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.