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Pushing the Energy Envelope in Bellevue “Zero Energy Idea Home”

Whether it’s to save money, cut our dependence on foreign oil, or slow the effects of global warming, homeowners are increasingly interested in energy efficiency. The team behind a new demonstration project on West Lake Sammamish Parkway in Bellevue hopes to give them lots to think about.

The Zero Energy Idea House, which will be open for public and industry tours in early 2009, is designed to show that smart choices can result in a home that minimizes energy use while maximizing comfort and style. Style is a must for Shirey Contracting president and CEO Donna Shirey, the project builder. Donna and her husband and business partner Riley will be living in the home once it’s finished.

“Riley and I are like so many people in this area – we’ve reached a point in our lives where we’re looking for a smaller, well-designed house that can basically run itself,” says Shirey. “We’re committed to showing the public and the industry how stylish a green, energy-efficient home can be.” The construction of the 1,700 square foot, two-bedroom house will be fully documented on the project website,, and in a series of feature articles in 425 Magazine, along with other coverage.

The path to energy independence

The term “zero energy” doesn’t mean a house uses no energy – it means the house combines on-site power generation with efficiency measures so that it meets it own energy requirements. In the case of the Zero Energy Idea House, the home’s electrical needs will be met by rooftop solar panels, and the home’s domestic hot water will also be heated by the sun.

The project’s technical team has opted to forego “true” zero energy by installing a gas-powered hydronic in-floor radiant heating system, described by Mike Lubliner of Washington State University Extension’s Energy Program as the most efficient heating system available. Lubliner’s office manages the Northwest ENERGY STAR® Homes program as well as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America program, which has adopted the Shirey project as a case study.

In addition to incorporating renewable energy and highly efficient heating, appliances, lighting, and windows, the Zero Energy Idea House’s structure itself makes a major contribution to meeting the project’s energy goals. The house is built with structural insulated panels (SIPs), polystyrene panels that combine framing, insulation and exterior sheathing in one system that can be used for roofing, walls or floors over crawl spaces. SIPs are custom-manufactured from project drawings, and although they are a little more expensive than typical framing materials, they save considerable time, labor and waste on the job site and result in a structure that is tightly built and extremely well insulated.

All in all, computer modeling by Lubliner’s team estimates the home’s total energy bills will come in at less than $500 a year. The WSU specialists will conduct a series of tests to see how well the home performs and will also install a monitoring system to provide real-time reports on energy use.

Cutting-edge green

Energy efficiency isn’t the only facet of green building covered by this project: the home will display a variety of other products and systems that save water, create a healthy indoor environment, and safeguard natural resources. Outside the home, visitors will see a vegetated “green roof” and a compost-filled “living wall,” two landscape features that reduce stormwater runoff while adding freshness and color. Inside, the home will showcase water-saving dual-flush toilets, the latest in energy-saving appliances and lighting, and dozens of finish materials from project partners like Ecohaus and Ambiente that are sustainably produced, non-toxic, and dazzlingly beautiful.

“We expect thousands of people to see the home in person, and thousands more to explore the website,” says Pam Worner of Green Dog Enterprises, whose firm is handling sponsorship and marketing for the project, in addition to providing third-party verification of its green features for 5-star Built Green® and ENERGY STAR® certification. “We hope to inspire others to view ‘going green’ as a way to add value to their homes without sacrificing any of their dreams.”

To learn more about this project, visit Zero Energy Idea House.

Project Team
Builders/Owners: Donna & Riley Shirey, Shirey Contracting
Architect: David Clinkston, Clinkston Brunner Architects
Structural Engineers: Swenson Say Faget
Civil Engineers: J3ME
Interior Design: Autumn Donavan Design
Landscape Design: Windrose Landscape Architecture
Green Roof Design: Triad Associates
Energy Consulting: WSU Extension Energy Program
Marketing/Project Verification: Green Dog Enterprises
Media Relations: Parsons Public Relations
Photography/Webmaster: Northwest Property Imaging

Project Endorsements
ENERGY STAR® Homes Northwest
Built Green® of King & Snohomish Counties
Building America (U.S. Dept of Energy research program)
PATH (Partnership for Advanced Technology in Housing)

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