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Economy | Business

Extremely Green Building Tried In Northwest

How would you like to pay little to nothing on your electric bill for the rest of your life? 

That could be a payoff of living in a home that generates its own energy on-site.  Builders are constructing what you might call “extremely green” homes in a handful of Northwest cities. 

Correspondent Tom Banse went to a groundbreaking in Issaquah, Washington.

At this groundbreaking, the traditional shovel was left untouched and ribbons cut instead.  A ribbon around a solar panel…snip.  Around a cutaway of super-insulated wall…snip.  People even applauded a water-saving toilet….

Site rendering of zero-energy townhomes in Issaquah, WA.

Even though no dirt was turned, the event was groundbreaking in another sense.

Issaquah mayor Ava Frisinger says the ten townhomes represent the first neighborhood in the Northwest that is zero net energy.  That means the so-call “z homes” produce as much energy as they consume over the course of a year.

Ava Frisinger: “Z-Home will prove to the world that homes that use net zero energy, have net zero carbon emissions, conserve water and other natural resources, can be replicated in today’s market. They are achievable now.”

The term zero energy doesn’t mean no energy.

Builder Doug Howland plans to cover the roofs with solar panels to make electricity for heating and lighting.

Doug Howland: “We’ve combined 33% in generation – so we’re going to generate what a normal home would typically use, 33% — and we’re going to decrease the demand by 66%.  So it’s a combination of generation and conservation.”

In fact, the biggest energy savings come from extra thick insulation.  A heat pump that draws from a heat well — or warming loop — under the ground gains additional savings.

Howland says solar power works better in the rainy Northwest than most people think.  He says the total construction cost is about 25 percent higher.

Doug Howland: “The next time we do this, we’re all going to have the learnings of this project.  And we think that we can do it for maybe 10% extra. We’ve been asking people, ‘What premium would you pay?’ We’ve got a range between 5-12% right now.  So we know that there is a premium that people will pay.  The market is going to dictate.”

Several other Northwest builders are trying for the Holy Grail of a zero net energy home.

In Bellevue, Washington and in Portland, unrelated homeowners are building their own extremely green houses. 

On Lopez Island, Washington, a land trust is fundraising to pay for solar panels and maybe even a wind turbine to power a “sustainable community” of 10 homes. 

And in Vancouver, Washington, architect Timothy Buckley is working on a house that’s not only zero energy, but zero net water as well.  It’ll have a rainwater cistern, composting toilet, and a garden watered by kitchen and laundry runoff.

Timothy Buckley: “The technology is there, nothing new under the sun.  They’ve all been applied and used on other projects. Just no one has put them all together all at the same and then try to go through all the extra process for permitting.”

Buckley and others working on these ultra-green homes are hoping to set a new standard for energy efficiency. 

The housing slowdown and credit crunch have not deterred them.  In fact, the director of the Seattle-area non-profit Built Green says the down economy is giving an added reason to push the envelope.

Aaron Adelstein says super efficient is what he’s hoping all new buildings will look like in 10 or 20 years.

Aaron Adelstein: “I think if anything, the housing crunch and the market slowdown is actually accelerating the rate of green building because builders are looking for a way to differentiate themselves.”

If all goes well, the zero energy townhomes outside Seattle will be done and open for public tours a year from now.


zHome (Issaquah, WA)

Lopez Island Community Land Trust “sustainable homes”

Zero Energy Idea House (Bellevue, WA)
Living House at Felida (Clark County, WA)