Video Url

In the video above, Lakiya Culley talks about how her solar-powered, passive home, located in D.C.'s Deanwood neighborhood, has changed her family's future. | Video by Matty Greene, Energy Department.

At universities all across the country, students are transforming the way we design and build homes -- developing affordable housing solutions that save money by saving energy. From installing solar panels to using energy efficient devices, like washing machines and LED lights, a clean technology future means more comfort and savings at home. And this is having a profound impact on families.

The video above tells the story of Lakiya Culley, a D.C. native and mother of three. Culley wanted to be a homeowner, but with D.C.’s high cost of living, she wasn’t sure that was possible. Earlier this year, that dream became a reality thanks to volunteers at the Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C., and students from Parsons The New School for Design, the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at The New School, and Stevens Institute of Technology. In the video, Culley talks about her solar-powered, passive home -- from its energy-saving features to how it is changing her family’s future and benefiting the environment. 

Culley’s story is just one example of how students are rising to the challenge of building solar-powered houses that are comfortable, energy efficient and affordable as part of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon while also changing the lives of families across the United States.

In 2011, the Affordability Contest was added to the competition to demonstrate that the Solar Decathlon houses aren’t just exhibits -- many are within reach of American families. Teams embraced this task whole-heartedly. The Empowerhouse team -- the students who helped build Culley’s home -- came in first place with a cost estimate of less than $230,000, and overall the Solar Decathlon 2011 houses cost about 33 percent less than Solar Decathlon 2009 houses. 

This year, the teams’ houses have the potential to have an even larger impact on families. For example, Team Capitol DC’s house will be donated to Wounded Warriors Homes, where it will become a home for a veteran returning from combat. Stanford University will add an extra bedroom to their Start.Home to make it a home for the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve’s resident ranger and his family. At a cost of nearly $169,000 (and more than $65,000 less than other competition houses), Norwich University’s house is designed to be affordable for Vermonters who earn 20 percent less than the state’s median income while helping them cut their skyrocketing energy bills. Now that the competition is over, the team plans to work with a Vermont homebuilder to make their design available locally.

Through the Solar Decathlon, some of the nation’s best and brightest students are proving that owning ultra-efficient, solar-powered houses can be part of the middle class dream.

Rebecca Matulka
Served as a digital communications specialist for the Energy Department.Served as a digital communications specialist for the Energy Department.
more by this author