Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Signing off

Hello again, everyone. We are officially ending our posts on this blog. We had a lot of fun over the past few years sharing our experiences with you. What initially started as an informal blog to share building updates with our close friends and family turned into an informative venture for readers from around the world. We really enjoyed sharing our experiences with our Passive House and especially appreciated meeting and interacting with others who are passionate about green building.

We plan to leave the blog up as a continued resource for those who are curious about Passive Houses. And we hope the number of interested homeowners and builders will continue to grow!

Thanks again to our amazing builders, Bilyeu Homes. Please don't hesitate to contact them if you have any more questions about our project (or if you want to hire them for your own project!). We're also happy to continue answering questions in the future.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Energy Data - First two years

Our lives got quite a bit busier in the last year with the introduction of our baby boy, Archer, who was born last August. So here we are, two years after moving in, and realizing we never posted the energy data we once promised.

Last fall, we turned over our first year's worth of energy data from the house to Ecotope, a sustainability consulting firm. They did a full analysis and comparison of our home's predicted performance versus how it actually performed. We also gave them a little extra data from right after our baby was born. Our energy use went up quite a bit right after Archer came along, as you'll see in the report.

You can read the full report here.

We were quite excited to see the data backing up what we already knew: our house is performing extremely well.

One interesting point, starting on page 8, talks about our son's impact on our energy use. We gave Ecotope two months of data from when Archer was here (August and September 2011). Based on the pattern of increased energy use, they attempted to predict how much we might use over the entire year. Their prediction shows a total of 7,451 kWh in year two of the home -- higher than the PHPP limit of 6,462 kWh.

However, we just checked our actual energy data from year two (May 2011-May 2012), and while we did end up using more energy than year one, our energy use for year two came in at 6,500 kWh -- just barely above the PHPP limit. This is good news, because it means we're still doing relatively well in our energy use, although we could also stand to do better. Just a few weeks ago, we got rid of our TV, TiVo, DVD player and Wii (we didn't want TV around Archer), so maybe that will help quite a bit with our phantom plug loads!

If you're curious what exactly led to our increased energy usage since Archer was born, it included:

  • Stuart, Archer and I were all at home every day from August through the beginning of October, and I was at home every day with Archer through the end of November. I now only work part-time, so I continue to be home with the baby five days a week (including weekends). Having people at home during the day, as compared to year one where we were gone all day, means there's a lot more energy use from things like lights, hot water, appliances, computers, etc.
  • We started doing a lot more laundry since Archer was born, particularly because we use cloth diapers that must be washed every two to three days. The diapers, in addition to all the increased laundry from baby clothes, burp cloths, etc., means we now do laundry almost daily (as opposed to once a week during year one in the house). This had a particularly large impact during the first three months after Archer was born when he went through many, many diapers.
We hope all of this data is useful to those who are curious about the performance of Passive Houses. We are thankful to Ecotrope for doing this very in-depth and informative analysis of our home. It taught us a few things about our personal choices when it comes to energy use. We can't rely solely on our amazing house to do all the work in saving energy -- we need to keep an eye on our energy habits as well.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Check out our appearance on TV

In case you missed it, here is the KATU Green Living segment featuring our house!  It is also available on their website.

Monday, May 23, 2011

One year

Today is the one-year anniversary of our moving into the new house. It's so hard to believe that we've been here that long already.

We've had a lot of people asking us about energy data now that we've been here a year. It will be a few more weeks before we get the final month of data from the power company, but when we have it, we'll post about it here. I will say that from the 11 months we've looked at so far, our house is performing beautifully and we are saving so much energy.

We're so thankful to our amazing builders, Bilyeu Homes, and all the people who worked on making this house as special as it is.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

We're gonna be on TV

We had an interesting development this week: our house is going to be on TV.

We were contacted by KATU Channel 2 in Portland, which does a weekly segment called Green Living and wanted to feature a Passive House.

The reporter and cameraman came over today and spent about an hour interviewing us and filming various parts of the house. It had actually been awhile since we had given a tour to people who weren't already familiar with Passive Houses, so we felt a bit rusty about describing things. But I think we did okay.

The Green Living series airs every Tuesday during the 5 p.m. news, and at this point we're scheduled to be on next week. We'll post again if we learn more.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hooray for tax day

While most people loathe tax day, we couldn't wait to file our taxes this year. That's because we were due to receive tax credits from the government for some of the green features we incorporated into our new house.

I will say that there weren't as many tax credits as I would have initially imagined, because many of the high-efficiency items we installed in the house only earn tax credits when they're installed in currently existing homes, not in new builds. Also, many of the tax incentives that are being earned from our house go directly to the builders, not to the homeowners (so there are great benefits to builders who build high-efficiency homes!).

But there were two major things we did earn credit for: our solar hot water heater and our Energy Star appliances. The solar hot water heater earned us the most: from the federal government we received 30% of the cost of the heater, and from the state we earned an additional $1,400, for a total of about $4,400.

By installing all Energy Star appliances, we also earned about $300 back from Oregon (but no federal tax credit).

Of course, the tax credits are not the reason we chose these green features. But they are a nice added benefit!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Oregon recognizes Passive House standard

The Oregon Passive House community has been buzzing this week about an exciting new development in the state: the Oregon Reach Code Committee adopting a standard recognizing Passive House construction.

It took me awhile to figure out what this meant. Basically, the committee is charged with drafting Oregon's optional set of statewide construction standards for energy efficiency that exceed the requirements of the state's mandatory building codes. Builders who follow the Reach Code are following an optional "green" path for construction.

The committee adopted an amendment to the Reach Code that allows certified Passive Houses to meet the state's energy compliance standard for commercial buildings, and they say they hope to add residential buildings in the near future.

I know, it's still a bit hard to understand if you're not in the construction/building field. But suffice it to say this is a very exciting development in getting Passive Houses more widely recognized as an energy efficient building option and hopefully in spreading the popularity of the standard. According to one article I read, this development could also pave the way for Passive Houses in Oregon to capitalize on green-building incentives -- a very exciting possibility, since it would encourage more people to build Passive Houses if they can get incentives from the state in return.

One of the best articles I read about this news was from Sustainable Business Oregon: http://sustainablebusinessoregon.com/articles/2011/03/oregon-steps-up-on-passive-house.html

There also was an article on Green Building Advisor, a well-respected green building website: www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/green-building-news/oregon-s-reach-code-adopts-passivhaus-standard

I'm happy to say that we played a small part in this new Oregon standard. A group of Oregon Building Code Division officials visited and toured our home back in early February, which may have helped spur more discussions. Our house was also presented and discussed at Reach Code meetings. We're glad to know that our story of how comfortable we've been in our home and how much energy we have saved helped influence this positive outcome.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Article in Mother Earth News

We've been lucky to have lots of great coverage of our house project online and in some printed publications, but we just had our biggest print article yet. The April/May issue of Mother Earth News magazine features a great article about Passive Houses, and includes a short sidebar with photos and an interview about our house. If you look through the rest of the article, you'll also catch a photo of Pippen. (The article is not available online, so you'll have to check it out on newsstands.)

We're pretty excited to be in a such a major national magazine. We think it's great that an article on Passive Houses will reach a wide audience of people interested in green living. Hopefully this will help boost interest in the Passive House concept.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Another heat source

Multiple people who have taken tours of our house have asked us about these plumbing labels in the mechanical room: Kids tub? Kids toilet?

We didn't have kids when we built the house, but we knew that we planned to live here for a really long time and raise a family here. So we built more than we currently need, in preparation for our future children.

That time will soon come, as I'm pregnant and due to have our first child around the beginning of August. Hence the title of this blog post: we will be adding another "heat source" to the home, making it even cozier in winter. :-)

The change reminds me of the things we did to prepare the home for a future family. The most obvious was that we built the house bigger than we needed, to have room for children. We have two extra bedrooms that we weren't really using yet, and one will soon become our nursery. We included a second upstairs bathroom with two sinks and a separate tub, shower and toilet area, for our kids to use (hence the plumbing labels in the mechanical room). When Blake first did the Passive House calculations before we even began the build, he calculated how much energy might be used and required by about four people -- the number that might live in a house this size.

But perhaps equally important to the extra space needs, we wanted to create a healthy environment for our children, even though we didn't have any yet. We wanted the indoor air to not contain a lot of random gases radiating from the materials in the home. This is why we used low-VOC paint on the walls, and things like MDF in the cabinets and closets that is free of urea-formaldehyde, a type of resin that can release toxic vapors. We chose wool carpeting for the upstairs, which is made of natural materials, is very durable and does not release all the same vapors into the air as regular carpet (no new carpet smell). Downstairs, the stain on our wood floors is non-toxic. These features will be great for a new baby crawling around the house.

Additionally, we have better indoor air quality just by having a Passive House, because we control the ventilation of air in and out of the house. The air coming in goes through a filter and only at the place we allow it, which is much better than just having contaminated outside air leak in anywhere throughout the house.

We're really looking forward to raising a family here, and we're also excited and comforted to know that we've built a home that will be healthy and safe for us and our kids.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I love this place

I don't have anything exciting to report this time. I just felt like sharing that I got home from work this evening, after a day of cold temperatures that never climbed out of the 30s, a day where I did not have the heater running at the house, to find that the inside temperature had actually gone up one degree since this morning.

This especially made me feel good after having walked home in a cold wind that made my ears and nose numb.

I love my Passive House. :-)