Residents Will Move Into DC’s First Passive House In January

by Shilpi Paul


Empowerhouse, DC’s first passive house, celebrated its completion today and will be welcoming its first residents in January.

The home was originally constructed on The National Mall by a team of students from Parsons The New School for Design, The New School for Public Engagement, and Stevens Institute of Technology during the Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathalon. After the event ended, the home was moved to 4609 Gault Place NE (map) in Deanwood, where it was completed as a two-family home.

The team behind the Empowerhouse worked with Habitat for Humanity of Washington, DC (DC Habitat), and the DC Department of Housing and Development (DHCD) to build the home and select the two families who will reside there. The first family will purchase the home through DC Habitat and will be moving in January.

The net-zero nature of the home means that it will consume 90 percent less energy than a typical home; the solar panels on the house were some of the smallest in the Decathalon due to the low energy needs. Because of our swampy weather, designers installed dehumidifiers and carefully managed the flow of air through the home. Compared to a typical Deanwood home, it is projected Empowerhouse will result in $2,000 in annual energy cost savings.

DC Habitat announced in June that they will be breaking ground on six more similarly energy-efficient homes in the Ivy City community.

Photo courtesy of Martin Seck.

This article originally published at


  1. Carol Casperson said at 4:22 pm on Tuesday December 4, 2012:

    Congratulations to all the people involved in the completion of these two homes.  Not only affordable to buy (no profit, no interest from DC Habitat for Humanity) but affordable to live in (very low to no utility bill).  If DCHFH can do it, all builders in the capital can!

  1. trinigal said at 4:46 pm on Tuesday December 4, 2012:

    How would someone go about getting an Empowerhouse built on land they already own?

  1. Roger Lin said at 4:52 pm on Tuesday December 4, 2012:
  1. Barbara Gehrung said at 6:51 pm on Tuesday December 4, 2012:

    Congratulations Y’all- nice work!
    I look forward to our continueing work towards getting the Ivy City houses realized!

  1. H Street LL said at 9:11 am on Wednesday December 5, 2012:

    I’ve got the same question as Trinigal.

  1. Mark Wellborn said at 10:53 am on Wednesday December 5, 2012:

    trinigal/H Street LL,

    UrbanTurf has reached out to the team behind Empowerhouse to see if they can supply an answer to your questions, so keep an eye out in the comments section.

    Mark Wellborn

  1. c peterson said at 8:38 pm on Wednesday December 5, 2012:

    Wonderful example of organizations working together to solve issues of affordable housing and sustainable communities.  Congratulations!  You should be a model for the nation.

  1. Laura Briggs said at 12:47 pm on Thursday December 6, 2012:

    The best way to build a similar home would be to start with passive solar design.  We worked with Passive House principles, which our students learned from an organization called Passive House Institute US.  Because of this we were able reduce the space heating and cooling energy use by up to 85% and therefore the size of our photovoltaic system, which produces electricity for the house’s energy needs.  This is one way we were able to keep overall costs low.  The principles are simple.  We started by building a wall, floor and ceiling that are highly insulated, and airtight and used the right amount of triple glazed windows with overhangs.  And then we added an energy recovery ventilator to efficiently bring fresh air into the home and we added a small heating and cooling system.  In addition, we reduced other energy loads by carefully selecting Energy Star appliances, EPA water sense plumbing fixtures and energy efficient lighting fixtures.

    Every home is a little different because each site is unique.  There are design questions and trade offs to consider. It is important to plan the design using the correct tools.  Our students used two energy modeling tools, Passive House Planning Package and Ecotect.  There are several local designers who are certified to develop passive house plans.  You can find links to many of the organizations that helped us develop our approach on the Empowerhouse sponsor website.

  1. Carol Casperson said at 3:24 pm on Sunday December 9, 2012:

    To those people that have their own land:  contact the Habitat for Humanity International affiliate in your area.  Go to to find your affiliate.  It may take time but it is worth it if you qualify.  Check each affiliates qualifications for homeownership.

  1. Aurimas Sabulis said at 4:53 pm on Friday March 29, 2013:

    Congratulations to all of the students, faculty members and volunteers involved in a process. From the whole Intus Windows team I wanted to thank you all and especially Laura for an opportunity to be a part of this project.

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