In 2007, many urban dwellers in Oregon's metro regions were interested in "green" living, but there were almost zero urban or suburban single family home options. Only one neighborhood in Salem modeled best practices, but on the whole, most options were custom built and affordable to less than 0.5% of the housing market. Several high-rise options meeting LEED platinum standards were available, but hardscapes tend to lack real green - as in plant life.
At the time, homebuyers were becoming aware of eco-friendly housing, but they also wanted a comfortable house that fit their budget. The market for green conscientious buyers in the Portland area looked good, so this initiative asked the question "Can the cost of a Living Home compete with the cost of a conventional home?"
It promised to build a medium density neighborhood of cost-effective, solid-feeling homes that modeled a sustainable Northwest lifestyle measured by the yardstick of the Living Building and Sites Challenge of the Cascadia Region - Green Building Council. It expected to achieve these goals through simple, high quality materials and proven construction methods that integrated social, economic, and environmental values through design.
The initiative showcased 25 affordable two-story single family homes on about five acres. Each home ranged in size from 1,400 to 1,900 square feet and cost between $280,000 to $340,000 with 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths and a 2 car garage. Besides the narrow street and minimalist parking pads, the most visible design feature of the neighborhood was the abundance of solar panels rising above fully vegetated roofs.
The overall site plan organized around the flow of water, respecting the abundance of Northwest rainfall. It's creek and pond landform recharged the watershed by collecting rainwater and delaying runoff in the wet season and supplement irrigation during the dry seasons. It minimized hard surfaces wherever possible and relied on the native vegetation cover to prevent soil loss. Living roofs on homes sponged the rain. Streets of modular porous concrete pavement on deep base rock minimized the need for storm sewers and curbs, leaving more room for other underground utilities and a community geothermal loop.
When viewed from the street, the houses had a solid Craftsman Style look and feel, with inviting porches, unadorned detailing, and simple, low slung roof lines with wide overhangs. They also embodied elements of the West Coast Regionalism style with simple shapes, economical use of space, lots of interior wood, an abundance of natural daylight, and superb natural ventilation.
The home's open and airy floor plan had a living room focus, few hallways, and lots of windows. Stained glass windows provided a special touch, while beamed ceilings, hardwood floors, American Clay wall finishes, and built-in hardwood woodwork added a feeling of coziness.
The site and homes were designed to meet the stringent criteria of the Cascadia Green Building Council's Living Building and Sites Challenge. House designs exceeded Earth Advantage® platinum certification and satisfied the State of Oregon's Energy Star® net-zero energy goals. These sustainability certifications aimed to create well-being in place and people through shared values in excellent indoor air quality, water, abundant daylight, sound absorbing acoustics, natural ventilation, community gardens and orchards, natural habitat areas, and walking trails.
Houses and outdoor spaces faced the sun rather than the street for maximum solar gain and warmth in winter. Upper roofs were covered entirely with solar panels pitched at the best angles for energy gain for the Northwest.
With solar electricity, solar hot water, passive solar design, floor heating, highly insulated walls, low-E windows, high efficiency appliances, smart meters, and on-site power storage, the house could meet its own yearly energy needs. This “Net Zero” energy goal meant no monthly energy bills for the life of the house. With this promise of free electricity for life, homeowners could enjoy watching their electricity meters run backwards during the day.
With quality workmanship, durable materials, and desirable features always in style, the homes invited families to settle in one place and grow roots or treat their investment as a heirloom that could be passed from one generation to another. Warranties for major assets like roofing, windows, siding, and heating typically lasting for 50yrs and beyond. This made the homes a good investment that could appreciate over time like an old neighborhood street with large trees.
Homeowner health goals were achieved in numerous ways. Stair wells rose above rooflines to support a natural air flow stack for summer air circulation, and windows are placed for abundant daylight. Floor heating and cooling eliminated respiratory issues associated with central heating and cooling ventilation, while reducing dust. Wool carpets reduced allergies. No VOC paints and building materials eliminated airborne pollution. Abundant daylight in winter months reduced depression. Air filtration and central vacuum systems removed dander and pollen. Water purification systems tied into onsite well. Quietness in design and structure calmed the nerve. Shared structured community space created opportunities for growing fresh vegetables and fruits. Community path encouraged walking.
Solar panels and living roofs protected the homes from most external fire hazards and lowered fire insurance rates. Street lighting placement, usable porches, and window placement in homes encouraged 24/7 observation of street and community spaces. Each home came equipped with a built-in fireproof safe and was pre-wired for home security system.
Gardens, fruit orchards, habitat areas, and walking trails around the site latticed opportunities for neighbors to grow as a community together through chance meetings over shared values interests in the health, plants, fresh food, gleaning, and wildlife. The reduced lot size gave land back to the natural areas surrounding houses for native habitat.
Flat roofs on houses and guest parking shelters were covered with a patented invisible-modular pre-vegetated living roof system called LiveRoof, made up of neat, trim, and colorful sedums in a thin gravel substrate that did not require green thumbs to maintain.
This real estate development package for 21 net zero energy, water, and waste single family homes on a five acre rock and clay soil site in the Pacific Northwest penciled out financially, but it was not built. It hit the market right at the beginning of the Great Recession, just as consumer demand and business loans vaporized.
Product architect/developer from research through conceptual design, modeling, and budgeting.