Green home aims to be one of a kind

Developer hopes Salmon Creek house will be area's first 'net zero' residence

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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photoUrban NW Homes founder and owner Troy Johns stands outside a Salmon Creek-area house that aims to be the area's first "net zero" home. The structure is designed to produce more energy than it consumes over time, and will have Emerald designation under the National Green Building Standard.

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photoThe house under construction at 15001 N.W. 25th Ave. will be among the first "net zero" homes on the West Coast, according to developer Urban NW Homes. The home is expected to be completed early next year, incorporating many elements of an environment-friendly and energy-efficient design.

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The home is far from finished, but Troy Johns is happy to show it off early. Actually, that's the point.

Johns' Urban NW Homes is building a Salmon Creek-area home that hopes to set the latest local standard of energy-efficient design. And he's shooting for a higher bar than any other project here has reached.

In addition to being an Emerald structure -- a formal designation under the National Green Building Standard -- the house also aims to be one of the first "net zero" homes on the West Coast, Johns said. The idea is to make a home that sustainably supplies its own energy needs, with the help of 29 solar panels and a dizzying array of other features.

"It's basically a rocket ship," Johns said. "It's just built so well, there's nothing else built like it."

The home isn't the first in the county to include ambitious energy-efficient elements in its design. Clark County recently broke ground on its own Emerald house in Hazel Dell. Other local developers have incorporated green features into their projects for years. Urban NW's design aims to take the concept to the next level.

"Net zero" status doesn't mean the home will be disconnected from the local grid, Johns said. Its residents would likely pay a utility bill some months of the year, but get a check for selling power back into the grid during other months. The goal: a net cost of zero, or better.

That's a difficult mark to reach, particularly in a Northwest climate, but energy-efficiency and sustainability are important ideals to strive for, said local builder Jon Girod. The result creates environmental benefits and big financial savings for the resident, said Girod, who owns green-focused developer Quail Homes.

The challenge: Many developers have to let go of familiar standard practices to make it happen, he said.

"It's a learning curve," Girod said. "There's a recipe, and it's hard to change it."

Urban NW's Emerald home, on Northwest 25th Avenue, includes a long list of environment-friendly features. Triple-pane windows, specialized insulation and staggered stud framing are designed to maximize natural temperature control and light. A state-of-the-art water system waters the lawn -- or not -- based on weather information collected from a sensor in the backyard. Out front, native hazelnut shells accent the yard instead of bark dust. Natural swales collect water running off the driveway. And those are only a few of the home's green elements, Johns said.

Johns expects the four-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom home to be listed on the market at $415,000. Time will tell how potential buyers respond, but he believes the market will support — even demand — a continued move toward energy-efficiency in the future. If developers are expected to deliver, he said, "we'd better know how to do it."

"We're going to move forward with it no matter what," Johns said. "This is the future."

Of course, plenty of people still have misgivings about green-minded homes, perhaps associating those features with high-end excess. The Clark County project in Hazel Dell will become the home of a local low-income family, matched through Evergreen Habitat for Humanity. Having real-life examples in the area helps break some misconceptions residents might hold, Johns said.

"They think a green house is weird. They think a green house is really expensive," Johns said. "Neither of those is true."

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.