A Guide to Green Homes in Oregon
Green is in! Especially in Portland. In 2005, Portland was named one of top 10 “green cities” in USA by the The Green Guide magazine. The designation comes from the city’s air quality, renewable energy leadership, miles of bike trails and environmentally friendly building practices. Again in 2005, Renewable Energy World magazine reported on ten cities worldwide that energy experts have named “green cities to watch,” based on their clean energy goals, use of renewable energy, and particularly their energy innovations. Portland was one of the cities.
Portland is second in LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings per capita, with 78 certified and registered buildings demonstrating eco-efficiency. It’s no wonder, the city has excelled in green building, it knows how to make it easy and inexpensive. Portland offers a $2.5 million Green Incentives Fund to residents and commercial developers from 2005-2009. The money comes from a partnership with a non-profit, the Energy Trust of Oregon.
Portland’s two electric utilities came in second and third in the amount of green energy they sold. This was an annual ranking by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory for the year 2005. Portland General Electric customers bought nearly 400 million kilowatts of power generated by geothermal plants, dams and wind farms in 2005. PacifiCorp customers bought more than 234 million kilowatts in the same period.
Department of Energy Numbers
In our daily lives, we use enormous amounts of energy. The United States uses about 97 quadrillion British Thermal Units (quads) of energy each year. The residential building sector accounts for about 21% (20.1 quads) of that use. And, about 86% of total annual energy use in the United States comes from burning fossil fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas. Visit the Department of Energy’s Website for more details.
From this picture you can see that homeowners (residential users) take surprisingly little of the energy use in the U.S.A. Our vehicles, those 18-wheelers you see rolling down the freeways, industry, and agricultural are the big users of fossil fuels. But, residential users want to save money so we keep on searching for better solutions.
What is a Green Home?
Green homes are a matter of degree since there are numerous standards for “green homes.” You can start with the Earth Advantage® and go all the way to a Net-Zero-Energy home. These two labels apply to detached single-family homes. When you get into large condo projects, the LEED Green Building Rating System prevails. Here is a brief explanation of the types:
- Earth Advantage At minimum, an Earth Advantage® home is designed to improve energy efficiency by 15 percent over a conventionally built home. The incorporation of products such as energy-efficient windows, appliances, mechanical systems and light fixtures can add up to lower energy usage and greater comfort year round.
- Energy Star The Northwest part of the federal Energy Star program. New homes earning the Energy Star label are built using the “house as a systems” approach.
- Net-Zero Energy A net-zero energy house is designed to produce as much energy as it consumes on an annual basis.
- LEED™ – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design: LEED™ is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings.
Earth Advantage® was started by PGE (local electrical utility company) to support sustainable design. It is now a separate non-profit program. It offers many resources to acquaint you with various aspects of the Earth Advantage® program. They frequently participate in events targeted to the home buyer, builder and industry professional. They also host open houses and organize tours of Earth Advantage® homes.
According to Earth Advantage®, “No matter how old your home is you still may be able to make changes that will reduce your energy and resource consumption, improve your indoor air quality and protect the environment around you.” This means that the Earth Advantage® standard can be applied to both new construction as well as remodeling projects.
To be Earth Advantage Certified a home must score minimum of 90 points. That qualifies it for a Silver rating. To earn a Gold rating, a score of 120 points, and for a Platinum rating a total of 140 points must be earned.
You can search for Earth Advantage® builders and remodelers by zip code.
Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. The Energy Star label is awarded to homes that have been independently verified to be at least 15% more efficient than the International Residential Code of 2004. Their website lists certified Energy Star builders and products (appliances, lighting, etc.) that bear the Energy Star label.
Consumer Reports, in their October 2008 issue, reported that Federal test procedures haven’t kept pace with technology, a point Energy Star leadership conceded in a meeting with Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.
In a test of refrigerators, Consumer Reports reported that in preliminary tests with the icemaker off, the energy use measured was much closer to LG’s (LG LMX25981ST French-door fridge) figure. But that’s not how you’d use the feature at home since doing so melts all the ice. CR reported that, “When we gauged energy use with the LG’s icemaker on, we got a consumption of 1,110 kWh per year. Such a loophole lets manufacturers label products more energy efficient than we’ve found them to be, and they get the Energy Star and its cachet when you won’t see those savings.”
Net-Zero Energy is easy to understand: A Net-Zero Energy home is designed to produce as much energy as it consumes on an annual basis. For more information about Net-Zero Energy, visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Web site.
The non-profit United States Green Building Council (USGBC) developed LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) as a set of voluntary, consensus-based national standards for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. LEED uses a four-tiered rating system (Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum). Points are earned for things such as transit access, stormwater control, water-efficient landscaping, re-used and regionally manufactured materials, increaed daylight and ventilation for indoor air quality, and design innovation. Here are the LEED certification requirements:
- Basic: 26-32 points
- Silver: 33-38 points
- Gold: 39-51 points
- Platinum: 52-69 points
LEED (version 3) is based on a 110 point system.
The Cascadia Region Green Building Council is one of three original chapters of the U.S. Green Building Council. Incorporated in Oregon in December 1999, the chapter covers Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia but also includes members from as far away as Idaho and Montana. By January 2002, the chapter had 175 members, mostly companies or agencies that in turn represented dozens or even thousands of individuals interested in a better way of building.
Portland has its own version of LEED called PDX LEED™ that is based on New Construction (NC 2.1) standard. It is the country’s first supplemental guide to the USGBC national LEED™ standards. PDX LEED™ enhances USGBC’s LEED™ certification in several ways. First, it makes it easier to achieve credits by ‘localizing’ LEED™ standards – Portland’s erosion control, stormwater management, and energy regulations.
There are a growing number (over 75 in Portland alone) of Pacific Northwest buildings that have obtained LEED certification and you can find them on the Cascadia Region Green Building Council Web site. The new Casey Condo building in the Pearl District of Portland is the first Platinum LEED building in Portland. Gerding/Edlen, the developer of the South Waterfront and the Brewery Blocks, is LEED™ certifying all their buildings.
Portland city leaders have set a goal to grow 43 acres of new green roofs in the next five years. There are currently 12,500 acres of conventional roofs citywide.
The environmental benefits are numerous along with the nudge tha could launch an industry and create jobs. Ecoroofs reduce “urban island” heat, improve air quality by reducing temperatures and smog, and increase a building’s insulation, which reduces energy consumption. Green roofs also create wildlife habitat and reduce stormwater runoff that can pollute streams.
To make ecoroofs attractive, Portland officials for seven years have offered developers a density “bonus,” allowing more floors in a new high-rise, for example, in exchange for a green roof. City leaders raised the flag higher when they passed a resolution to convert any roof in need of replacing on city property into a green roof unless structural or other problems make it a bad idea economically.
For homeowners, the city reduces the stormwater runoff fee. In 2005, the city launched “Grey to Green Initiative” program, which dispenses grants to subsidize, among other things, up to $5 per square foot on new ecoroofs. The cost of a green roof, though declining, still turns off some people.
An ecoroof should ideally cost between $6 and $8 a square foot but many averaged $15 to $20. The problem is that ecoroofs, as an industry on the West Coast, are still in their infancy, and no local businesses have streamlined the production of materials and designs. One of the goals of the push to grow 43 acres is to fuel an industry.
Ecoroofs do add weight. Planners advise anyone considering an ecoroof to have the structure checked by an engineer to determine what weight it can bear. Ecoroofs add roughly 10 to 25 extra pounds per square foot when saturated, depending on the vegetation and planting medium.
Other people don’t think their roofs have enough pitch, though ecoroofs can be located on flat or pitched roofs at a slope of up to 40 percent. Still others worry about watering and weeding.
Some of the city’s earliest ecoroofs withered into weed lots and created ongoing discussion about what plants work best, what an ecoroof should look like in Portland’s dry summers, whether native plants fare better than imports, and whether watering a roof in summer negates the other environmental benefits.
Sean Hogan, a horticulturist who owns Cistus Nursery on Sauvie Island and has worked on some of the most public ecoroofs in Portland, is working on the use of Willamette Valley native plants.
Since the movement took off in Portland in the late 1990s, enthusiasts have learned lessons about soil type, depth and plants. Scientists at Oregon State University are studying the systems more, and city environmentalists have their eyes on a few green roofs owned by businesses and homeowners willing to experiment. They’re testing everything from conifers to the viability of plants sown from native seeds.
Finding Alternatives to the Grid
The average U.S. home uses about 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. To meet those needs, you need a system rated at five kilowatts of power output. But kilowatt ratings of most alternative energy systems haven’t been standardized yet, which makes it hard to buy one off the shelf. Experts advise getting performance data from makers or from users in your area. For example, look at how many kilowatt-hours a turbine produces at wind speeds typical for your site.
For years, a big obstacle to sticking solar panels on your roof has been coming up with the cash for it, with costs for a modest set of panels starting about $18,000 a pop.
SolarCity has a different approach: You get the panels for 10 years with no money down, instead paying SolarCity a rate for the electricity generated that’s about the same as what you would pay your electric utility anyway.
Under SolarCity’s “PurePower” program, the company sticks the panels on your roof but maintains ownership, pulls the construction permits, repairs any breaks for a decade – and collects the tax credits for new solar installations.
You sign a 10-year “power purchase agreement,” agreeing to pay SolarCity a set rate for each kilowatt of solar power generated. That rate is designed to be about the same as the rate you would pay for the electricity use if you didn’t have solar panels.
SolarCity, which has installed panels at Intel in Hillsboro, is operating similar programs in California and Arizona, with about 4,000 residents and businesses signed up so far.
The City of Portland has a page on their website that outlines all the possibilities of installing solar. It’s a step-by-step guide and easy to follow.
Solar Action Alliance is a group of environmentalists who want to spread the word about the most clean, reliable, and abundant source of renewable energy: the sun. The site has a page called Solar 101 Basics that explains the different ways available to tap this energy for both light and heat and for private and commercial use.
Test for Solar Cost Effectiveness in Washington County
Many Washington County residents who have considered installing solar panels on their homes but have wondered whether doing so is cost-effective now have a tool that can give them the answers they’re seeking. The county is the first location on the West Coast to have the opportunity to test MapDwell, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-affiliated software that uses LIDAR data to show the solar potential of roofs in Hillsboro, Beaverton, Aloha, Tigard and many areas north of U.S. 26..
The interface — which resembles Google Maps, only if all the rooftops were glowing — asks users to enter an address. Once a house is selected, residents can customize a variety of options. For instance, people can enter how much they would like to save on their electricity bills, and the system will calculate the amount of investment required and the amount of time needed to realize cost savings.
Much of the U.S. has enough wind to make home wind power feasible, depending on the height of the installation. Look for average wind speeds of at least 3 miles per hour. But trees and nearby buildings can affect performance.
An Energy Department website, windpoweringamerica.gov, has maps with predicted average wind speeds across the U.S. 3Tier Inc., of Seattle, also offers free maps at www.3tier.com (click on FirstLook and then on Register for a free account). AWS Truepower LLC, Albany, N.Y., can provide more localized assessment maps and tools. AWS offers wind-speed predictions for $60 or a full site-specific data report for about $750 at www.windnavigator.com. AWS looks at a variety of heights for towers, while government maps assume a height of 80 meters.
The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL, has certified small wind turbines for rural and suburban settings. Results are at NREL testing. The average turbine lasts about 20 years.
There’s no nationwide certification of installers, but the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners has created a certification process.
Buying and installing a small wind turbine costs $40,000 to $45,000, before incentives. This is higher than a comparable solar-panel installation. Wind-turbine costs are not falling, unlike costs in the solar market. Federal, state and local incentives can reduce the expense considerably. Federal tax credits equal to 30% of the total installed cost are available. In Oregon, you can produce electricity with a wind system and get a tax credit of two dollars per estimated kilowatt hour saved during the first year, up to $6,000. Qualifying costs include wind measuring equipment, turbines, towers, associated components, engineering costs, utility interconnection equipment and installation.
- The Oregon Department of Energy has information about wind turbines as well as other alternatives energy systems.
- Find offers for incentives at dsireusa.org, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, a federally funded project of the North Carolina Solar Center and Interstate Renewable Energy Council.
Energy Performance Score
Today, more than ever, homebuyers and builders are placing high value on energy efficiency and carbon footprint. Efficient homes offer superior performance, lower operating costs and a reduced environmental impact. But how do you compare newly built homes based on their energy consumption? Say hello to EPSTM.EPS, brought to you by Energy Trust of Oregon, is an energy performance score that rates the efficiency of a home and measures it against similar-sized homes in Oregon. With EPS, the lower the score the more efficient the home. The score can range from zero to over 200, with zero being the best possible rating.If you’re in the market for an energy-efficient home, our Smart Homebuyer page is a great place to start. You’ll find more information on EPS and a variety of resources to assist you in evaluating homes based on energy performance.For a better idea of EPS and how it works, check out the sample EPS sheet.
To determine a newly built home’s EPS, a third-party verifier analyzes the home’s features and construction techniques and tests performance for factors such as air leakage and duct tightness. EPS is a voluntary rating that builders request before construction.
If you recently bought a newly built home that did not receive an EPS, click here to learn more about how you can get an EPS for your home.
Office of Sustainable Development
What a resource! The Office of Sustainable Development has loads of information which you may want to consider reading. Topics include biofuels, ecoroofs, fiberglass windows, fuel cells, rainwater harvesting, recycled paint, solar tubes, and sun tempering.
Consider purchasing their publication called “Designing and Building a More Sustainable Home.” It’s full of illustrations and photos.
Build It Green! Tour
Every September, a self-guided tour, sponsored by the city’s Office of Sustainable Development and Metro, welcomes visitors into over 20 new and remodeled homes, including condos, throughout the Portland metropolitan area. The information fair gives tour-goers a chance to talk with vendors about green building products and services, and is sponsored by Environmental Building Supplies. See their web page for details.
Energy Tax Credits
Energy Trust of Oregon offers cash incentives to help homeowners who are Oregon customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, NW Natural and Cascade Natural Gas make energy-saving home improvements. All improvements, except installation of ceiling and floor insulation and electric water heaters, must be installed in Oregon by an Energy Trust trade ally contractor, or any other licensed contractor with a current Oregon Construction Contractors Board (CCB) license.
Potential Oregon Department of Energy tax credits and federal tax credits for all improvements are listed in a document called ENERGY TRUST CASH INCENTIVES. You can download this document by clicking here.
For more information on state energy credits and rebates:
- Energy Star
- Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
- Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy that lists state energy credits. The Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) is a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility, and selected federal incentives that promote renewable energy.
- Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy For assistance programs for low-income families, see the “Consumers” link EERE’s home page.
Oregon Energy-Efficient Credits
You can get a credit on your Oregon income taxes for making your home more energy-efficient and helping preserve Oregon’s environment.
The maximum amount of tax credits a resident may receive per year is $1,000 for appliances including heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. You can receive a tax credit for solar photovoltaic systems of $6,000 carried over four years, with a maximum credit of $1,500 per year. The credit must not exceed 50 percent of the cost of the system and the tax credit ends on December 31, 2015.
Visit the Oregon Department of Energy website to obtain details on tax credits.
- Endura Wood Products
- Environmental Building Supplies This retail establishment is the place to start your education about green homes.
- Green Building Resource Guide
- Hippo Hardware If you can’t find it anywhere else, Hippo’s may have it.
- Oregon Environmental Council This non-profit emphasizes sustainable, nontoxic and recycled gifts, and environmental education in the home.
- Oregon Bamboo Flooring
- ReBuilding Center Great buys on building materials.
- Rejuvenation Grab a latte as you enter this retail store and browse for hours.
- Winks Hardware Winks Hardware employees have a wealth of product knowledge and project application experience.
- Ecoroofs Everywhere Works with architects, landscape architects, engineers and contractors to design and build innovative storm water solutions.
- Cistus Nursery Working on the use of Willamette Valley native plants.
- Portland Bureau of Environmental Services Environmental Services provides City of Portland residents with Clean River programs, including water quality protection, wastewater collection and treatment, and sewer installation.
- Car Pooling Want to join a carpool? This site helps people find one another based on their home location, work location, values, politics, music tastes, etc.
- Earthquake Tech Earthquake Tech provides customized anchoring of old Portland homes built before 1976. Most insurance companies deem this year as the cut-off for requiring proof of proper foundation connections before approving earthquake coverage.
- EcoNest The EcoNest Building Company, located in Tesuque, New Mexico (near Santa Fe). Since 1994, they have been co-creating EcoNests – homes which embody the principles of sustainable building, health and beauty.
- Greenpod Intelligent Environments A Port Townsend, Washington team has designed small (440 to 800 square feet) energy-efficient modular homes with big options for green living to include solar power, gray-water recycling, and healthy interior furnishings..
- Glidehouse™ The Glidehouse modular home is a modern home designed by Michelle Kaufmann Designs. It offers an affordable, low-maintenance, well-designed green housing alternative. The Glidehouse is built in a factory, using the most modern and environmentally-friendly building methods and materials.
- Green Fusion Green Fusion Design Center is a retail store, gallery and education center featuring green building materials and natural home furnishings.
- Green Guide A consumers’ go-to source for green homes tips, product reviews, environmental health and wellness products information, and green living advice. Available in print or as an e-subscription.
- Green Home Guide Offers reviews and advice from professionals and homeowners.
- IKEA IKEA’s U.S. locations aim to reclaim 90 percent of store waste by the end of 2009 (the stores currently average 67 percent). All new stores are to be built to a certified green building standard which will include the new Portland store near the airport.
- Jetson Green A standout site! The mission is to enhance homes (and the lives of people in them) with beautiful design, smart construction, resource conservation, energy efficiency, water savings, green technology, and renewable energy.
- MBDC A consultancy focused on helping clients implement Cradle to Cradle Design – a positive new approach to sustainability and prosperity.
- Northwest EcoBuilding Guild An association of builders, designers, homeowners, trades people, manufacturers, suppliers and others interested in ecologically sustainable building.
- LivingHomes Pre-fab energy efficient homes available in a variety of floor plans, finishes and sizes (1500-2500+ square feet). A new company formed in 2006, their model home was awarded a LEED Platinum rating, the first home in the program’s history to achieve this distinction!
- Redirect Guide An on-line guide for finding businesses, services, and information that cater to healthy lifestyles.
- Sierra Club Green Homes Launch in April of 2009, the site was developed with a simple mission in mind: to help Americans make their homes more energy efficient, environmentally sustainable and healthy.
- Solar Energy International A non-profit that offers hands-on workshops in solar, wind, water power, and natural building technologies in eleven locations. They also offer internet based online courses.
- Solar Energy Association of Oregon Dedicated to increasing the use of solar energy in Oregon.
- The Spannocchia Foundation Their mission is to educate people about sustainable practices.