Super green on a budget: Couple builds net-zero house for $400K

This just in from the Daily Journal of Commerce.

December 09, 2011

Journal Staff Reporter

When newlyweds Eric Thomas and Alexandra Salmon started searching for a home in Ballard, they never imagined they’d end up building the city’s first net-zero-energy house. But that’s what they did, and they say it cost about the same as it would to buy a townhouse.
They spent $417,000 on the house, but some rebates brought the cost down to $400,000.

The $417,000 includes the cost of the property at $180,000. Thomas said the figure includes everything except plans, revisions to plans and engineering costs, which totaled less than $5,000.

(Editor’s note: This story has been changed to clarify what items are included in the cost.)

Bryan Stevens, a spokesperson for the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, said if there are any other net-zero-energy houses here city officials don’t know about them. A net-zero-energy house creates all the energy it needs on an annual basis.
The Thomas-Salmon house is at 612 N.W. 60th and is open Saturday for tours from 3 to 4 p.m.
The 1,900-square-foot two-story house was completed in September. It has three bedrooms and a work loft, two bathrooms, a concrete slab foundation and radiant heat floors.

Thomas said he and Salmon were renting in Ballard and loved the neighborhood, but couldn’t find a house they liked in their $300,000 to $400,000 price range. Last January, they saw an empty lot for sale and started thinking about building. They decided they wanted their house to be energy efficient and eventually chose to go for net-zero energy.

“There wasn’t a comparable house on the market so we ended up just doing it ourselves,” Thomas said. “I can’t really explain how we made that leap, but it just happened gradually and it seemed to make sense at the time. I’m glad we did it.”
The 1,900-square-foot two-story house was completed in September.
Thomas and Salmon had no experience in construction or development, and Thomas said they didn’t realize what they had gotten into. Salmon is a cancer information specialist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Thomas is a freelance copywriter.
The couple chose stock plans from Zero-Energy Plans, a Whidbey Island design company, and modified them. They hired TC Legend Homes as their contractor. Ted L. Clifton designed the house and his son, Ted W. Clifton, built it.
To cut costs, the couple kept finishes simple. Thomas dealt with the city and pulled all permits himself. He said Seattle’s Priority Green program helped a lot by fast-tracking the permits.
Thomas said some things about his house were new for the city, like building all of it with structurally insulated panels. The house has an air-to-water heat pump, triple-pane windows and a rain garden.
All the house’s power comes from a 6-kilowatt photovoltaic system. Originally, Thomas said he and Salmon were going to wait to buy the $30,000 system, but once they looked at the rebates available they chose to pay for the panels now. The couple will get a 30 percent federal tax credit at the end of the year, equal to about $9,000.
Not only will they have no energy bills, Washington state will pay them $1,000 a year for the next nine years. Thomas said it will take at most seven years to break even on the panels.
The couple also found a Groupon that saved them $2,000 on the installation. “We never could have afforded it if it had just been $30,000, but you can knock $18,000 off that in nine years.”
Thomas said the panels were producing a surplus earlier, but production is lower now because this is the darkest time of the year.
The recession both helped and hurt the project. It took a long time and many bank visits to secure financing, but Thomas said if the economy had been healthy they likely wouldn’t have been able to buy the lot because it would have been sold to a developer for townhouses. No developers were looking to build early this year, so the couple was able to negotiate.
Thomas said he is surprised that he and Salmon have the city’s first net-zero-energy home, but he hopes their experience shows others that very green structures don’t have to be a luxury.
“If we were able to do this with a little creativity and very limited funds, just about anyone can do it,” he said. “We don’t want to be the only (such) house in Seattle. We would love to see 100 other ones surpass us but as far as we know we can’t find any other ones.”

But Thomas said he and Salmon don’t expect to build a house again. They documented their progress on a blog. To learn more or to set up a private tour visit If you plan to attend the open house, please RSVP at

Katie Zemtseff can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.
Copyright ©2011 Seattle Daily Journal and


One thought on “Super green on a budget: Couple builds net-zero house for $400K

  1. Pingback: » Seattle House Is Net Electricity Producer

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