By editorial board • 

Modern housing investments can pay long-term dividends

Steps to enhance energy efficiency typically require some initial costs in return for a more substantial long-term payoff.

In the housing market, eco-friendly practices continue to win ever greater acceptance, albeit slowly, due to lack of mainstream appeal and government intervention that has spurred progress in the auto industry. There are plenty of examples of early supporters, though.

As profiled in a three-part series in our Roots to Roofs section, inserted into today’s edition, John and Debbie Pitney wanted to practice what they preached when deciding on their “forever home.”

Longtime environmentalists, the Pitneys reached out to builders Cellar Ridge Construction about a net-zero residence. The company responded with an idea that goes one step further: a passive house, a strict energy-focused model developed in Germany.

A construction approach based on a detailed solar analysis, coupled with extensive installation, will keep the Pitneys warm in the winter without need of a mechanical heating system. Solar panels on the roof provide energy for appliances, as well as their electric car. Rainwater is collected from the roof for drinking, cooking, washing and flushing. 

This spring, the house actually produced more energy than it has used, allowing them to send the excess flowing into the local grid. 

The cost of their modest, 1,000-square-foot home was greater than typical for new construction. But a power bill of zero or nearly so will enable the Pitneys to recoup their investment.

On a larger scale, passive solar is being tested as a low-income housing solution. Several projects are located in New York City, which is considering incorporation of passive solar elements into its building code. 

And it’s not just for major cities. Hillsboro’s Orenco Station neighborhood celebrated the opening of a 57-unit passive solar apartment complex last year, the largest project of its kind in the country at the time. Spearheaded by REACH Community Development, the complex rents units for $611 to $733 a month, and is now embarking on Phase II.

“Stable, quality housing makes a big difference in the lives of low-income residents trying to get ahead,”  Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici said at the dedication ceremony.

Affordable housing is needed to meet growing demand. But we need to maintain stability and quality, or the larger community will bear the burden as cheap low-income housing quickly deteriorates.

Local government would do well to consider what it wants built and how to address the challenges. Wise front-end investments can produce long-term payoffs.

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