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The House the Experts Built Launches

Posted by Cati O'Keefe

Jul 31, 2019, 2:46:14 PM

Green Builder® Media embarks on its next extraordinary demonstration project: a stunning dream house that doubles as a template for sustainable building that pros and homeowners across the nation can emulate.

Builders and architects design houses of all kinds in this country, but given a chance to create homes for themselves, what do you think they would build?

2019-06-20_back_newOne example is under way right now: the personal home of Meritage Homes Vice President of Innovation C.R. Herro. The house is on a spectacular 20-acre parcel in Enumclaw, Wash., approximately 30 miles southeast of Seattle at the base of Mount Rainier National Park.

The project will unite sustainable design techniques with advanced products, systems and technologies for optimized performance and wellness at a reasonable price point.

Follow Herro’s house build as it progresses from the conceptual idea of recreating the feeling of his grandparents’ home, through the choices made for high performance and design, and culminating with a stunning sustainable net-zero masterpiece, ready for vibrant living in spring 2020.

This show home project—the VISION House® Seattle Cascades—brings together the greatest minds in the building industry to redefine what it means to build green homes in today’s marketplace. The home will serve as a simple, replicable application of innovative design, progressive building science and thoughtful green building, which professionals and homeowners throughout the nation can follow.
Green Builder’s coverage of this show project will highlight the gamut of issues that building professionals and consumers should consider when building in today’s market, including novel design approaches, advanced products, enabling technologies, efficient building systems and renewable energy.

Initial Learnings

The goal of the project is lofty: to redefine sustainability and set a new standard for building green in the current marketplace by blending sustainability, quality, durability, intelligence and wellness with affordability.

To achieve optimal results, Green Builder and Herro gathered some of the greatest minds in the country, including internationally acclaimed sustainable architect Stace McGee and award-winning green builder Ted Clifton, along with the most innovative product manufacturer partners.

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The open kitchen will boast energy-efficient appliances from Whirlpool, high-efficiency windows from Western Window System, and an LED lighting package.

Off-grid, net zero and connected, the VISION House® Seattle Cascades will feature a Panasonic solar system (with storage); a robust Control4 smart home system that will optimize performance and connect all of the lighting, devices and mechanical systems with the solar power system; radiant heating by Uponor; super-efficient windows from Western Windows Systems designed specifically for the Pacific Northwest climate; stone-coated steel roofing from Boral; durable manufactured stone from Cultured Stone; energy management system from Square D; high-performance fireplace glass from Schott; and resource-saving KitchenAid appliances.

The home will be off-grid with respect to water and sewer, as well as energy.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to unplug in the Seattle climate,” says Herro. “Utilizing rainwater harvesting and an atmospheric generator that pulls water out of the air, I’m going to have twice as much water as the typical American home needs.”

For the most part, the process has been engaging, educational and enriching. “I love this project,” says Herro. “I love working with all of the manufacturer partners, experts and incredible minds that we have brought together.”

But, as most projects do, the VISION House® Seattle Cascades project experienced some unexpected setbacks, including lengthy delays in the permitting process. It doesn’t matter who you are in King County—leading production builder or first-time homebuyer—you wait in the queue. But it’s important to talk about these issues and others that may cause delays or added costs, because it is what typical builders and homeowners also face when embarking on a new home project.

Simple Works

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The sleek aesthetic reflects the contemporary style of Pacific Northwest, with clean lines, mixed materials and large windows. The home boasts stunning design details, an open floor plan and innovative materials.

One lesson that unfolded as the project launched is the importance of keeping things simple. “Herro’s initial sketches incorporated simplicity of design and economy of scale, so it was easy to translate them into an excellent example of a modern-day high-performance, healthy home,” says Stace McGee, the project’s architect and founder of Environmental Dynamics, Inc. “However, all of our partners, understandably, wanted to put their best foot forward and showcase their most advanced products. To keep the home at a reasonable price point and create something that is replicable across the country, we had to make hard choices and reduce the bells and whistles.”

This made for some difficult decision making, but was important to keep the project on track—particularly with some of its out-of-the-mainstream precepts.

“Anytime you’re trying to do something different, the usual systems break down in terms of permitting, contractor channels and the like, so you can’t follow a normal process, which effectively doubles the cost and time to manage the learning curve,” laments Herro. “We’re trying to do something progressive and different with this project, and being on the leading edge can be challenging. We want to develop a case study so that other people—including building professionals, homeowners, permitting entities, municipalities, realtors, appraisers and lenders—can feel safe following suit and moving forward with the types of products and systems we’re using. We’re trying to normalize advanced green building and design practices. That has been both a burden and a joy, but I’m grateful for the ability to participate.”

Giving to Get

With its high-performance building envelope systems, efficient mechanical systems, self-optimizing smart technologies and sustainable design features, the VISION House® Seattle Cascades will showcase how an upfront investment in efficiency will yield thousands of dollars in annual operating savings without any sacrifice.

“This is of paramount importance,” says green builder and building science expert Ted Clifton, “because we need to help homeowners understand the true value of their home investment. What is the rate of return in reducing operating costs versus other types of investment? Does an investment in efficiency outperform what you’d get in the stock market?”

In addition to exploring the true value of home investment, Green Builder will also debunk the price per square foot and lowest upfront cost valuation metrics that have been paralyzing the building industry for far too long. “These metrics are no longer valid, and they are wholly insufficient for measuring quality, performance, resilience and environmental impact,” says Green Builder® Media CEO Sara Gutterman.
Stay tuned for frequent updates, articles, and videos on this ground-breaking project on the pages of this magazine, as well as on the project’s website. 

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