The Olympia home of DT and Kim North is green in more ways than one.
The exterior of the blocky new house on Marion Street is several shades of green and features large south-facing windows to capture passive solar energy.
The interior of the home is open and inviting with furnishings that are spartan and a bit retro.
But it’s what you don’t see that makes the house stand apart from most new construction.
The house lacks a traditional central heating system. It features instead a high-tech heat recovery and ventilation system that captures heat from the air inside the home, sends the old air outside and infuses fresh air drawn from the outside with the captured heat.
The home also has a mega-amount of insulation, a tightly sealed shell and strategically placed windows to capture solar heat.
“It’s like an ice chest with really good air quality,” said Tessa Smith, co-owner and lead designer for the Olympia-based Artisans Group.
Built in 2010-11, the home was the first of its kind in South Sound, and one of only a few in the state that falls under the umbrella of Passive House, an architectural design born in Germany about 15 years ago.
The heat recovery and ventilation system helps maintain indoor air humidity in the high 30 percent range and indoor air temperatures around 70 degrees with very little variation, day or night.
“We enjoy being home,” Kim North said. “We’re comfortable year around.”
The roof of the stand-alone garage next to the home hosts a solar panel array rated at 2.8 kilowatts. The solar power system produces more heat than the North family of four needs, so the excess electricity goes into the Puget Sound Energy grid for use elsewhere. Each year, the Norths receive a check for the surplus power they produce, more than enough to cover their utility bill.
DT North estimated that the extra construction costs associated with the home’s design will be paid off in about six years through energy savings. Make that about nine years for the solar panels.
“Essentially all our energy is free,” he said.
The Norths, both vocational rehabilitation counselors, said they were drawn to the Passive House design because of the comfort of the home and the high return on their investments. The fact that the home reduces the family’s carbon footprint is just icing on the cake.
The benefits of a Passive House are many, Smith said. They save about 75 percent on a home’s total energy bill and about 90 percent of the home’s heating and cooling costs.
The homes also are low maintenance, durable, simple, yet elegant, Smith said.
“There’s an intangible comfort in a Passive House,” Smith said during a visit to the North’s two-story, 1,950-square-foot home, which has been occupied since May 2011. “People like to be in here. It feels good for your soul and it feels good for your body.”
In the past three years, the Artisans Group has built five Passive Homes — three in Olympia, one in Steilacoom, and one on Shaw Island in the San Juans.
“I think we’ll build five or six more this year,” she said. “Prices are dropping on materials like the windows and there are more heat recovery systems on the market than before.”
Luke Howard, a building science specialist with the Washington State University Extension Energy Program has sensors stationed throughout the North home, measuring temperature, relative humidity and other air quality parameters.
“The home is performing well,” Howard said.
Howard said the Passive House is a cutting-edge building technology that shows a lot of promise.
“One of the things I like about it is it gets builders and designers excited about how a house works,” he said.
The Steilacoom Passive House will be featured in the Pierce County Master Builders South Sound Parade of New Homes May 11-12 and May 18-19. Watch for more details at mbaparade.com.
REGIONAL HISTORY CLASS AT SPSCC
A full slate of spring quarter classes in South Puget Sound Community College’s community education program begins in less than two weeks.
But it’s not too late to sign up for many of these noncredit offerings, including a local history class taught by Tumwater historian and author Don Trosper.
Trosper will kick off class with a look at Tumwater history, then venture into other areas of Southwest Washington, including Thurston, Lewis, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties.
Along the way, Trosper hopes to inspire his students to get involved in local historic groups and history projects. Exploring local history can be a rewarding hobby.
Community education classes at SPSCC cover a wide range of topics, everything from digital photography to belly dancing. Check out the class catalogue and register online at hawksprairie.org.John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org