Sustainability | Ecotrope

Green homes: Where the floors are made of recycled toilets

Ecotrope | Sept. 28, 2011 4:34 a.m. | Updated: April 7, 2014 2:50 p.m.

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This 154-square-foot backyard studio in Southwest Portland was one of 22 stops on this weekend's tour of green homes. It was built out of salvaged lumber from three Oregon barns with a salvaged copper roof.

This 154-square-foot backyard studio in Southwest Portland was one of 22 stops on this weekend’s tour of green homes. It was built out of salvaged lumber from three Oregon barns with a salvaged copper roof.

 

So, I have a lot to learn about green homes…and how to tour more than one of them in a Saturday. I went on the Portland Build it Green! Home Tour this weekend. And when I say “home” tour I mean it. I only made it to one home – out of 21! (I also visited the June Key Delta Community Center, which was part of the tour and is taking the elite Living Building Challenge, but it’s not technically a home.)

What a home it was. Mike and Virginia Malone went all out with their new house in Northeast Portland: Rooftop solar panels, a stormwater capture and recycling system, super-thick insulation, ductless heating, LED lighting … the house has floor tiles made from ground-up old toilet bowls, it has pipes that recapture waste heat from hot shower water, and it has walls – I kid you not – walls made from Douglas fir that’s sustainably managed by local Girl Scouts.

And that wasn’t even my favorite part. I geeked out with Mike about how he monitors his home energy use from his laptop for WAY too long (missing opportunities to geek out at other homes), but we’ll reap the benefits of that conversation later.

I knew green building was big in Portland. There were 30 applicants for the green home tour, according to event organizer Valerie Garrett of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. And only 22 made the cut.

The city’s been holding green home tours for 10 years, and is now checking applicants for multiple sustainability certifications, energy performance scores, and “miles per gallon” ratings.

But the “greenness” of homes here really hit home while I was talking with Carson Benner of Cellar Ridge Custom Homes.

Benner’s company built the Malone house, and he explained how it got the top EarthAdvantage green-home rating – platinum certification. The home is almost entirely sealed in from the outside world. On a scale of 200, it’s 23 points away from net-zero energy consumption.

And in Portland, it’s not all that unique. Benner said the city is making a habit of green building practices that aren’t really even contemplated across most of the U.S. Even the standard building code here is greener.

“Our building code is so strict we have to have our own version of Energy Star – it’s Northwest Energy Star,” he said. “You could be 10 percent better than code in Texas and it would be illegal here.”

I’d love to hear about your home. Benner said the average house has lots of little leaks that add up to the equivalent of a 4-foot by 4-foot hole! Have you made energy-efficiency improvements to you house? Have you made a point to use non-toxic or sustainable building materials? Did it cost you more, and was it worth the extra cost?

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