) What is the schedule for the Solar Decathlon 2011 competition?
(A) The design process for the 20 collegiate teams began in 2009. For our team community outreach and coordination with the U.S. Department of Energy and the District of Columbia’s Department of Housing and Community Development began in January 2010. Since then the team has made a number of presentations in the community and to the District of Columbia government.
In spring 2011 we are continuing community outreach with presentations in Deanwood and celebrations around DC’s Earth Day events on April 22. We’ll also begin construction on the competition house at our school in New Jersey.
In summer 2011 construction on the Gault Place site will begin pending the District of Columbia permitting process.

(Q) What is the Empowerhouse Collaborative?
(A) Empowerhouse is a community-based approach to building affordable, energy independent (net-zero energy) housing that addresses all aspects of domestic life. The Empowerhouse Collaborative team brings together students from Parsons The New School for Design, Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy and Stevens Institute of Technology to design and construct a solar-powered house that will be judged and exhibited as part of the U.S. Department of Energy 2011 Solar Decathlon Competition.

(Q) Why did Empowerhouse decide to build in Deanwood?
(A) The academic team identified Ward 7 as an area in need in late 2009. The recession had a major impact on the area east of the Anacostia River. Housing foreclosure rates dramatically increased and residents were struggling with maintaining ownership of properties that in some cases had been in families for many years. We identified the Deanwood community because of its strong history and interest in supporting environmental initiatives. We were impressed with the tenacity and independence of the Deanwood community and its strong civic activism.
Guided by our partner, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Sylvia Brown, the District of Columbia identified a number of lots that were potential Deanwood sites for the project. Eventually, the Gault Place site was chosen as a site able to accommodate the two-family duplex home with ample access to southern sun, a key criterion of an energy-efficient, solar-powered house.

(Q) Is the Solar Decathlon Deanwood project receiving assistance from the District of Columbia government?
(A) The District of Columbia’s Department of Housing and Community Development has made the site on Gault Place available to Habitat for Humanity for the purposes of the Solar Decahtlon project. Habitat controls the site, is responsible for the construction of the built house and maintains responsibility of the site until the houses are purchased by Habitat families.
Are there local partners for the Solar Decathlon Deanwood project?
Yes! Sylvia Brown, local Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7C commissioner, has been a partner, friend and resource on community insight for the group since January 2010.
We are also partners with Habitat for Humanity of Washington, DC in particular Dave Gano, Director of Construction, who has offered the team construction advice and support since January 2010.
Martine Combal and Barbara Cannady-Masimini from the District of Columbia’s Department of Housing and Community Development helped identify sites in the Deanwood neighborhood that were possible locations for the project.
Lastly, we have made a number of friends in Deanwood. These include folks at the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Lederer Youth Gardens, Dennis Chestnut from Groundwork Anacostia River DC, and many neighborhood leaders, stakeholders, and residents of Deanwood who have helped us understand the issues that are important to the Deanwood community.

(Q) What makes a house energy efficient?
(A) A house that is energy efficient is one that reduces the amount of energy it consumes and uses energy that it produces. An energy efficient house saves the homeowner money on monthly energy bills and generally helps reduce the consumption of energy.

(Q) What is a Passive Solar house?
(A) A Passive House is a very well-insulated building that is primarily heated by the sun (passive solar gain) and from people, electrical equipment, etc within the home. Energy losses are minimized. Any remaining heating and cooling demand is provided by an extremely small source. A passive solar house may reduce energy bills by up to 95%, significant savings for any family. To learn more about a Passive House visit

(Q) Who will live in the Solar Decathlon Deanwood houses on Gault Place?
(A) Habitat for Humanity of Washington DC, with input from the local Deanwood community, will identify families in need of affordable housing and select two families and invite them to become Habitat families.

(Q) How does Habitat for Humanity of Washington DC choose its families?
(A) Habitat for Humanity chooses families based on its Family Selection process. Habitat evaluates applications on three main criteria: need, ability to pay, and willingness to partner. For the full list of Habitat’s Family Selection qualifications visit:

Also see:

(Q) How are the Solar Decathlon Deanwood houses different from other Habitat and traditional houses?
(A) We are working with Habitat to maintain their goals of healthy living by designing for energy independence (by designing a passively designed system) in their current construction methods. Habitat is now attempting to ensure that all new Habitat construction conforms to Passive House standards.

(Q) Why are you building two houses and what is the difference between the two houses?
(A) The team will be constructing two homes. A 1,000 square-foot, one-bedroom home with a 300 square-foot accessible roof garden will be pre-built in New Jersey, trucked to DC and judged and showcased as part of the Solar Decathlon Competition. A second home will be constructed on Gault Place in partnership with Habitat for Humanity in Deanwood. At the conclusion of the Solar Decathlon, the competition house will be moved to Deanwood, expanded into a two-bedroom unit and joined together with the second unit to create a two-family home for the Habitat families.

While each unit will be sustainable on its own, it will achieve peak energy efficiency when joined. The ultimate goal is to bring our knowledge of low energy (net-zero) building technologies to create a new housing construction model for Habitat for Humanity.

(Q) What is the construction schedule for the Deanwood house?
(A) The Deanwood house will be constructed beginning in the summer of 2011. (subject to DC permitting approval)

(Q) What is the construction schedule for the competition house?
(A) The Solar Decathlon house will begin construction in the spring 2011 in our site in New Jersey and ready for installation at the competition location in September 2011

(Q) How can I keep up with what’s happening with the Solar Decathlon Deanwood project?
(A) Check out the Empowerhouse website,, for specific information about the progress of the house. From the website you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@empowerhousedc), access our blog, and join our mailing and email lists. You can also email us with any questions at

(Q) What can the project do for me?
(A) Many opportunities exist for local participation in the project. The team is planning a series of workshops in the neighborhood to introduce the community to current methods of construction, retrofitting and storm water control. We welcome participation in these events.

We will also offer a number of local internships and job training related to our garden and construction projects which will provide opportunities for local youth and adults.

The team is also launching a competition for a site specific art project for a neighborhood-based Learning Garden which will be targeting young local artists.

(Q) Is there anyway I can find out how I can take some of the ideas you are exploring in your houses and use them in my house?
(A) Come to one of the workshops being organized for the spring, access the resources on the website and contact us. We’ll be happy to help.

(Q) Is there any funding I could access to help me with changes I might make to retrofit my own house?
(A) The workshops will provide technical, design and financial advice for home owners to help them make informed decisions about retrofitting. All the workshops will exist as podcasts linked to the website so they will be available online.

(Q) What will the houses look like?
(A) The houses are still being designed and will likely change in the next few months.

When architects and designers specify materials and methods of construction they need to consider a number of different factors- in our case energy production and consumption are as important as the cost of the construction materials for our affordable houses. Architects also respond to the local conditions on the site and neighborhood input. We are including drawings of what the houses will look like. Please feel free to respond to the images.
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Check back often to see the progress as the design gets updated.

(Q) How can I help with the Solar Decathlon Deanwood project?
(A) If you or your company have materials that we could use in the construction of the houses and you would like to donate them to the project, contact We have a full list of materials we need available upon request. If you would like to volunteer your time to the project we have opportunities for interns.

(Q) How may I volunteer to help build the houses?
Habitat will be organizing the volunteer opportunities at the Gault Place site. Check out the website to find out about volunteer opportunities,

(Q) Who is Empowerhouse Collaborative?
(A) Taking a whole-system and community centered approach, our multi-disciplinary team represents the fields of architecture, engineering, lighting design, interior design, product design, fashion design, communication design, design and management, public policy, finance and non-profit management.

(Q) Who is Habitat for Humanity?
(A) Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, Christian ministry founded on the conviction that every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live. Habitat builds with people in need regardless of race or religion. Habitat welcomes volunteers and supporters from all backgrounds.

(Q) Who do I email if I have questions?
(A) Our email address is
Have a question about the workshops? Email Kaitlin  at

(Q) Does this project have a website?
(A) Yes! The website for the project is

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