Birchwood house pushing to be greenest in Whatcom County

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 29, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - Dan Welch is turning his future home on Birchwood Avenue into a lab - inviting the building industry and the public in to learn the how-to of green building and its merits.

The project also is intended as a showcase for Welch, who is co-owner of a Bellingham design company called [bundle], and other partners who are trying to make its construction the greenest project in Whatcom County.

"This project is paving the way to make it easier for the next project to come through," said Rose Lathrop, program director for Sustainable Connections' Green Building and Smart Growth Program.

Sustainable Connections is one of the partners in the building project, which is being made possible because of Welch's desire to have his family's future home serve as a guinea pig of sorts.

"It really had to be an owner-driven project. This was a great opportunity," Lathrop said.

In addition to very low energy use, eco-friendly techniques for the house include advanced framing to use less wood, a green roof, and composting toilets because the house won't be hooked up to the city's sewer system.

Other concepts include catching and collecting rainwater - enough for the needs of a family of four - and filtering and disinfecting it using ultraviolet light. Two tanks will hold 10,000 gallons of rainwater for the dry summer months, which will be necessary because the Bellingham house also won't be connected to the city's water system.

Water from showers and sinks, known as gray water, will be treated and reused to water landscaping

"We're trying to make the water go to as many uses as possible and treat it as a high-value commodity rather than treating it as something that's completely disposable," Welch said.

Combined, the effort is a net zero water strategy.

"You're completely dealing with all of your systems on site," Welch explained. "That means providing all of your water and treating all of your wastewater on site without any external system help."

The house, which is two stories and a loft, also includes lumber salvaged from the demolition of the old Birchwood Elementary School that will be used for joists, rafters and flooring. The original school was built in 1928, with an addition in 1950.

Now under construction, the house should be completed in February or March.

Along the way, the project is serving as a study in barriers, including policy and perception, that could stand in the way of efforts to go as green as Welch is going - and to offer practical solutions that could be used for future developments.

People in the building industry already are getting insights into the project through workshops at the construction site; those also are open to the public.

"The idea is that this is providing some real technical training, not a 101 workshop series. But I do encourage people in the public to attend. There's lots to learn," Lathrop said.

Or the public can wait until June to tour the house, which is expected to be part of the Imagine This! Home & Landscape Tour. Organized by Sustainable Connections, the annual event features innovative and eco-friendly homes and yards in Whatcom County.

One recent day at the Birchwood Avenue site, Welch and Chris Tretwold, of Tretwold Construction, talked about what they hope to achieve with the project.

This type of building makes sense, they said, given the rising costs of energy, growing concerns about environmental impacts, the need for energy-efficiency, and an up-and-coming group of designers and builders.

"We're looking to kind of convince the public that an energy-efficient building with design is possible with numerous different financial levels," Welch said. "It's a common misconception that a very energy-efficient building is kind of out of reach for a number of people."

MORE INFO

Learn more at these sites:

-- [bunde] is at Facebook.com/bundledesignstudio.

-- sustainableconnections.org. Select "green building & smart growth" on the right.

Concepts for the house also came from:

-- Living Building Challenge at living-future.org/lbc.

-- passivehouse.us.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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