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.


Special thanks to all of the participants, volunteers, donors, and friends.  

Donors: GOLD: Boyer Contractors Engineers Inventors, Dr. Francisco Loya, Rice Design Alliance, Rice Faculty Initiatives Grant, Rice University Shell Center for Sustainability;
SILVER: Barbara Amelio, Cathy Cooney, Bellows Builders, Bridgeway Capital Management, Inc., CenterPoint Energy, Gensler, David Harvey, HaynesWhaley Associates, KBR, Rice Energy and Environmental Systems Institute, Susan Vaughan Foundation;
GREEN: Doris Anderson, Natalye Appel, Kathleen Barton, Ann & John Benzon, Brookstone, Megan and Robert Bruckner, Jeremy Caves, Mildred Crocker, Domning Family, FKP Architects, Fretz Construction, Mr. and Mrs. Amar Gil, Glassman Shoemake Maldonado Architects, Chuck Gremillon, Jonathan Grenader, Kathryn Hale, David and Cinda Hitchcock, Lonnie Hoogeboom, Doward and Christie Hudlow, Rick Jenkins and Beth Alfredson in memry of Han Li, Kirksey, Neal and Joni Lane, Robert and Carole Lopez, McCoy Workplace, Spaw Maxwell, Paula T. Michaud, David Morris and Anne Lewis, Spear Properties, LLC, Robert Taylor, Tellepsen Builders, WHR Architects, Wylie & Associates

Special Thanks: A&E Graphics Complex, Allied Powder Coating, Apricus Solar, Berger Iron Works, Inc., Presston Brown, John Casbarian, Carlisle Syn-Tec, Chiaramonte Construction Company, Cinco Solar, Core Design Studio, Daltile, Patrick Dwyer, Adrianna Elliott, Energy Efficient Insulation, Enphase, Joe Gesenhues, Jessie Gill, Kennie Gill, Graphic FX, Green-Zip Partition, Jonathan Grenader, Eric Hegre, Eric Hester, Houston Area Plumbing Joint Apprentice Committee, IBEW Local Union 716, ILOS Corporation, JC Glass, Jones Roofing, Richard Johnson, Sallie Keller-McNulty, Kohler, Leonard Lane, Lars Lerup, Lighting Unlimited, Stephanie Linder, Marek Brothers Company, MBCI Metal Roof and Wall Systems, MG Sheet Metal Works, Monica Pope, Pete Olson, RAM Industries, Rogers Air Conditioning, Bob Siani, Simpson Strong Tie, Stahlman Lumber Company, Standard Renewable Energy, Jessica Stark, Doug Thomlinson, Linda Thrane, To Market, Unirac, University Copy Center, Wayne Electric, Inc., Weatherization Partners Limited, George and Susannah Webb, Sarah Whiting, Angela Young 

Consultants: Christof Spieler, Matrix Engineering, Redding, Linden, Burr Consulting Engineers 

Students: Amy Adams, Jill Bacon, David Barr, Patrick Battle, Miriam Bentley, Sharen Bidaisee, Dan Burkett, Elizabeth Butman, Lisa Cassedy. Amy Chien, Seth Clarke, Allan Co, Carina Coel, Kelli DesRochers, Joey Favarolo, Sharon Floyd, Joseph Gabriel, Anna Goodman, Audrey Handelman, Eric Hartz, CJ Hoogland, Jenny Hoover, Maureen Hull, Julien Jaworski, Laura Johnson, Josh Jones, Chris Kimball, Taryn Kinney, Peter Klein, Jason LaRocca, Lina Lee, Steven Maynard, Christopher Mechaley, Karlene Morgan, Davis Neindorff, Dan Nemec, Chester Nielsen, Jennifer Painter, Jimin Park, Matthew Radune, Bill Rankin, Ben Reavis, Jeremy Richey, Eric Rosprim, Philip Schmunck, Christian Sheridan, Chris Starkey, Michelle Stevenson, Doug Subbiondo, Tara Teter, Gary Tran, Jordan Vexler, Mark Watabe, Sandra Winstead, Soojin Yoo 

Volunteers: Presston Brown, Eric Hegre, Travis Helm, Eric Hester, Jon Wilson 

Faculty Advisors: Nonya Grenader FAIA, Brent Houchens, Danny Samuels FAIA