Green from the ground up

By NICOLE MONTESANO
Of the News-Register
Factoring environmental considerations into construction projects is becoming increasingly popular in Oregon, and Yamhill County is joining the trend.
Finding an environmentally friendly house can still be difficult for the typical homebuyer, but it is gradually becoming easier.
The county's Green Builders Guild has been drawing 30 or more participants to its meetings, including not only homebuilders, but also architects, suppliers, real estate agents and even landscapers. And to the north, Metro, the regional government of the greater Portland area, is sponsoring a competition for design work best protecting - or even enhancing - native habitat.
Around Oregon, new buildings vie to be the "greenest" yet.
It's a challenge to figure out the relative merits of new technology, and balance appealing, sustainable, earth-friendly practices with family-friendly budgets, according to Shan and Wendy Stassens of McMinnville, owners of Winsome Homes construction. But they said more and more local builders are taking up that challenge, and the Green Builders Guild is helping them with that.
The Stassens live in one of their own early earth-friendly buildings, located in a townhome in-fill project that went up in west McMinnville last year. Next door, two more units are currently on the market.
There are a multitude of facets to building "green," Shan Stassens said. Using land efficiently is one, he said.
Working on an urban density in-fill project created a number of technical difficulties, and required compromises on some of the natural daylight and passive solar designs they would otherwise have employed, he said. On the other hand, it also used land already inside city limits, surrounded by homes, rather than requiring the sacrifice of farmland.
The building envelope is crucial to how efficiently a home can be operated.
According to Amity home designer Ted Nickell, the key is two separate walls, with a heavy layer of insulation between.
The Stassens chose a different technique - insulated concrete forms. It employs foam blocks that are stacked up, reinforced with rebar, then filled with concrete.
They say it saves trees, provides excellent insulating qualities, prevents the growth of mold and mildew, prevents pests in wall cavities, lasts longer than wood and requires less energy to heat and cool than traditional wood framing.
"We've been having our clients track their energy use, and it's half of the standard stick frame home to heat and cool," Shan Stassens said.
Nickell, he noted, is touting considerably better results with his designs, relying on data from the Passive House Institute. Curious to see if they agree, the Stassens are planning to collaborate with him on a local project to see if they can incorporate the best of their different ideas.
Like Nickell, the Stassens rely on a central ventilation system, to regularly bring fresh air into the house and remove humidity. The system helps prevent mold and mildew and keep the air quality high, they said.
Because there's just one central motor, there are fewer openings in the building envelope. A heat recovery ventilator pre-heats or -cools the incoming air, according to season. Automatic sensors in the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry room kick the system into high gear when excess humidity is noted.
The Stassens also focused on using materials that wouldn't out-gas, become outdated or wear out quickly.
Cabinets and shelves are made from wood, rather than pressboard, fiberboard or oriented strand board, all of which are made from pieces of wood pulp glued together.
"The more glue you have, the more off-gassing you have," Wendy Stassens noted. All wood used in the homes is either reclaimed from older buildings or Forest Stewardship Council certified.
The downstairs floors are tiled. The upstairs carpets are made from recycled soft drink bottles.
"We really try to put things in our houses that aren't going to be torn out and thrown in the landfill in 10 years," Shan Stassens said. "We think that putting quality in is green as well."

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