While we wait for our final approval from the bank, which is taking FOREVER, here are some of the top features that will make our house use less energy and have a smaller eco-footprint.
- SIPs Panels–Our house will be built out of structural insulated panels, which are manufactured and cut to shape in a factory, and then assembled on our lot. These panels have a super-high R value and make it possible to make the house virtually airtight.
- Air-to-Water Heat Pump–The hot water for our radiant floors and taps is generated with a Unichiller heat pump that was actually designed for industrial refrigeration. As far as we know, we’ll be one of the first houses to be using this innovative design, which uses about 2/3 less electricity to heat the water to the temperature we need than a conventional electric boiler.
- Solar Panels–The PV array on our roof will have the capacity to produce nearly 6,000 watts of electricity. This is enough for all our heating, cooking, lighting, and other electric needs. We’ll be able to monitor each panel’s production from the internet or a smart phone.
- Triple-Pane Windows–We’ll be installing windows from Vinyltek with three panes of glass with an inert gas inside. These high-performing windows have vinyl frames, so they’re a lot cheaper than many wood-framed (and much less efficient) double-pane windows.
- Passive Solar Gain–Getting plenty of sunlight has always been a top priority for us (especially for Alex who grew up in New Mexico), so we only considered south-facing lots. We also had the architect add more glass on the front of the house. We’ll not only have lots of daylight streaming in, but the sun will heat up the concrete floors, which hold the heat into the night.
- Rain Garden–All the runoff from our roof will flow through a pipe into a rain garden in our backyard. This shallow trench is planted with a variety of native species, such as dogwood, that will suck up some of the water, and the rest will filter slowly through layers of gravel into the ground. This keeps water and dirt from running into the street and on into the Puget Sound.
- Stained Concrete Floors–Our house will be built on a concrete slab rather than a basement. This makes for less space to heat and eliminates that moldy basement smell found in so many Seattle houses. It also saves on flooring materials: we just stain and polish the slab for a beautiful, durable floor.
- Reclaimed Materials–We’re going to incorporate cast-iron tubs that were taken from other houses. We also plan on using recycled hardwood flooring upstairs or use the “throwaway” pieces that were left over from new palettes of flooring.
- No-VOC Paint–All our exterior and interior paint will emit no volatile organic compounds (you know, that headache-inducing new paint smell). These new paints are easy to use, last just as long as traditional paints, and only cost a tiny bit more.
- Minimalist Engineering–The engineer on the project has developed computer software that helps calculate the minimal amount of materials needed to acheive the structural integrity the house needs. Most houses are overbuilt with headers that are too thick, studs that are too close together, and generally too much wood.