While the foreclosure crisis late last decade affected homeowners throughout the country, one long-running organization quietly puttered along in giving poor families free housing across the country. Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit well-known for buying land and building homes to give to families, has maintained a steady course throughout the crisis. However, in giving these homes to poor families seeking a home, with new appliances and furniture, there still exist issues for them, in particular those revolving around the bills they have to pay. Electric and heating bills are especially an issue, given their variability and conditions. Habitat for Humanity wanted to address this in building their homes in such a way that they require little power from the electric grid to heat and cool the home, thus saving their new homeowners money.
So Habitat for Humanity has been working hard to develop a new system of housing, with its model house just recently built in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C., with an emphasis on free solar power by placing a solar array on the roof. The organization looked to the Department of Energy's "Solar Decathlon" for inspiration, and found it in a group of students from several leading institutions, including the Stevens Institute of Technology and Parsons The New School for Design. The group of students were focusing on creating not only a cutting-edge house that offers nearly free electricity through free solar power and special design, but one that could be built by Habitat for Humanity based on their budget.
The result, called "Empowerhouse," was built on so called "passive house" principles. These principles essentially make it so that air and heat are heavily controlled, thanks to incredible amounts of insulation, and being airtight, with no air leakage. With these designs, it allows for a better control of energy, and allows Habitat for Humanity to use fewer solar panels, thus allowing them to incorporate free solar power into their housing designs. The first home built on the Empowerhouse design, based in Deanwood and granted to one Lakiya Culley, seems to be a successful prototype: While its design is unique in comparison to other houses in the neighborhood, and Ms. Culley's family has yet to acclimate properly to the house to take advantage of its energy savings, it is likely that Ms. Culley will save more than 90% on her electric bill, with chances that she will not have to pay anything on her electric bill in certain months.
Habitat for Humanity sees this house, which provides homeowners with free solar power and vast savings on their energy bill, as a prototype for their future houses. They intend to build more homes in nearby D.C. neighborhoods in the near future, albeit with a slightly different design. Habitat for Humanity hopes that, with free solar power, one less burden will be placed on homeowners seeking a new life through a new house.