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October 31, 2014

'Empowerhouse' Breaks Ground in Energy-Efficient Living

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'Empowerhouse' Breaks Ground in Energy-Efficient Living

What if homes weren’t just energy efficient, but had virtually no carbon footprint? Well, that goal has become a reality in a cutting-edge Habitat for Humanity home outside of Washington, D.C.

The first super energy-efficient “passive house” was constructed using ultra-thick insulation – it’s practically airtight.

Dubbed the “Empowerhouse,” the 1,000-square-foot duplex home has 12-inch thick walls and triple-glazed windows, which means it uses up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than an ordinary house.

The house passed the passive house certification test, proving just how airtight the structure truly is.  A huge blower fan was placed in one of the doors and all the other doors and windows were closed. The fan sucked out all the air until the house was pressurized at 50 pascals, then the amount of air that leaked back into the house was measured, said Orlando Velez, manager of housing services for Habitat for Humanity of Washington D.C. A typical house has about seven air changes per hour, which is how many times the air in a space is replaced. A certified passive house only has 0.6 air changes per hour.

“That means that all the little leaks put together are smaller than a postage stamp,” said Velez. “And if you wanted to, you could heat your home with a hair dryer quite easily.”

The house – designed and engineered by students from Stevens Institute of Technology, Parsons The New School for Design, and Milano School for International Affairs, won the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition for its cost-effectiveness.

The cost for each half of the duplex is just over $200,000. The estimated energy cost savings is nearly $72,000 over the course of the residents’ 30-year mortgages.

“I just remember thinking, we did it, a non-profit, affordable house developer can do this, even using volunteers with no construction experience,” said Velez. “And then I started thinking, what’s everyone else waiting for?”

Habitat is planning to build six more passive houses in the D.C. area.

Source: “Why Habitat For Humanity’s Newest Homeowner Might Never Pay An Electricity Bill,” Think Progress (Aug. 6, 2013)

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