Two Net Zero Energy-Certified Buildings in Seattle Highlight Trends in Sustainable Design

“To me, the projects are a bellwether of the future. They’re showing us that we can achieve carbon neutrality in a way that is still very beautiful, functional and allows us to thrive as people,” said Brad Liljequist, director of the Zero Energy Program with the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) about two projects in Seattle that were in early March 2018 given zero energy certifications.

Sustainability issues in the built environment in Seattle and the surrounding region continue play a key role in shaping developers’ and architects’ decisions in how to design their buildings, with initiatives like LEED and the Living Building Challenge becoming part-and-parcel of any discussions around new developments. In early March, Dwell Development, a Seattle-based company that specializes in green home building, saw two of its projects—Ballard Energy Star in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and Cork Haus located in Columbia City—given the Zero Energy certifications by ILFI’s Zero Energy Building certification program. According to Dwell Development, the two projects are the second and third residential projects in Seattle to be certified by ILFI and the tenth and eleventh projects in the world.

According to ILFI’s web site, zero energy is recognized as one of the world’s highest aspirations in energy performance in the built environment. The program certifies that the building in question is truly operating as claimed, harnessing energy from the sun, wind or earth to produce net annual energy demand through an analysis of performance data. The program ensures that one hundred percent of the building’s energy needs on a net annual basis are being supplied by on-site renewable energy, according to Liljequist. “What the certification means functionally from a performance standpoint is that the buildings generate as much power as they use over the course of a year; they do that through radical energy efficiency. Typically these certified buildings reduce energy use by anywhere between half and three-quarters of a typical home,” he said.

Dwell Development received the Zero Energy certification for two of its projects, two single-family residences in Seattle. The Ballard Emerald Star home is a three-bedroom, 2,218 square foot building completed in 2015 (the team for the project also included Caron Architecture, energy engineer Evergreen Certified and subcontractors Puget Sound Solar, Washington State University and Built Green). The building combines cutting-edge green technology, renewables and recycled materials to meet the requirements for the Emerald Star certification developed by Built Green, a green certification program for homes in King and Snohomish Counties.

The second project was Cork Haus, a two-bedroom, 1,711 square foot home in Columbia City built in January 2015 (the team for the project included JW Architects, Evergreen Certified, Puget Sound Solar, Washington State University and Built Green). The structure meets the Passive House standard, which reduces the ecological footprint of a building. Cork Haus was built using 100 percent natural cork siding from Portugal, and also includes a heat recovery ventilation system, high-performance windows and solar technology.

Dwell Development focuses on sustainability in its design of homes, an approach that drives all of the company’s projects including Cork Haus and Emerald Star. And the decision about whether to build spec or to code in the current real estate market was not something that entered the developer’s mind, given this emphasis on sustainability, according to Anthony Maschmedt, principal of Dwell Development. “We didn’t built [the projects] for a current environment in the marketplace or for a buyer or a specific reason; only to challenge us to see if we could push these limits. No one was doing this two years ago, but you don’t know how the building performs until you have all the data,” he said.

Even though the two projects were completed in 2015, the hope is that they will serve as a promising example of the sustainability goals that can be met at the spec-build level in the future, according to Maschmedt. “We want these projects to showcase that these things can be done at a spec home level. We’re on a shoestring budget, and we’re trying to do this and compete with homes that are being built to code. We’re showing people this can be done right now.” One of the main challenges with creating Zero Energy-certified homes is the higher cost associated with the necessary materials and infrastructure needed for the buildings.

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