Come behind the scene at zHome to meet the experts
April 19, 2011
By Brad Liljequist
What is zHome?
When it opens this September, zHome — just east of the Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride — will be the first multifamily, production, zero-energy, carbon-neutral community in the United States.
ZHome is a template for what 21st century, carbon-neutral housing looks like. It will use:
Zero net energy by balancing out its carbon emissions during the course of the year.
70 percent less water than a typical home.
Materials that come from some of the greenest sources possible.
Who is behind this project?
The city is spearheading the project. ZHome, however, is also a collaborative effort of several organizations and companies, including Ichijo USA, Built Green, King County, Port Blakely Communities, Puget Sound Energy and the Washington State University Energy Program.
How do our homes impact the environment?
Homes — and buildings in general — account for a large portion of our overall environmental footprint. Many people are surprised to hear that building operations (including heating, lighting and appliances) account for about 40 percent of all CO2 output in the United States. It’s a huge opportunity for addressing climate change and ocean acidification, as well as saving money.
Buildings also use 41 percent of the country’s potable water and 40 percent of all raw materials during construction.
The average American spends more than 90 percent of their time indoors. I think the average person treats buildings as background noise, but in reality they have a huge impact on our world and our lives.
What zHome features have you considered for your own home?
Long term, I would really like to beef up our insulation. We have a 1920s bungalow, and a few years back had insulation blown into the walls. That reduced our heating bill by one-third.
Our next step is to define the air barrier of our home and tighten it up (these are the sorts of things addressed in an energy audit). Eventually, when we need to replace the siding, I’d like to put up exterior insulation (similar to zHome and the city’s Maple Street Fire Station) to significantly improve our home’s thermal barrier.
We are also pursuing a number of “green” techniques during our current kitchen remodel. Along with using wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, we are referring to the Energy Star website to identify the most energy-efficient appliances. We are installing LED lighting and reusing fir floors hidden underneath three layers of sheet flooring. Our old toilet will also be replaced with a WaterSense-certified dual flush toilet.
What has been the most interesting part of your job so far?
The diversity of my job makes it interesting. I work on environmental policy, design, construction management, marketing, education and partnerships — I’m never close to bored! My typical day involves everything under the sun, all aimed at the goal of making zHome (and the soon-to-be completed Maple Street Fire Station) the very best they can be for the city and region.
How will life be different for future zHome residents?
Actually, what’s interesting about zHome is how little will be different. Residents will have a comfortable, simple, beautiful and easy-to-maintain home.
To achieve zero-net energy, zHome residents can rely on several helpful tools. For example, many household appliances continue to draw power even when they aren’t in use. ZHome features a wall switch system that easily turns off certain circuits that connect to these “phantom” electrical loads. The townhomes also include energy monitoring systems that gives residents continuous feedback on their energy use.
Overall, we’re building homes that don’t require a lot of hands-on work. This is actually a large difference between zHome and some of the other highly advanced housing projects around the world.
What are some of the easiest ways to ‘green’ my home?
I would encourage people to have their home audited for energy use. You can find a good auditor through Home Performance Washington. Puget Sound Energy is also offering free HomePrint home energy assessments.
In addition, PSE offers great rebates for a variety of energy-efficient household items, while Cascade Water Alliance provides rebates for water-saving fixtures. King County’s EcoCool Remodel Tool is also a great online resource for various ideas. Plus, check out the zHome website — www.z-home.org — we have a “green your home” page.