More than just a house
The students tried the make the exterior of the house as environmentally sound as its interior. They created a community garden down the street. They installed a bioswale along the curb that captures the water running off the street, filters it through the plants, soil and sand before it is delivered into the Watts Branch tributary behind the house. They built planters for a container garden on the rooftop terrace. All the water that falls onto the house will be collected in a cistern that the homeowners can use to water their lawn and gardens.
“Sixty percent of the water use in most homes in a site like that is used for the landscape,” Briggs said.
A typical household in Deanwood spends around $2,000 annually on utility bills. The Empowerhouse homeowners are projected to spend $390, mainly on water costs. Some first-time homeowners can find their fluctuating utility bills a burden. Homes like Empowerhouse make it easier to plan a household budget.
“The goal is for them to have a better cash flow and a more predictable cash flow,” Habitat president and chief executive Susanne Slater said.
Because Empowerhouse was built in collaboration with Parsons using their designs, the home costs more than a typical Habitat house. It was appraised at $285,000, far above the usual cost of $220,000. Habitat, which will be building more passive houses in Ivy City, will use less expensive materials and a different design for those homes.
“This type of project is a good experiment, kind of an incubator of like ideas to push forward affordable housing design,” Hamm said. “This house wasn’t incredibly affordable, and it’s not our model of what affordable housing should be.
“We’re creating a passive house that’s more in line with the regular homes that we’re building. The layout will be a typical Habitat layout. The interior finishes will be standard to what we’re normally building.”
Still, building passive houses isn’t cheap. It took an extraordinary fundraising campaign by Parsons and Habitat to pay for Empowerhouse.
“We’re hoping that the first time around was more expensive than the next six times around,” Slater said.
Parsons and Habitat already have new passive house endeavors underway. Parsons is partnering with Habitat in Philadelphia on a smaller project.
“There was a lot we learned, and from what we learned, we can share,” Briggs said.
Habitat has begun work in Ivy City. Ultimately, the organization would like to construct multifamily passive housing.
“One of the things with passive building is it goes along with the whole city’s sustainability plan of transit-oriented lifestyle and being able to have a net-zero impact on the environment,” Slater said.
Meanwhile, Culley is looking forward to moving into her new home in January. After squeezing into a two-bedroom apartment with her three boys, she can’t wait to have more space. Asked what she liked best about the house, she said, “the fact that it’s energy efficient.
“Saving money,” she said, “that’s the most important thing right now.”