Seattle DIY-ers Build Zero-Energy House

When newlyweds Eric Thomas and Alexandra Salmon began looking into buying a home in the Ballard neighborhood north of downtown Seattle, they were not impressed.

“We didn’t find anything we liked in our price range,” Thomas said. “Most of the houses in Ballard are old, and they needed a lot of work or had a funky layout. A lot of them had bedrooms in the basement. My wife is from New Mexico, and she’s used to a lot of light, so we knew that wasn’t going to work.” Thomas and Salmon were also looking for a house that was energy-efficient, and fit with their environmentally conscious lifestyle, without breaking the bank.

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image via Eric Thomas

After searching for a few months, Thomas and Salmon decided that if they wanted to live in a house they liked, they would have to build it themselves. After hitting a few dead ends, they found Zero-Energy Plans, a Whidbey Island-based architect that designs energy-efficient homes in all price ranges. Working with their contractor, T.C. Legend Homes, the couple made some minor changes to the stock plans to meet their needs. The result is a 1,915-square-foot house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a work loft for under $400,000 (including the lot)—a single-family home for the price of most townhomes in the area. Better yet: the house is the first home in Seattle to produce more energy than it consumes.

The “Zero Energy House” features a south-facing photovoltaic (PV) array, a radiant floor heating system powered by an electric heat pump, triple-pane windows, a rain garden and LED and compact fluorescent lighting throughout. There is even a toilet that uses water recycled from a small hand-washing sink. The 6.44-kilowatt (kW) PV system consists of 28 SolarWorld panels. By net metering and leveraging the state’s production incentive for solar energy, Thomas said the PV array will earn $1,000 a year through 2020, and pay for itself in five to seven years. The couple also worked with their contractor to leave enough roof space so that they can add more PV panels to the system when they buy an electric car.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).