The home featured in this month’s installment of “Evergreen homes” — a monthly series of posts in which I break out the geographical bias and spotlight green residential building projects from my home state of Washington — is a rather special one.
Now this isn’t to say that the previous homes featured in the series are any less noteworthy, but given that Earth Day is this coming weekend, I wanted to keep in the tradition of stepping outside of the home to focus of stories that impact neighborhoods and greater communities. And this month’s home, the Zero-Energy House, located in the Ballard district of Seattle, certainly fits the bill.
Sure, the home is an impressive feat of affordable and deeply energy-efficient residential building. In fact, it’s, somewhat surprisingly, the first net-zero energy home in Seattle proper. But what really drew me to this urban infill project is the fact that its owners, Eric Thomas and Alex Salmon, built the home not only to reduce their own personal environmental footprints, but to make a difference in Ballard (and Seattle as a whole) by chronicling the trials and tribulations of “building green on a budget” on the Zero-Energy House blog and by hosting Ballard Green Building Talks, a series of lectures on energy-efficient retrofits co-sponsored by Sustainable Ballard. Thomas and Salmon could have easily built the home and called it a day, but instead they’ve reached out to the community in an effort to inform, to inspire, and to learn from others. This is what makes the project so special, so rare.
Thomas and Salmon didn’t quite know what they wanted before building their 1,915-square-foot home on a vacant lot in Ballard. According to Thomas, they longed to stay in the neighborhood (I don’t blame them … Ballard is a fantastic, highly walkable neighborhood even if the natives are crap drivers) but when they started house hunting in 2010, they didn’t have much luck. “We looked at quite a few houses for sale, but even at a very low point in the housing market, there wasn’t much we felt we could afford that appealed to us,” Thomas told me in a recent email.
When they stumbled across a lot of sale in Ballard, they decided that they wanted to build and build green. Explains Thomas: “We looked at lots of possibilities — prefab houses, conventional houses, and even a kit that we could build ourselves — but nothing was a great match. I had read an article many years ago about the Passive House standard, which had originated in Germany. At the time, I was amazed that a house could exist in a cold climate that was heated only by body heat and appliances.”
Inspired by the low-energy consumption nature of passive houses, Thomas ultimately connected with Ted L. Clifton of Zero Energy Home Plans, an award-winning design firm based on Whidbey Island. Says Thomas: “At the time, he [Clifton] was about to complete a house in Oregon that after producing all its own electricity had enough left over to power a Mitsubishi electric car for something like 5,000 miles. What we especially liked about his designs was that they could be made using fairly standard materials and didn’t cost much extra to build.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Teaming up with custom builder T.C. Legend Homes, a local company operated by Ted L. Clifton’s son (also named Ted Clifton), construction on the three-bedroom, two-bath custom home (the MB-2) commenced in May of 2011. Nearly five months later, Thomas and Salmon moved in. The cost? About $124 per square-foot including permits, taxes, and a 6.8kW rooftop photovoltaic array in a town where the average cost of construction is about $200 per square-foot. In total, with rebates and incentives factored in, the Zero-Energy House cost around $225,000 to build with the land costing $180,000.
And let’s not forget that as a true net-zero energy home, the house produces more energy than it consumes meaning that Thomas and Salmon needn’t worry about paying monthly electric bills (about $1,800 a year for the average Seattle household) and will be receiving $1,000 annually for the next nine years for producing their own solar energy. And, yes, net-zero energy is indeed possible in the perpetually overcast Pacific Northwest. According to Thomas, the net meter started running backwards late last month; he’s hoping that it reaches zero by fall provided that the weather shapes up and shapes up soon.
Now for the good stuff: In addition to the rooftop solar array, the EnergyStar certified, 5-star Built Green home includes reclaimed wood flooring and fixtures, energy-efficient lighting and appliances, passive solar design, a 200-square-foot rain garden and rainwater harvesting system, tripe-pane vinyl windows, dual-flush toilets with integrated sinks, radiant heat flooring, an air-to-water heat pump, low-VOC paints and finishes, a whole house fan with HEPA filter, and much more. The home was built using locally produced structural insulated panel (SIP) construction and can accommodate enough additional solar panels to power an electric car. Plus, in addition to being speedy, the construction of the Zero-Energy House was an extremely low-waste affair, boasting a construction waste recycling rate of over 90 percent. And for the home's Walk Score, it's not too shabby at all.
And as you can see, the Zero-Energy House isn’t exactly a show-stopper in the design department with no luxurious, uber-modern architectural flourishes or cutting-edge gadgetry to be found. It’s the home’s comfortable simplicity and non-pretentiousness, qualities not always associated with modern green homes boasting similar energy performance pedigrees, that helped to keep costs so low (plus there’s the fact that Thomas and Salmon actually pitched in and helped build the home themselves). It's subtle, but boasts energy-savings that aren't so low-key.
Lots and lots more info and insight over at the Zero-Energy House blog where you can learn more about the particulars of the home and net-zero energy building in general. If you have a question for Thomas and Salmon or would like to interact, don't be shy. And for you construction junkies, there's more than enough step-by-step photos of the home's construction to keep you happy. In the past year or so, the home has become somewhat of a media darling in the Seattle area so Thomas and Salmon have archived news articles and have also started to compile a directory of other net-zero energy homes. Both are worth checking out. And click here to keep in the loop about the Ballard Green Building Talk series. In March, the featured speakers were Sam Lai and Aaron Fairchild of Green Canopy Homes, the community-focused renovation firm behind a previous “Evergreen Home,” the Sentinel. This month's speaker was Ted L. Clifton, the designer of the Zero-Energy House.
Plus, this coming Earth Day weekend, the Zero-Energy House will be just one of dozens of homes in the Seattle area open to the public as a participant in the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild's 2012 Green Home Tour. It's also worth noting that the home has won a national award for green design in the single-family category but what exact award it is is under wraps until the award ceremony takes place at the end of the month. I'll update this post once more information is available.
Thanks for sharing, Eric and Alex.
Is there a notable green residential building project in Washington that you'd liked to see featured in an upcoming installment of "Evergreen Homes?" Tell me about it in the comments section!
Past "Evergreen homes"
• Alley House 2 (Seattle)
• Columbia Station (Seattle)
• Thomas Eco-House (Stanwood)
• Green Roof House (Seattle)
• Verdant Home (Tacoma)
• The Sentinel (Seattle)
• Zhome (Isaquaah)
• EnviroHouse (Tacoma)
• The Method Cabin (Glacier)
• The Boneyard House (Walla Walla)
• Natural Balance House (Friday Harbor)
• Art Stable (Seattle)
• Hale-Edmonds Residence (Seattle)
• Hill House (Winthrop)
• Footprint at the Bridge (Seattle)
• GreenFab prefab home (Seattle)
• Perilstein and Dorsey Residences (Bainbridge Island)
• The Ellis Residence (Bainbridge Island)
• The Pierre (San Juan Islands)