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Helios NW Eco: A Net Zero Vacation Home

Posted by Suchi Rudra

Sep 12, 2014 6:16:00 PM

WHEN SARAH AND HER HUSBAND (surnames withheld) purchased what is now the Helios Eco-House in Bend, Oregon, the primary goal was to achieve LEED standards. But after doing much research, the biotech and engineer couple discovered that “if you’re willing to go a little further, it’s really painless to go net zero.”

When the couple purchased the 2,145-square-foot house in 2010, construction hadn’t been completed due to the drop in the housing market in 2006. Sarah considered this a unique opportunity.
“It’s one thing to read about green building, and another to immerse yourself in it,” she says. By March 2011, the couple completed construction on the three-bedroom, three-bath house to achieve LEED Gold for Homes (the first in Oregon), and the property began to operate as a short-term vacation rental. The rental income was immediately reinvested into the house, including the installation of the PV array, and by June 2011, Helios Eco-House had achieved net-zero energy.

“It’s the only net-zero property in the area that I know of,” Sarah says.

Powering the home is a 2.59-kW grid-tied photovoltaic solar panel array on the roof. Each solar panel has its own microinverter, which leaves the whole array unaffected if one panel breaks down. “Little decisions like that helped maximize what we’re doing,” Sarah adds.

Typically, the house is able to send back excess energy into the grid on a monthly basis, except for a small dip in January and February, depending on the snowload. But Bend is located in what’s known as a “high desert” climate and enjoys a prime solar environment, with over 300 days of sun a year. A display in the garage and online allows visitors to monitor the performance level of the PV array.
Guests can leave a minimal carbon footprint by walking to local restaurants, cafés and markets and cycling or taking a shuttle bus to nearby attractions. The house also maintains a “mid-century modern” aesthetic, complete with vintage furniture, which allows guests to try out an eco-friendly lifestyle without sacrificing ease or comfort.

“People can stay very comfortably and not have a lot of waste as a result of their stay,” says Sarah. “And other guests come because they are specifically interested in the concept of this house.”

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Topics: net-zero energy, 1600 to 2500 square feet, Green Landscaping, LEED, solar, standing seam metal roof, water conservation, zero-VOC, radiant heating systems, Low-E Window glazing

Energy Smarts

Posted by Green Builder Staff

Sep 4, 2014 2:31:12 PM

JUST OUTSIDE SAVANNAH on an organic farm developed for a new zero-energy lifestyle sits a modular home that produces as much energy as it uses. The home was built in a factory, which reduced resource use, kept costs in check, and expedited the schedule.

The house, dubbed iHouse by Clayton Homes, the company that designed and built it, offers a host of sustainable features, but it was the house’s energy efficiency that attracted Charles Davis, president of The Earth Comfort Company.

He built an iHouse for himself, which also serves as a model home. He handled all the site work and added a geothermal heat pump and 3kW PV panels. 

“I chose the house for its thermal envelope,” Davis explains. “I tell everyone if you start with good, tight envelope then you need less geothermal and solar. I put just enough solar on my house to cover peak usage.” He takes advantage of Georgia Power’s reduced rates for off-peak power use by, for example, charging his Chevy Volt at night for 1 cent per kWH. And he uses an energy monitor connected to his iPhone to monitor the energy use of each appliance in his home. “The most important green product is the energy monitor, which allows you to see the actual wattage by each appliance and number of watts of power produced by the solar panels, and the number of watts sold back to Georgia Power,” Davis says.

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Topics: solar, energy efficiency, electric vehicle charging, home automation, renewable energy, 2011 Green Home of the Year Awards

Energy Efficient for Peace of Mind

Posted by Green Builder Staff

Sep 4, 2014 2:11:03 PM

IT'S NOT ALWAYS easy to build an affordable green home without a glaring compromise or two. But architect Eric Hughes and builder Dan Vos somehow beat the odds.

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Topics: net-zero energy, Bamboo, High-Performance Windows, LEED, SIPs, Indoor Air Quality, ICFs, 1500 square feet or less, passive solar, zero-VOC, 2011 Green Home of the Year Awards

Future Proof: Good Building Science Leads to Net Zero

Posted by Green Builder Staff

Sep 4, 2014 1:46:37 PM

"FROM THE OUTSET we designed this house to maximize south facing roof space,” notes architect Bruce Coldham. “We modeled the site digitally, and look at trees and sun angles. From the get-go full on solar power was the first priority.”

Wright Builders of Northampton, Mass., framed the house with double 2” x 4” walls, a decision influenced by Building America’s years of research on wall efficiency. Coldham says most of the homes his firm designs now—even affordable ones—are framed this way, with either double 4” studs or with 2” x 6” studs that have a layer of rigid foam acting as a thermal break on the home’s exterior.

This house is exceptional by any standards, in part because the team conducted blower door tests at intervals during construction, using a theatrical smoke machine to help pinpoint unwanted air infiltration.
“Buildings are gonna last a long time,” notes Coldham. “But if you build like this you don’t have to try to predict when energy costs will rise.  You’ve already sealed the envelope completely. That way when costs do rise—which is inevitable—these owners will be ready.”
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Topics: net-zero energy, HERS, Building Science, 2011 Green Home of the Year Awards

Multifamily Makeover

Posted by Green Builder Staff

Sep 3, 2014 6:06:55 PM

IN EMERYVILLE'S BUSTLING Triangle neighborhood, a century-old fourplex was lifted off its foundation and moved to a new lot one block away to preserve it from being razed during redevelopment of the old site. It was stripped to its studs and then thoroughly rehabbed to create five apartments for developmentally disabled adults that are affordable, comfortable, and green.

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Topics: multi-family


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