ZeRow House

Completed in 2009, Washington DC Solar Decathlon
Installed in 2010, Project Row Houses, Houston TX



The ZeRow House had a two-fold ambition: it was both an entry into the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon in Washington DC, and also a permanent addition to Houston’s Project Row Houses in the Third Ward. An additional goal was that it would serve as a prototype for small, affordable, sustainable housing that could be built in place or delivered to a site.


Adopting shotgun-style row house typology, the house is organized around two cores: a wet core and a light core. The wet core contains all engineered systems associated with water and energy within a compact 8’ x 10’ area. The light core serves as the primary source for day lighting as well as an outdoor extension of the interior living space. The shotgun-style view — that classic alignment of doors through the house — visually connects public, private, and outdoor spaces.


With 520-square-feet of conditioned space and a 700-square-feet overall footprint, the house comfortably provides efficient space for two people. The house is 14-feet wide and 50-feet long, with 2x6 studs and 2x10 joists. Shear walls protect the house from intense wind loads that may occur in Houston during a hurricane season. The wood frame sits atop a steel chassis with foundation footings that are located at six points and may be adjusted in response to various sites. Thanks to the incorporation of solar energy technologies, the house produces enough energy to run independently during the day; excess electricity can potentially be sold off to the grid during peak hours. Solar panels and a solar hot water system provide the energy needed to run the HVAC, appliances, and lighting, as well as hot water for the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry.

A collaboration of architecture and engineering students, with support from the local design and building community, the house was visited at the Washington D.C. Decathlon exhibition by over 100,000 people and is now an affordable home for a Houston resident at Project Row Houses.