Superefficient Home With Big Ambitions, Built by Students on a Hoboken Lot 

By JOANNA M. FOSTER of the New York Times:

HOBOKEN, N.J. — On summer evenings, the running path along the riverfront here is clogged with businessmen on smartphones tripping over dog leashes and joggers weaving through a stream of strollers. It had gotten even more congested recently as curious pedestrians congregated around a fenced-off parking lot on Sinatra Drive to guess the purpose of the structure being built inside.

“People have asked us if we’re building a waterfront bar,” said a worker, Steve Scribner. “As if Hoboken needs any more. Someone else thought it was a houseboat, or some kind of giant Porta-Potty.”

But even taking into account Hoboken’s love affair with happy hour, there was an urgency to the building process that seemed incongruous. Someone was always there hammering or sawing — and many of the workers seemed a little young for cocktails.

The compact, shoe-box-shaped mystery building is named Empowerhouse, and it is a superefficient, solar-powered house that will compete in the Solar Decathlon, an event sponsored by the Energy Department that will open on Friday on the National Mall in Washington. It was designed and built by architecture and engineering students from Parsons The New School for Design, the Stevens Institute of Technology and the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy.

Yet the group aimed to create a structure that would endure in a meaningful way after the competition results are in. Unlike the 19 other entries, Empowerhouse is destined to become a real home for a low-income family in the Deanwood neighborhood of Northeast Washington that will also serve as a model of sustainable housing for Habitat for Humanity.

This year, for the first time, houses in the competition are being graded on cost-effectiveness, as well as energy efficiency and attractiveness. The last winning house was a $2 million entry from Germany with an exterior completely covered in solar panels.

“They racked up extra points because they were producing power above and beyond what the house needed,” said Joshua Laryea, student project engineer from Stevens. “But who can afford a house like that and maintain all those solar panels? It wasn’t a place designed for living in.”

Joel Towers, the executive dean at Parsons, said: “We probably won’t be the shiniest box on the Mall, but a lot of the technology that’s needed for tomorrow’s housing is already available. The question we’re trying to answer is more social than technological — how do we actually bring these green solutions into neighborhoods?” Read more

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