The school’s student architects and environmentalists spent two years dreaming up, designing and building a modern house that conserves water and reduces its utility bill to almost nothing.
“We’re ready for anything,” said Veronika Zhiteneva, a 20-year-old project manager. “It’ll be interesting to see who comes out on top.”
This year’s competition is expected to be fierce.
Team China’s Y-shaped house has moving walls and thermal tubes that heat floors in winter. A motion detector follows occupants in the California house, turning on the TV when they plop on a couch and switching off lights when they point. The New Zealand house gives residents the sense of being outdoors, and a sunlight beams through a skylight and onto a polished concrete dinner table that radiates solar heat.
Twenty teams from schools in Manhattan, Canada, Tennessee, Tidewater Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Massachusetts, Indiana, Belgium, Illinois and other points are also in it to win it. Some houses have been sold.
Empowerhouse, built by Parsons the New School for Design in Manhattan and the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, N.J., will go to Habitat for Humanity, which donated it to a single mother in the District’s Deanwood section.
Emphasis on affordability
Solar energy development is a stated priority of the Obama administration. Last year, the president pledged to install solar panels on the White House, but this summer’s deadline was missed. In recent weeks, the administration drew controversy for providing millions of dollars in loan guarantees to a solar company that collapsed.
So the biennial decathlon is welcome news. It was started in 2002 by the Department of Energy to demonstrate that solar power can be practical and affordable, and to prepare students to work in the field. Judging on 10 individual contests that lead to the crowning of an overall winner started Thursday, said Richard King, the event’s director.
That affordable message was slightly diminished when a team from Germany won in 2009. Its house, smothered in solar panels, cost $800,000, King said.
“We’re stressing affordability this time,” he said. Points will be deducted if a house costs more than $250,000. Teams must show that six people can comfortably watch TV, play music and do basic chores.
“We will make them do a whole lot to prove that you can power your house and that you don’t have to sacrifice” your lifestyle, King said.