Team looks to bring cutting-edge house design to low-income families

Every two years, college students compete on the National Mall in the solar decathlon to design and build energy-efficient solar-powered homes.

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Usually, when the competition is over, most of those homes are dismantled or put on display, not actually used for housing. One team hopes to change that.

Students from three different design schools in New York collaborated to build the first so-called "passive house" in D.C. The two-family home will bring ground-breaking designs to a Deanwood neighborhood.

“The goal is to be super-insulated and at the same time air-tight,” describes Erich Rau, a mechanical engineering student.

With thick walls and triple-pane windows, this home could consume as much as 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a typical home.

“You can basically take the same amount of electrical use of a blow dryer to run the air exchange that does the minimal amount of heating necessary,” said Joel Towers of Parsons the new school for design.

The house is currently under construction on the Stevens Institute of Technology campus in New Jersey. Once complete, the team will enter it into the 2011 solar decathlon.

Afterward, two low-income families to be chosen by D.C. Habitat for Humanity will live in the building.

“This seems to be a really vibrant community that seems to be taking this in and making the most of it,” said Shana Mosher of the Milano School of International Affairs.

Architects and engineers believe passive home design will become the standard in the U.S. like it has been in Europe. In terms of low-income housing, they say this is the future.

“We're using this as a lab or test tube to be able to say this could be the sustainable project for the future with us,” said Kent Adcock of Habitat for Humanity.

The solar decathlon begins September 23rd on the National Mall.

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