Skip to content


Nominations are open for the AARP Purpose Prize, which honors extraordinary individuals who use their life experience to make a better future for all. Learn more.


A Solar House Designed for Boomer Empty-Nesters

Prototype includes energy efficiency and age-friendly features

Northwestern Solar House

Adrian Smith/Gordon Gill Architecture

The technology also includes self-cleaning windows and walls treated to break down indoor pollution.

This could be the future of downsizing.

A team of Northwestern University students has built a prototype energy-efficient solar home that is designed for boomer empty nesters who want to age in place in a sustainable way.

Join for Just $16 a Year — Receive access to exclusive information, benefits and discounts

The university's compact Enable home is one of the entries in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon design competition in Denver in early October. The two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot dwelling uses rooftop solar panels to produce enough electricity to power the house and charge a high-efficiency heat and air-conditioning system and an electric car in the garage. The technology also includes self-cleaning windows and walls treated to break down indoor pollution.

The design team spent more than a year talking with and observing boomers in the community to get a firsthand sense of what features might appeal to them, said Maggie Waldron, director of program operations for the House by Northwestern team.

As a result, the single-story house offers features that include doorways without thresholds, walkways throughout that are accessible to those with disabilities, and levers instead of doorknobs.  There’s also a smart-lighting system that automatically illuminates pathways to the bathroom when a resident gets out of bed. The kitchen countertops are made from the same durable glass as smartphone screens and require little upkeep.

The prototype would cost $385,000 to build. If the idea catches on commercially, Waldron said, economies of scale would bring down the price.

Join the Discussion

0 | Add Yours

Please leave your comment below.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.