To outsiders, Stevens Institute of Technology’s entrance into the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon is a competition between colleges to prove knowledge and execution of green energy concepts.
To those working on the project, the so-called Empowerhouse is a catalyst for a Washington, D.C., neighborhood, and changes the way one of the largest homebuilders in the nation does business.
When the decathlon is over at the beginning of October, the Empowerhouse will move from the Potomac Mall to a plot in the Deanwood community, donated by Washington, D.C., where a mirror version of the structure will be constructed by Habitat for Humanity to turn the exhibition building into a home for two families. This is the first home built for the decathlon to be implemented as a permanent home.
The competition will judge the overall cost of construction and operation of the home as one of the criteria for the first time this year. All contest entries must cost less than $250,000 to complete; several New Jersey businesses are assisting in keeping the cost low and the energy savings high.
Scholes Electric, in Piscataway, is providing onsite supervision for wiring, through sponsor Jones Lang LaSalle. Jersey City’s Eastern Millwork is providing the cabinetry and some wall panels for the project. Delta Contracting Services Inc., in East Brunswick, is doing the roofing on the project.
Peter Russell, an industry assistant professor at Stevens and the engineering lead faculty on the project, said he believes not only will the Washington Habitat chapter look at new ways to reduce energy consumption, but other chapters nationally, including New Jersey, will take a closer look at the standards to which construction is held.
Habitat leaders “already talk about how this is changing the way they build things — not just in D.C., but across the United States,” Russell said. “If you could offer a highly engineered, efficient, but cost-effective solution, then you really have it — this is not for the rich homeowner or the average family, it’s for a family that really needs a home.”
The Empowerhouse is built to passive house standards, which Russell says is the highest standard of energy efficiency. The house will have “virtually no energy bill” because it will not let heat escape, and will have a solar array.
“If you design and build a suitable envelope, you then can minimize your mechanical system,” Russell said. “Fundamentally, if you want to design a zero-energy building, be it a house or a high rise, the way you go about it is doing a passive house. Your consumption is low and your production is low.”
The Empowerhouse is a student designed and built collaboration between Stevens Institute, of Hoboken, and New School’s Parsons and Milano campuses. Construction is under way on Sinatra Drive, in Hoboken, and Russell anticipates the structure will be moved to Washington by Sept. 13.