Seattle’s Dwell Development: Interview with a Pioneer in Sustainable Home Building

 A new generation of homeowners around the country is demanding that homes be healthier, more energy efficient, durable and resilient. In response to these demands, thousands of building contractors around the country are rushing to learn the essential elements of sustainable construction in order to meet the public mandate for more sustainable homes.

Finding a builder with years of experience and knowledge in the sustainable construction industry, however, can be a challenge. While Rise does not play favorites, we are impressed by one early adopter: Dwell Development.

Located in Seattle, Washington, Dwell Development has been in the sustainable construction industry since 2005. Winner of the 2018 Sustainability Leadership in the Built Environment Award from “Sustainable Seattle,” they were also a winner of the 2016 Zero Energy Ready Home from the Prestigious Housing Innovation Awards from the U.S. Department of Energy. Additionally, they have recently had two of their homes recognized and certified by the ILFI (International Living Future Institute) as Net Zero Energy Homes—the 9th and 10 homes ever certified to this level in the World.

As part of our city-specific focus, we recently talked by phone with Anthony Maschmedt, principal of Dwell Development, board member of the Master Builders Association “Built Green” Residential Building Program, and a strong voice of the sustainable community in Seattle. He shared with us Dwell Development’s vision, the elements of sustainability incorporated into every home that they build, and their commitment towards pushing the envelope for more radical standards of home sustainability.

Vision for Sustainability

Dwell Development is focused on building homes that define sustainability. Their website states that they “build sustainable homes because it’s the right thing to do.” Anthony mentions that sustainability is the “core value of everything of we do” and that Dwell Development is committed to “delivering the most sustainable homes in the world that are recognized internationally.”

The sustainable homes offered by the company are modeled on the passive house design—a model characterized by a home that is built airtight with high levels of insulation so that you can essentially heat the home with nothing more than a hair dryer, in theory. Anthony states that passive house design is used as a “template for all our homes. I call it ‘Powered by Passive House.’ By incorporating this principle, we can get buildings that are very energy efficient and can be net zero when solar panels are installed.”

To maintain safe and healthy indoor air quality, Dwell Development installs a heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system on every home they build, operating on the principle that “to build it tight you have to ventilate it right.”

The vision for sustainable construction put forth by Dwell Development harmonizes well with the local population of the Seattle region. According to Anthony, Seattle is one of the “most progressive towns in the country, and sustainability is very well received.” Homeowners who contract Dwell Development have “done their homework and understand the value of sustainability.”

Essential Elements of Sustainability

Dwell Development works closely with the Built Green certification program, the largest home verification program in the Northwest. This regional certification program was developed to establish environmental standards for construction materials, energy efficiency, water use and indoor air quality. The program is voluntary for builders and offers sustainability ratings ranging from 3-Star, 4-Star, 5-Star or Emerald Star. Dwell Development is the only residential developer in the state of Washington that exclusively builds homes that achieve the 5-Star rating, which means their homes are built about 50%-60% better than current local energy code.

To achieve the 5-star ratings, every home that Dwell Development builds incorporates several elements of sustainable design:

  • Complete air tightness and waterproofness: All of Dwell Development’s homes are built completely air tight, close to passive house standards. A fluid applied air barrier is installed to the exterior of the house that maximizes the airtightness and waterproofing. In addition, Dwell incorporates a new interior air barrier technique that introduces the latest technology from AeroBarrier.
  • High-performance windows: All homes also include high-performance windows that maximize the energy efficiency of the home.
  • Maximum insulation: Dwell development builds double 2×4 walls that are 10 to 14 inches thick. This construction method essentially allows the company to double the R-value of the homes they build. Anthony equates this with “wrapping the house in a big blanket to make for a super quiet and comfortable home.”
  • HRV System: Because every home is built airtight, all of Dwell Development’s projects include an HRV system to ventilate the home and ensure safe and healthy indoor air.
  • 100% LED lighting: Every light in the home is LED, thus drastically reducing the energy demand compared to conventional incandescent lighting.
  • High performance Heating and Cooling Systems: Constantly looking for the best ways to heat and cool homes, Dwell Development’s choice of heating and cooling technology depends on the specific context. They routinely incorporate ductless mini splits, CO2 heat pumps, hybrid water heaters, and other innovative systems.
  • Water Sense plumbing: All of the plumbing fixtures in the homes they build are Water Sense certified or better. This allows the homes to reduce water use by at least 60% compared to standard plumbing fixtures.
  • Solar Energy: All of Dwell Development’s homes come solar-energy ready. While they do install solar panels on some of the homes they build, every home is designed with a solar panel system in mind so that homeowners can achieve net zero energy status in the future if and when they decide they want to install panels.

Despite the extensive and across-the-board sustainability measures incorporated into every home, Anthony estimates that a typical Dwell 2,000-square foot home only costs 5-7% more than the average code built spec home in the Seattle area. With the savings from vastly increased energy efficiency measures, payback comes within the first few years, and the homes also appreciate at a much higher rate than code-built homes.

According to Anthony, Dwell Development “is committed to going beyond the code minimums. Our homes are 60% to 100 % above the energy efficiency requirements…and people see the value in the homes we build. It is simply the right way to build.”

Pushing the Standard

Over the past decade, Dwell Development has been raising the bar on sustainable home construction in the Seattle Region over the past decade. They have been fundamental in education and training, and also have helped to lead the regional sustainable building certification program “Built Green.” Despite this impressive trajectory, they do not rest on their laurels—they continue to push sustainability standards.

According to Anthony, “Our mission is always to lead and challenge and strive to do more on each and every home we build. We never sit back and think we’re done, but are always looking for the best products and techniques to make our homes more sustainable and energy efficient. That is the challenge I put to the people who work with us: What innovative thing are we going to do next?”

Dwell Development is just one of the many builders in the Seattle area that knows something about sustainable home construction. To find one located near you, be sure and check out the home pros section of the Rise platform.

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