IT WAS ALL those 1990s town homes that seemed to go up overnight. The ones packed as tight as a box of Oreos. Puzzle pieces for parking garages.
“Really?” thought Sloan Ritchie.
At the time, he was a burned-out engineer in need of inspiration. (His girlfriend and now wife, Jennifer Karkar Ritchie, urged him onward. “I said, ‘Quit. Do what you love. I did the corporate thing. It was soulless,’ ” she says.)
And, “inspired by all the low-quality houses,” he did.
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Long story short, today we’re sitting in the result of Sloan’s professional reinvention as a developer and contractor — his family’s bright, spacious home in Madison Park. A thoroughly modern house that heats and cools using no conventional furnace or air-conditioning, by its very definition a “passive house.” A place, 2,710 square feet, that they heated last winter using the clothes dryer.
In a move that’s one part science project and one part five-year family plan (the couple have two young children), Sloan has built Seattle’s first certified passive house. It sits close to the water, a tall contemporary among homes stately and old. The groundbreaking project, so to speak, was a joint effort between his Cascade Built and NK Architects, Marie Ljubojevic lead designer.
“Some of the things I like most about it have nothing to do with a passive house,” he says. “I love being near the water. I stand-up paddleboard; when you do that there’s no cellphone.
“But when winter rolls around I love not using a furnace.”
The Ritchies’ home has many sustainable features: an ash tree on the property has been remade into stair treads, wall paneling and window sills; paint is no-VOC; floors are bamboo; the fireplace is bioethanol; cooktop is induction; native drought-tolerant plantings instead of thirsty lawn; composite exterior decking; wiring for solar power and plumbing for thermal water.
But that does not make for a passive house. A passive house is about performance. “Passive house is mostly about heating and cooling,” Sloan says. “It’s not about recycled counter tops. It doesn’t care about that.”
It does, however, care about a home that is airtight and well-insulated (the Ritchies have 16 inches of dense-pack, blown-in fiberglass). The average temperature inside is 70 degrees. In summer it is held there by opening and closing the Intus high-performance windows and doors. In winter a heat-recovery ventilator snatches warmth from the air before it is exchanged for fresh. LED lights, a ventless dryer and appliances beyond energy-Star ratings further boost performance.
“When it’s cold in the morning I strategically run the dryer,” Jennifer says. “I wash clothes at night and dry them in the morning. That heats up the whole house.”
Overall, the Ritchies figure their four-bedroom, three-bath home, which they call Park Passive, uses 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than other homes. And, thus, it has been certified as passive by the Passive House Academy and authorized by the Passivhaus Institut, which sets international standards.
The project had its challenges. The site previously held what once was an old beach cabin on a wide, short lot that needed a “code junkie” to unravel. And “the trades didn’t know anything about air sealing,” Sloan says. “But they will know. Next year they’ll say, ‘Oh, this is another one of those passive deals.’ ”
Sloan worked hard to make sure his house was airtight and well-padded. But he is most eager to show off a place where the winds blow freely. The large rooftop deck. A place of substantial garden planters, big hot tub and Lake Washington fully exposed.
“This is my favorite room in the house.”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.