Northwestern Seeks to Build a Sustainable House that Appeals to Baby Boomers Looking to Age in Place

House by Northwestern (HBN) is Northwestern University’s first-ever entry to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a competition that “challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.” Upon completion of construction in August, our 1,000-square-foot house will be the most energy-efficient building on campus to date.

Our target customers are wealthy Baby Boomer couples aged 55-65 years old who plan to live in the Chicago North Shore area, which includes Evanston. This segment is generally still working at least part-time, are recent empty-nesters, and are looking to downsize from larger homes they own. This population is looking to age in place: this means their homes must be able to accommodate varying ability statuses and challenges that come with aging. While the demand for a house that meets these requirements is growing, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University estimates only 1 percent of the current housing stock is suitable for people to age in place—the other 99 percent lacks accessibility features.

HBN uniquely uses the input of our target users to create a house with sustainable features that is also beautiful, healthy and comfortable. Through our user research, we have seen that when looking for a home, our target customers value comfort and livability, high-performance with functionality, and easy home maintenance; sustainability is often less important.

We seek to demonstrate that living sustainably does not need to feel like a sacrifice. We envision a world that lives sustainably without compromise. 

HBN team is designing and building a house that unites modern construction practices, energy-efficient appliances, home automation technologies, renewable energy systems, and passive design strategies. The result will be a sustainable home that is well-adapted for the harsh Chicago climate and minimizes its impact on the surrounding environment.

Images courtesy of House by Northwestern

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Lila Reynolds is a rising junior studying journalism and psychology at Northwestern University. She is currently working for House by Northwestern as a communications intern, and will travel to the Solar Decathlon in Denver this fall with her team. Lila is passionate about making sustainability accessible and exciting to everyone by educating people through journalism, and hopes that HBN will take first place! Photo credit: Manasi Kaushik

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