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: