Sunday, November 7, 2010

National Passive House Institute Tour

This weekend, the Passive House Institute U.S. held its annual conference in Portland. They typically hold the national conference in Illinois, where the institute is based, but this year they decided to have it in Portland because so many projects have cropped up in the Northwest. The conference is attended by Passive House consultants and other builders and architects interested in Passive House design, and they come from all over the U.S. (from 40 different states this year) as well as other countries.

Blake made a presentation about our house at the conference, and I'm told it went very well. The conference also included a tour of local Passive House projects, and we were part of the tour. We were told that about 110 people signed up for the tour, and that they would be coming to our house this afternoon in two separate groups.

So I knew there would be a lot of people coming. But I was still surprised when the first group showed up out front in this GIANT charter bus, plus a second smaller shuttle behind it:

About 70 people stepped off these first buses, all of whom were very knowledgeable about Passive House technologies and were eager to learn more about how our project was done and what we had learned from living in a Passive House. It was exciting to see so much interest in our project, and quite different from the other large tours we had done because these guests already knew a lot of the background about how Passive Houses work. Many of them also are regular readers of our blog.

And this was only the first group. As their charter bus was pulling away, a second charter bus came up behind it. The second group was a bit smaller, which made it easier for us to give tours and answer questions.

I was amazed at how diverse the groups were. I mentioned that they came from all over the U.S., but also from other countries -- I met people who are living in Toronto and in Paris, for example. I was really glad to see that so many people are working to spread the Passive House movement, and it gave me hope that the concept will become more popular. We also enjoyed telling them our story, and I think they appreciated hearing from homeowners about how the Passive House actually works on a day-to-day basis.

Thanks so much to the Passive House Institute U.S. for inviting us to be a part of the tour.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It's working!

Since Oregon has a milder climate, the primary energy needs when it comes to heating and cooling our home surround heating during all the long months of cloudy skies, rain, and cold nights. So we were excited to see how our house performed when fall rolled in this month, with temperatures dipping into the mid to upper 30s overnight every day for about a week.

In our old house, this would have made us groan, because the heater would have kicked on, yet we still would have walked around with sweaters, jackets and blankets. In our Passive House, it was a different story.

This picture shows the thermometer we keep inside the house. The top number is the inside temperature. That is approximately the temperature it stayed in the house all week, even with those very cold nights. And we never turned on our heater -- not once! In other words, Passive House is really working! Not only did we not have to use our heat at all, the house stayed a very comfortable temperature that is much warmer than we ever had at the old house. In fact, several times we had to open our windows for awhile in the evenings to cool things down a bit after we did laundry or cooked dinner.

I'm quite amazed with how great things are working, and also excited to continue to monitor what happens when winter hits.

In other news, we added some more plants to the yard over the weekend, including salal, which is a native bush, two more vine maples, and more snowberry and ferns. We also added four blueberry bushes, which was one of the edible plants at the top of my list.

Also, there is a really great blog post on Small Planet Workshop written about our house by Linda Whaley, who visited us back in September. She is a certified Passive House consultant, and she was touring Passive House projects on the West Coast. She was quite taken by Pippen, as you'll see in her blog entry.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall planting

We finally turned our attention today to the unfinished part of our new house: the yard. We chose not to plant things when we first moved in because it was during the hot summer, and the plants would have died unless we spent a lot of time watering them (which wastes water and money). Instead, we waited until now, when fall is here, the weather has cooled and we're getting more natural rain.

Our goal is to avoid planting lawn in the front yard, and only plant things that a) edible (vegetables and fruit) or b) native to Oregon, meaning they will grow easily in this climate with little maintenance or added water. We bought a huge number of Oregon natives from Minto Island Growers, a really awesome local organic food farm that also sells native plants.

Our landscaper, Coleman, from Cascade Landscape Management helped us decide what plants to pick and then helped us place them around the yard. Then we did the manual labor of planting them all. What you'll see in these photos is a mix of Oregon grape, sword ferns, coastal strawberry, dogwood, red flowering currant, snowberry, and a few vine maple trees. Right now, they look skimpy, but once they grow and fill in, we'll have a yard that mimics the woodland you see around Oregon. That's the hope, anyway.

We plan to get a few more vine maple trees and ferns for the front yard. We also have a spot set aside for a small vegetable garden, which we will surround with a few blueberry and huckleberry bushes.

In the backyard, we planted lawn for the dog and for our eventual family to play on. We chose a low-maintenance alternative lawn called Rough & Ready from a Portland company, Hobbs & Hopkins. It's a mix of dwarf grass and clover that's supposed to require little mowing or water. The seeds have already sprouted, which looks really cool.

Here's Stuart watering some of the Oregon grape plants we placed in the backyard. In the corner, you can see our black composter -- we started composting for the first time a few months ago. We really don't know what we're doing, but we're giving it a shot (with advice and help from friends and manuals). It's nice to have a place to reuse all our food waste.

Our back patio is made from chunks of concrete that we had to tear up in the front when we poured a new sidewalk. We're trying to grow some low mint and creeping thyme plants in the cracks between the concrete pieces.

I never shared a finished photo of our driveway in the front. As you may remember, we went with parking strips instead of a full driveway, which helps make the area more permeable and decreases the amount of water runoff. We poured some nice river rock between the strips.

Finally, we took another big step toward greener living this past week: we sold our second car. Here's where it used to sit:

Since we both work close to home, we typically bike or walk to work (unless the weather is super rainy). We also live near downtown, where we spend most of our free time. We found that we were rarely using our second car, so we decided to sell it. It'll be nice to not have to pay for the extra insurance, but I also like that it's a step toward making ourselves less reliant on automobiles and gas. We can always get another car later if we feel we need one when we have kids, but for now, this works well for us!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What a weekend

The Salem Green + Solar Tour was a huge success. I couldn't keep count of how many people came to our house on Saturday, but we're guessing it was at least 200! I remember looking around the room as the tour began and seeing at least 50 people, and we kept getting a steady stream all day. It was sometimes overwhelming, but we were happy to see so many people interested in green building and our project.

We answered a lot of questions about Passive Houses and shared info about the various aspects of our build process. Many people seemed very curious about the Passive House concept, and they asked some great questions. Thanks to all of you who visited! We appreciated your interest.

Part of the turnout was thanks to a really great article our local paper, the Statesman Journal, did about our house. It was a very nice story that talked about what Passive Houses are and how our project developed. Here's a link:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Salem Green + Solar Tour Advertisement

Check out this Green Home Tour ad that features our house:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Passive House in the news

The New York Times had a big feature article on Passive Houses this weekend, along with an informative video about a project in Vermont. The article has brought a lot of great attention to the Passive House movement and apparently generated some buzz in the media. You can read it here:

The reason I know it's gotten attention is that it prompted Sustainable Business Oregon, a blog that's run by the Portland Business Journal, to call us today for an article on the growing popularity of the Passive House concept in Oregon. They posted an article today that featured our house:

I love the video and the informational graphic with the New York Times article -- they really help provide a clear picture of how Passive Houses work. They also mention that there are only about 13 Passive Houses in the country, and we're one of them! Here's a list on the Passive House Institute US website, if you're curious:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Salem Green + Solar Tour

We are very excited to announce that we will be participating for the second year in the Salem Green + Solar Tour on Saturday, Oct. 2.

If you went on the tour last year, you'll recall that we were there with just the frame of our house, since it wasn't completed yet! This will be your chance to see how the project turned out.

Learn more about the tour on the Solar Oregon website. The tour is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and begins at the Pringle Creek Community in Salem. There is a presentation at Pringle Creek at 9 a.m. by architect Nathan Good, who helped us in the initial stages of our project. The cost of the tour is $10 per car, or free for bicyclists.

The tour organizers sent us the photo we contributed last year for the event program. It is fun to remember the project at the framing stage!

And here's our lovely home today:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Blake the Builder

Several weeks before we moved into our new house, a video crew from Serious Materials, the company who made our windows, visited to interview Blake. They wanted to make a video for their website about our project, which uses their products. They have finally posted their interview with Blake the Builder on their blog:

Last week, a representative from Energy Star visited to do a quality assurance blower door test -- and also to check out our project, because he was interested in seeing it. We didn't get to witness our previous blower door test, so it was interesting watching it happen. He was impressed and said that he thought our house was very well-constructed and would perform very well energy-wise. It was nice to hear more external validation of our builders' good work!

 We've been staying comfortable in our house this summer, only turning on the A/C when we have a lot of visitors over, like we did for our housewarming party recently. At night we open several windows to let in the cool night air, and we turn off the Energy Recovery Ventilator so that it is not retaining our warm air as it ventilates, instead letting more of the cool outside air come in. Then in the morning, we close the windows back up, shut the blinds and curtains, and the house stays a nice temperature during the heat of the day. It's been working out well, and we're saving a lot of energy by not constantly running our A/C.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


We have received our Passive House certification!  Thanks so much to our builders, Blake and Larry Bilyeu, for all their hard work throughout this entire project.  We are officially the first new construction Passive House on the US West Coast.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Energy usage

We have received two power bills constituting a little less than two months of electricity service at the new house.

We have averaged a tiny bit less than 14 kWh per day.  By way of comparison, the average American house uses about 30 kWh per day, according to the Department of Energy.

Except for a few days last week, the weather since we've moved into the house has been very temperate, so we weren't expecting a huge bill.  Still, it's nice to see such a low bill, especially considering that electricity is our only energy source - we don't use natural gas or heating oil.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

20 under 40

Our local paper, the Statesman Journal, is creating a list of 20 awesome people under 40 years of age.  And our own builder Blake Bilyeu has been nominated!  Go Blake!  We're rooting for you.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Our first certification

I've been out of town for the past few weeks, but I got back to find this lovely certificate waiting for me:

Our house earned a Platinum certification from Earth Advantage, their highest level of certification for homes using sustainable building practices. Earth Advantage recognizes homes that meet high standards for energy efficiency, healthy indoor air, resource efficiency, environmental responsibility and water efficiency and conservation. We're excited to earn this certification! You can read more about their standards here:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

With all the furnishings

We've spent the past few weeks unpacking and hanging all our curtains, pictures, shelves, etc. as well as putting together a few IKEA things we're adding to the new house. So finally, I have a few photos to share.

Welcome to our new house...

Our numbers, mailbox and porch light look very nice:

Here are the wonderful under-the-stairs bookshelves, now full of books:

The living room:

Dining room:

Kitchen, with the awesome black subway tile now complete:

The office:

Stuart's side:

My side:

My craft desk:

The mud room, which is Pippen's domain during the day:

Our awesome garage storage shelves from IKEA:

Moving upstairs, here's the hallway:

This is the guest bedroom. Pippen kind of thinks it's his, so you might have to fight him for it when you visit:

Guest bathroom:

We quickly filled up our amazing master bedroom closet:

Master bathroom:

Master bedroom, which includes my writing desk:

That's all for now. Some great things have been happening outside the house as well. I'll get some more photos and share them soon.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Our awesome dog door

Some people have asked where we managed to get an airtight dog door.  After Blake and Stuart did some searching, Blake found an awesome door at  Our blower-door (air-tightness) tests have included this pet door in the mud room door to the back yard.  And it works!  Our final test measured an extremely tight 0.20 ACH50 for the entire house (using the Passive House volume calculation).

Here is a video of the door during one of the blower-door tests.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

We're in!

So we disappeared from the blog for awhile, and I must apologize for that. We've been so busy moving in, getting settled and other things. But the most important news to share is that we're now living in our awesome Passive House! I don't have many photos yet, but I will take some soon and share them here.

Our first night here was May 23, and over Memorial Day weekend we moved over most of the rest of our stuff. So far, my main thoughts on living here are 1) It's not cold, and 2) It's quiet.

Since moving in, we only turned on the heat once briefly, and everything has remained a nice even temperature. Despite the cool, rainy weather of the past few days, we've remained comfortable. I love it! We've also found that we don't really need our comforter on our bed at night, because using it actually makes us too hot.

With our super thick and well-insulated walls, doors and windows, it's been pretty quiet. I can still hear the trains running a few blocks away, but it's not nearly as loud as at my old house. It's also nice because Pippen doesn't run outside to bark at every little noise he hears. He spends a lot more time relaxing in his favorite chair. He also had no problems figuring out how to use his air-tight doggie door.

We've been using an energy tracking device to watch how much energy we're using, so we should have some interesting data on that later. What's been interesting to me is that because I know this house is very energy efficient, and because we're even tracking our use, I've found myself feeling like I should use less energy. I'm even more vigilant about turning off lights than before!

I'll have more to talk about later, but for now, I'll share the one photo we do have. This is evidence of how Abby has taken to the new house:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Starting to move in

The house is really close to being ready, but we're still waiting on a yard fence before we can officially move in. However, we've already been carrying over a few boxes of things every time we visit, and we've also started putting together some new furniture we purchased at IKEA.

We're planning to move in more small things over the weekend, and then finish moving all the big stuff next weekend.

This past week, we got all our final inspections, and we passed everything! That means we're officially allowed to live there. Thank goodness. :-)

Also, we got a brief mention this past week in an article on Passive Houses in the Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce:

Here are a few photos of what's happened in the past week. One of the coolest things outside is that we finally got our porch railing. It was the final detail on the outside of the house, and it looks great! It's very sturdy and low enough to sit on as well.

Inside, we have our new dining table and chairs from IKEA. The new table will seat six as-is, and has extra leaves to seat up to 10 people. I'm looking forward to having more friends over for dinner.

And at the bar, we have three new stools.

I've started sneaking some books into our built-in shelves under the stairs.

For the mud room, we found a nice shelf that also works as a bench. We added clear drawers that allow us to store things, but keep Pippen away from our stuff. He has a tendency to eat shoes if they're out in the open...

Upstairs, I have a new writing desk in our master bedroom.

In the bathrooms upstairs, we got our full-size mirrors, the sliding glass shower door was installed in the master bedroom, and a white subway tile backsplash was installed above the sinks.