Construction starts on zero-energy homes

April 6, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Workers have started construction in the Issaquah Highlands on zHome, a townhouse development designed to produce as much energy as the units consume. Contributed

Construction has started on zHome — the long-planned, eco-friendly townhouse development launched with fanfare in late 2008 and then hindered by the recession.

Plans call for 10 townhouses designed to produce as much electricity as the units consume. Despite the attention the pioneering project received at the outset, progress lagged until a Japanese homebuilder indicated interest in zHome.

The buildings will rise near the Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride and the construction site of another high-profile highlands project, YWCA Family Village at Issaquah. Officials expect zHome to be completed by next spring.

“Starting construction on zHome is the next step in bringing zero-energy housing to the Northwest,” project manager Brad Liljequist said in a news release. “When zHome opens next spring, we will be poised to influence the next wave of residential construction in the region and beyond.”

Before work started April 6, officials touted the “green” credentials of the latest addition to the highlands. The development should use 60 percent less water than conventional residences. Workers will use only low-toxicity materials to construct the development.

The ambitious project will be built from a high percentage of salvaged, reclaimed and local materials, and be powered by rooftop solar panels. Even 90 percent of construction debris will be diverted for reuse, recycling and waste prevention.

Inside, recycled rainwater and efficient fixtures will slash water consumption. Outside, rain gardens and permeable pavement will reduce the impact of zHome on the environment.

Some of the work passers-by will notice in the initial weeks of construction will be workers digging wells to pump heat from the earth for ground-source heat pumps.

The city spearheaded the development of zHome. Howland Development Issaquah — a joint venture of Shoreline developer Howland Homes and Ichijo USA, a subsidiary of Japanese homebuilder Ichijo Co. — will build the townhouses. Ichijo USA will finance the project.

Pan-Pacific partnership

Officials praised the partnership because Ichijo Co. also builds energy-efficient residences in Japan. Overall, the company constructed about 8,000 homes with sales of $2.1 billion last year.

Mayor Ava Frisinger said the international character of the zHome effort helped direct attention to the issue of global climate change.

“We are thrilled to add a builder of international caliber in Ichijo USA to our zHome team,” she said in the release. “It’s fitting that zHome has evolved into a joint effort that spans the Pacific. By sharing our different skills, technologies and cultures, we can find tangible solutions for a worldwide problem: climate change.”

Officials promised the result would exceed the top certification requirements from Built Green, a nonprofit building program affiliated with the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, and based in Bellevue.

Built Green Executive Director Aaron Adelstein said the construction of zHome represented a crucial moment for eco-friendly development.

“The lessons that we learn from building it can inform building practices throughout the region,” he said.

Other zHome partners include highlands developer Port Blakely Communities, Puget Sound Energy and the Washington State University Extension Energy Program. The city and Port Blakely had worked to donate the land — about a half-acre — for zHome. Adelstein said few “green” developments attract the same scale of support.

“It takes a pretty special project in order to bring that partnership together,” he added.

Sheila Riggs, a division manager with the WSU energy program, said university experts provides unbiased technical support for the zHome project, like they have for other zero-energy projects throughout the state.

Eco education

Frisinger and other city and King County officials — as well as a bevy of development partners — met for the zHome groundbreaking ceremony 18 months ago. Dignitaries gathered at the building site Sept. 29, 2008 — the same day the Dow Jones industrial average sunk 777 points. The squeeze on credit markets in the subsequent months derailed financing for the project.

Matt Howland, owner of Howland Homes and a managing partner in the joint development venture, said the efforts to find a lender “were going nowhere” amid the housing slump, until Ichijo Co. executives approached the company several months ago and asked for information about zHome.

Workers will build units in 900-, 1,300- and 1,700-square-foot floor plans. After construction wraps next spring, zHome will open for public tours for three months before the developer sells nine of the homes. The other residence will be used as a demonstration unit for five years and someday offered as affordable housing.

Ren Anderson, manager for the residential buildings research group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., said zero-energy residential projects remain outside of the mainstream — for now. If the zero-energy trend proves successful, the cost for materials should decline as builders construct more residences like zHome.

Part of the construction process includes education and outreach. The development partners plan to offer on-site classes during construction, and videotape the building process to be used for training throughout the construction industry.

Howland said the education aspect extends beyond homebuilders to people in search of innovative home-improvement ideas.

“You can walk away with something to improve” the scope of any project, he said.

The development “will serve as an inspirational demonstration project for sustainable building practices that go far beyond the average ‘green’ home, but are replicable and affordable,” Liljequist said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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Learn more about zHome at the project Web site.
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Comments

6 Responses to “Construction starts on zero-energy homes”

  1. Jay on April 7th, 2010 10:50 am

    It should be noted these are not ‘zero energy’ homes, but zero *NET* energy homes.

    They produce more energy than they use in the summer with solar panels, but consume more than they produce in the winter when heating (the higher insulation levels and GSHP *do* substantially reduce this use over a conventional home) with the plan of ‘netting out’ over the course of a year.

    Why is this important? The eventual outcome of this will not be no energy bill, but likely a flat ‘availability’ charge close to your present electrical bill for taking the excess when you don’t need it and providing the extra when needed.

    Not saying they aren’t good or worthwhile, but they are also not a panecea.

  2. Industrial Coatings on April 7th, 2010 3:54 pm

    I really like this concept. Zero energy is a great thing for the environment. Good luck with the project.

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