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. :-)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A new Passive House book

I realized that I never shared some great news from this past fall, which is that our home is one of 10 featured in a new book called "Recreating the American Home: The Passive House Approach." The book features Passive Houses from across the country, and it's interesting to see the details of each project and how they differ depending on their location and climate. The book is available through Low Carbon Productions.

The author later did a follow-up interview with me about what it's been like living in the Passive House. She recently posted the interview on her blog: www.lowcarbonproductions.com/2011/02/interview-sarah-evans-passive-house-owner-salem-oregon.

I would like to clarify something I said in the blog interview. We never turn off our ventilator, ever. What we did at night during the summer was turn off the heat recovery portion. So instead of recovering heat from our inside air before sending it to the outside, we let it ventilate out and let the cooler outside air ventilate in, without any heat exchange.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Winter chills bring (slightly) higher bills

Sarah mentioned yesterday that we have had to run our heater, and we aren't getting nearly as much free hot water from the solar water heater. This has driven up our energy usage a bit. As you can see in the following chart from Portland General Electric, before winter we were averaging around 14 kWh per day.  Virtually all of that energy was for non-heating and -cooling needs (TiVo, computers, stove, lights, etc).

Note that the months in this chart are for the period ending that month.  So the January numbers are for mid-December to mid-January.  Our energy usage clearly spiked as the temperature dropped, but on the whole it's not a huge increase.  During this time last year at the old house, we used 31 kWh per day plus $154.56 in natural gas for the furnace (which was unusually high).  During a one-year period we spent $1,620.76 on energy (electricity + gas) at the old house.  We are on track to save about $950 per year in our Passive House.  And all of this while being more comfortable than we ever were in the old house.  No more cold drafts, no more chilly corners, no more icy floors.

Every home is different, so don't expect these numbers to reflect every Passive House project.  But we are thrilled with the results we have seen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Passive House in winter

So we took a very long break from the blog, as we have had a very busy last few months. However, I know many people have been wondering how our house is performing during winter, so this is the first of two posts addressing that. I plan to talk about some of the day-to-day living in the house, and Stuart will follow with actual energy data.

Based on how much internal heat we generated during the summer, we anticipated that we would rarely have to use the heater during the winter (if at all). It turned out that we have needed our heater, although much less than we would have in a non-Passive House.

The picture above was taken Nov. 23 -- the day we received our first snow of the season, and also the first time we had to turn on the heater. The fact that we made it almost until Thanksgiving without using our heater once is amazing to me. On this day, we got a light dusting of snow and temperatures around freezing. The cold temperatures continued to stick around off and on throughout most of December. Also, as is typical in the Pacific Northwest winter, it was cloudy almost every day.

Our biggest lesson from this experience was that we did not realize just how much we had relied on solar gain during the summer and fall. During December, we opened our curtains all day to let in sunlight, but there wasn't much sunlight out there, so our house did not warm up much during the day (neither did our solar hot water heater, meaning the electric heating element kicked in). With the continually cold temperatures, it meant that our house would lose a few degrees inside overnight, and wouldn't warm back up during the day. As a result, whenever we would get home from work after 5 p.m., we would need to turn on the heater to warm the place back up a bit.

The very positive news, however, was that we would only turn on the heat between one and four hours a day -- sometimes a bit longer on a weekend when we were at home -- and that was sufficient. This even held true as the temperatures outside stayed in the 30s and 40s. The inside temperature was around the mid-60s -- slightly colder than the levels we had kept during the fall -- but still quite comfortable. In our old home, we had to run the heater constantly and were never warm.

Another interesting test came for us over New Year's. We left town for the holiday and were gone three and a half days. We left the heater off while we were gone. I'm told that temperatures in Salem while we were away were still quite cold, enough for a very light snow (although it didn't stick). When we got back after the holiday, the temperature inside the house was about 55. So after several days with no people inside and no heat on, and freezing temperatures outside, the internal temperature had dropped about 10 degrees. I think that's not bad at all!

As I said, Stuart will follow up with some actual numbers about our energy use. It went up a bit during December and January because of using the heat, but is still very low compared to what we used in our old home. Overall, we're quite excited about how our house has performed during winter.