Your grandparents’ house is getting a makeover. At least, that’s the goal for House By Northwestern (HBN). This team of Northwestern students competed in the University’s first U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in October, designing and building a sustainable house that homebuyers would actually purchase in today’s market. HBN decided to pitch its design to a slightly unusual demographic for sustainable spaces: Baby Boomers.
“The majority of Baby Boomers want to age in place, but only 1 percent of the U.S. housing market is suitable for aging in place,” says Vivien Ng, the interior design lead for the project. “We really wanted to serve our community and it is an unaddressed issue in Evanston.”
Since 2015, 51 students have worked together to plan and construct a house that Baby Boomers could call home in their later years. Like most undergraduate students at Northwestern, HBN’s members don’t moonlight as construction workers – they had to pick up design, sustainability and product expertise as they went, which added to the time commitment. Ng estimates she spent at least 10 to 15 hours a week working on the project in the months leading up to the competition.
In early October, students flew to Denver where they assembled the house to present it to the competition juries and the public. The team took first place in market potential and communications and third place in engineering, finishing in sixth place overall.
HBN combined two key words – energized and adaptable – to name their house “Enable.” The final design focused on these attributes to create an energy-efficient, attractive house that is also completely ADA accessible. Thanks to more than 100 hours Ng and others spent talking to the target population, the house not only includes sustainable features but also a sense of “home.” With everything from a practically laid-out kitchen with top-notch, energy-efficient appliances to an entertaining area on the porch, chances are your grandparents will feel quite comfortable in their future house.
House by Northwestern’s first step was choosing its audience. Then came a lot of research – students had to scrutinize decathlon requirements for the structure and interview Baby Boomers to make a starting list of criteria, according to Gordan Kucan, lead architect on the project. They looked at building codes and studied successful solar houses and typical Denver and Chicago homes to determine the best interior design. When they had the inside squared away, the team designed the exterior shape and nailed down details for materials, colors, structures and systems in the house.
Initial construction took place over the summer. “The building of the house all happened in front of me,” says Manasi Kaushik, a member of the communications team who joined HBN in June. ”It was incredible to just see an entire house standing within that period of time.” After finishing, they had to deconstruct the house to ship it to Denver for the competition.
Once onsite, the team reassembled the home. Team members gave tours and showed the sustainable features in a series of contests. Following the decathalon’s conclusion, they disassembled the house once more to send it back to Evanston and Jerry Brennan, its new owner. He has agreed to continue to show the house to the public on select dates.
Even the kitchen countertop is sustainable – and local. All the products for the recycled glass countertop come from the Chicago area including the waste glass – which could have previously been anything from handblown fixtures to oven doors. Finished with epoxy resin, the countertop can withstand any of the typical tasks of preparing a meal.
The house is truly green inside and out with special “living walls.” Walter Herbst, a professor for Northwestern’s Master of Product Design and Development program sketched them. The greenery puffs out from the wall, drawing visitors’ eyes to the house’s flora. “I wanted to convey a message about sustainability, living with nature,” Ng says.
To make the grandparents’ lives a little easier and healthier, HBN sprayed the windows with PURETi. It prevents rain stains and reduces the amount of toxins in the indoor air. Cigarette smoke and paint are blocked by agents in PURETi, which ensures safer air is safer and cleaner windows.
Rather than purchasing typical solar panels to sit on top of the roof, HBN selected panels that also served as the roof for a sleeker finish. Plus, thanks to the panels, the house will eventually generate more electricity than it needs, according to Manasi Kaushik, a member of HBN’s communications team
The dinner table, essential to Thanksgiving festivities and bridge club, is perfectly suited by Ng’s design. “The dining table took me forever to find,” she says. “We were trying to find a dining table that... [could] expand to seat eight people somehow.” A Canadian manufacturer provided the perfect table for around $2,000.