Habitat For Humanity’s Passive House Design

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People gather to check out this passive design house.
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The passive house under construction.
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Inside the passive house.

How would it sound to have an electric bill of zero? It sounds pretty good to Lakiya Culley of Washington D.C. She and her three young boys Kamari, Christopher and Carl live in a Habitat for Humanity home built by passive house design standards. With a lot of insulation, solar panels and volunteer help, Lakiya may never have to pay an electricity bill. Joanna M. Foster of ThinkProgress went in depth to find out what building this passive house entailed in “Why Habitat For Humanity’s Newest Homeowner Might Never Pay An Electricity Bill.”

“Lakiya’s house was built based on passive house design principles. The basic concept of passive house design is to lower energy consumption by being super-insulated and practically airtight. The house, aka Empowerhouse, has 12-inch thick walls and triple-glazed windows and, as a result, uses up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than an ordinary house. Such low energy consumption enabled Empowerhouse to have one a small array of solar panels, which helps keep construction and maintenance costs down.”

Construction on the passive design house began in 2011 when Habitat for Humanity entered the Department of Energy’s biannual Solar Decathlon. Though they were competing with other teams to build the best solar-design house, they were mostly competing with themselves. “The team, which included students from Stevens Institute of TechnologyParsons The New School for Design and Milano School for International Affairs, management and Urban Policy, wanted to create something that Habitat for Humanity could use not only as a home for a low-income family in the Deanwood area of D.C. but also as an affordable housing prototype for Habitat going forward.” The team challenged themselves to build a house that was not just energy efficient, but also cost effective and felt like a real home so that Habitat for Humanity could continue building passive design houses like this one.

“Habitat’s financing programs and D.C. area grants mean Lakiya has a very manageable 133,000 dollar, thirty-year mortgage. And if the house proves itself to be net zero as advertised, she will save nearly $72,000 on energy costs over the course of that mortgage.” Passive design is not only beneficial to the environment with low energy consumption. Saving on energy costs is exactly what low-income families need who struggle to pay their monthly energy bills.

According to Susanne Slater, President and CEO of D.C. Habitat for Humanity, “As much as we can afford, we would like to have the highest standard of energy efficiency available for our homeowners. Our whole mission is to provide affordable housing to low income families, and if homeowners pay less in energy costs that helps us reach that goal.”

Orlando Velez, Manager of Housing Services for Habitat for Humanity of Washington D.C. says, “I just remember thinking, we did it, a non-profit, affordable house developer can do this, even using volunteers with no construction experience. And then I started thinking, what’s everyone else waiting for?”