A new community in the Issaquah Highlands developed by a private-public partnership and called zHome, for zero net-energy usage, is finished and the public is invited to see one of the first such developments in the nation.
In the Pacific Northwest, where Birkenstocks and baby slings have never gone out of style, a home that gets most of its energy from the earth and the sun and most of its water from the rain sounds like a green dream come true.
Yet, that’s what’s happening in Issaquah’s showcase planned community, Issaquah Highlands. A public-private partnership is unveiling a 10 town-home project called zHome designed to mitigate all energy use with earth-friendly practices, and widely available as well as cutting-edge technology.
In addition to energy-saving features such as solar panels, the town homes use 70 percent less water than normal. Project designers also paid rigorous attention to environmentally sound practices ranging from building with low-toxicity finishes and recycled materials to installing rainwater storage tanks and charging stations for electric cars.
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The project generally uses widely available technologies and practices, says Brad Liljequist, zHome project manager and Capital Projects Manager for Issaquah, which led the project.
“It’s basically that we brought them together under one roof,” he says.
Project team members — the city of Issaquah, King County Solid Waste Division’s GreenTools program, Puget Sound Energy, Port Blakely Communities, Washington State University, Built Green, plus builders Ichijo USA and Matt Howland — believe the project is the first multifamily community in the nation designed to actually reach zero net energy use, as opposed to just moving in that direction.
“This is the first project of its kind, the only multifamily building that is zero energy in the nation, that we know of, at this moment,” says Cal Shirley, Puget Sound Energy’s vice president for energy-efficient services.
The project is notable for the rigor of the analysis that went into its design and the extent of the earth-friendly tools and practices it uses, says energy specialist Chuck Murray, formerly of Washington State University’s Energy Extension Project. Murray helped zHome document energy usage and predict outcomes of various strategies.
“Many other projects pick and choose specific things they’d like to do,” says Murray, now an energy-efficiency specialist with the state Department of Commerce. “But this project is very comprehensive.”
A wide array of environmentally sound practices was used because the partners envisioned the project not only as homes for sale but as a demonstration project.
For now, one unit is set aside as the Stewardship Center with information available to the public on the project’s practices and technology.
From a distance, the huge, angled solar panels dominate every roofline in the four-building, zHome project, making it stand out from the expanse of dry, open fields on the edge of Issaquah Highlands.
Up close, the project offers parking spaces for small cars next to charging stations for electric ones. And to further discourage private-vehicle use, the project features only one, single-car garage per unit — and they’re located at the back of the complex and fitted with filters to prevent odors and fumes from entering homes.
In each town home, water furnaces and heat pumps recirculate the earth’s heat (pipes are drilled deep into the ground) to warm buildings, and dual-flush toilets and energy-efficient washers run on rainwater stored in a cistern.
Low toxicity building finishes, from caulks to adhesives, plus no use of urea formaldehyde, boost indoor air quality. Most of the wood used in construction has been certified as having been sustainably harvested — and it came from the Northwest.
In this particular corner of suburbia, there are no lush, water-guzzling lawns. Instead, the site is landscaped with drought-tolerant plants as well as native plants — salal, sword fern, huckleberries — that could hardly be more local as the builder moved them from another piece of property several hundred feet away.
The entire project takes up slightly less than a half-acre and sits next door to a YWCA affordable-housing project.
The one-, two- and three-bedroom units are 800 to 1,700 square feet each and are priced from $385,000 to $625,000. In keeping with Issaquah’s effort to discourage driving, the project is located near a park-and-ride facility and close to services — it’s an easy stroll down the street to offices, a wine bar, Ben & Jerry’s, Starbucks.
Liljequist, the zHome project manager, finds the whole concept so attractive that he and his wife are thinking of moving there from their home in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood.
It would fit into his philosophy that new housing like zHome can offer a radically different opportunity to environmentally conscious homeowners.
“People don’t drive Model T’s anymore,” he says, “but they don’t think anything of living in a 1920s house because it’s not that different” from current housing. For someone who wants to decrease his or her impact on the earth, housing “is very low-hanging fruit. To me, buildings — boy, that’s a great area for focus.”