DC Habitat and the 2011 Solar Decathlon

Homeowner Lakiya Culley Cuts the Ribbon on Her New Front Porch

Homeowner Lakiya Culley Cuts the Ribbon on Her New Front Porch


December 4, 2012, was a day full of celebration and accomplishment – as DC Habitat sponsors, educators, students and staff joined in the Deanwood community to witness the Empowerhouse dedication. More than one hundred people came together in support of the collaboration between Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C., Parsons The New School for Design, Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy, Stevens Institute for Technology, and D.C.’s Department of Housing and Community Development. The proudest of them all was new homeowner Lakiya Culley, who will move into the Empowerhouse in January with her three sons.

An influential group of speakers, representing the many Empowerhouse project partners, offered remarks about the project’s success — many saying that it will serve as a model for affordable, sustainable housing in the District and around the country.
“We need housing like this in Washington. This is just the beginning,” said Sheila Johnson, co-owner of three Washington sports teams and a Parsons The New School board member.

Other speakers included: Steve Scribner, Parsons alumnus & Empowerhouse team member; Michael Kelly, Director of the D.C. Department of Housing & Community Development; Adrianne Todman, Executive Director, D.C. Housing Authority; Keith Anderson, Interim Director of the District Department of the Environment; Richard King, Director, Solar Decathlon, U.S. Department of Energy; David Van Zandt, President, The New School; Joel Towers, Executive Dean, Parsons The New School for Design; David Scobey, Executive Dean, New School for Public Engagement; Keith Sheppard, Associate Dean, School of Engineering & Science, Stevens Institute of Technology; and DC Habitat President and CEO Susanne Slater.

As she addressed the crowd, Ms. Culley spoke of how she’s enjoyed working with DC Habitat, saying, “I’ve met so many people and the volunteers that came out – it’s amazing that so many people are happy to come out and work, not for money but to help others.” She jokingly referred to the new skills she acquired while completing her sweat equity hours – including how to frame a house and build stairs.

“This is a dream come true,” said Ms. Culley as family and friends gathered to watch her excitedly cut the ribbon across the front porch of her new home. Guests and honorees then toured her home, Ms. Culley leading the way.


The 2011 Solar Decathlon came to a close on October 2nd, with our Empowerhouse model ranking 13th overall. The Empowerhouse team tied with Purdue University for first place in the Affordability Contest, a great win for DC Habitat and our partners. We are taking what we’ve learned from our work on this project to task as we design and build passive townhomes in our Ivy City development.

Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C. is partnering with Parsons The New School of Design, Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy, and Stevens Institute for Technology, in addition to D.C.’s Department of Housing and Community Development, to build carbon neutral duplex homes in the Deanwood neighborhood of Northeast D.C. as part of the 2011 Solar Decathlon. DC Habitat will then sell these two units at below-market costs and affordable loan terms to low-income DC families who will call this model for sustainable housing home. We are calling this collaborative initiative Empowerhouse.

Empowerhouse will create a new design standard for sustainable housing – one that will be replicable around the world. The innovative approach we have chosen reflects commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration, civic engagement, and design innovation.

Established in 2002, the Solar Decathlon is a biennial event overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy, in which university teams from around the globe compete to design and build the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house. Entries will be exhibited at Potomac Park near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. from September 23 to October 2, 2011.

Artist's rendition of a carbon neutral Habitat home in Deanwood

Artist’s rendition of a carbon neutral Habitat home in Deanwood

The House Design

Our house will consist of two symbiotic modules that will unite to form a semi-detached duplex. Each module will be sustainable on its own, but they will achieve peak energy efficiency when they are joined together. The resulting duplex will comfortably house two families.

Our home design is meant to accommodate the future lifestyle goals of an urban couple with an annual income of about $50,000 – in hopes of perpetuating our mission to provide all of our neighbors with safe, comfortable, affordable housing. The model begins as a 1,000 sq. ft. one-bedroom home, with a 300 sq. ft. accessible roof-top outdoor space that can be expanded into two additional bedrooms and/or a family living space. In the near term, this rooftop space can be utilized as a garden, which has the capability to sustain plant life for ornamental and edible means.

The open floor plan includes a kitchen, dining room and living room that flow into one another, creating an intimate environment for both family interaction and entertaining. The sustainable design will enable a give and take relationship between the house and inhabitants.

Sensors for heat, lighting and air quality will react to the customized bodily requirements the occupants place on the space. And through a web platform, the inhabitants will be able to evaluate the energy usage quickly.

Read more about the initiative and see additional photos at the Empowerhouse website.

DC Habitat believes that everyone deserves a house they want to call home. That's why we work to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness in the nation's capital by building (and rehabilitating) affordable, energy- and resource-efficient homes for people in need.