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Photo of the Blackland Community Development Corp. lot with SNAP House in the foreground and Harden House behind it. Enlarge image

A 7.8-kW solar electric system helps reduce monthly utility bills for low-income families living in the Harden-Solar duplex.
(Courtesy of Michael Garrison and the University of Texas at Austin)

Who: University of Texas at Austin
What: SNAP House
Private residence through Blackland Community Development Corp.
Austin, TX 78722
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Public tours: Not available

Solar Decathlon 2005

University of Texas: Teaching an Old House New Tricks

The University of Texas at Austin donated SNAP House to Blackland Community Development Corp. after competing in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2005. The house was later connected to a historic 1940s bungalow called the Harden House to form an energy-sharing duplex for low-income families.

Blackland Community Development Corp., a nonprofit organization focused on neighborhood restoration and preservation, owns 37 properties on the east side of the university's campus. The organization was originally formed to prevent the university's continual expansion into historic areas—a goal that it achieved in 1994. The two entities now work together for the greater community good.

The Harden-Solar duplex is a perfect example of this alliance. The Harden House, named for the family that built it in 1945, was sold by June Harden Brewer to the university in 2004. When Blackland Community Development Corp. expressed an interest in the historic property, the university agreed to donate it. The nonprofit took possession of Harden House after the Solar Decathlon team finished using it for pre-competition storage.

In fall 2005, volunteer workers and students prepared the lot for the arrival of both houses. When they found that a city ordinance prevented electricity sharing between properties, the project architect suggested connecting the houses with a 15-ft breezeway. The solution worked. After thousands of donated labor hours, the duplex was officially dedicated in August 2008 to coincide with Blackland Community Development Corp.'s 25-year anniversary.

"Overall, we are very pleased with the duplex," says Bo McCarver, Blackland Community Development Corp.'s co-founder and board president. He explains that eye-catching projects such as the Harden-Solar duplex help stimulate more interest in gardening and green technologies throughout the neighborhood.