One of the most influential building certifications in today’s market is Passive House. Passive House Institute US is the leading organization in the country for administering these certifications through their program PHIUS+. Evergreen Certified recently had the pleasure to serve as the rater and Built Green verifier for Seattle’s first certified PHIUS+ project – View Haus 5, built by Cascade Built.
View Haus 5 consists of 5 townhomes, all built to the same Passive House standards although only one unit was put through the rigorous certification. All units were also built to the Built Green 5-star standard. The townhomes are located centrally in the Madison Valley neighborhood, and share views of the Cascade Mountains. Their prime location allows for walkability to Capitol Hill, Madison Park, and Downtown, as well as a quick bus ride to South Lake Union.
Sloan Ritchie, owner of Cascade Built, states that:
“[They are] built to last 100+ years and designed to appeal to a diverse community with likeminded values. By meeting the rigorous standards set forth by the Passive House Institute US for design and construction, and integrating long-lasting quality materials, these homes increase occupant health and comfort while significantly reducing energy consumption and maintenance costs from 80-90%.”
What is Passive House? As stated by the Passive House Institute US, it is a standard for houses that involves:
- Continuous insulation to minimize thermal bridging
- A building envelope that is extremely tight to minimize infiltration
- Some form of HRV or ERV
- High-performance windows (typically triple-paned) and doors
- Solar gain managed to exploit the sun’s energy for heating purposes and to minimize it in cooling seasons.
Perhaps most well known in the building industry, one of the most important requirements of Passive House is that the home is tight enough to pass a blower door test at 0.6 ACH @ 50 pascals.
For Cascade Built, the core concept for View Haus 5 revolved around achieving PHIUS+ certification. For Sloan, that meant two things – “mechanics are paired down and insulation is added.” Here is a short list of the contributing factors that helped these townhomes conform to the rigorous Passive House standards as well as Built Green 5-star:
- Mitsubishi mini-split (check out their awesome case study on this house!)
- Zehnder heat recovery ventilator (HRV)
- Precision-crafted air-tight European tilt/turn windows and doors
- Densely packed fiberglass with Roxul rockwool exterior insulation
- Finished with zero volatile organic compound (VOC) paints, sealants, adhesives and carpets, durable concrete flooring, locally-made cabinetry
- Water saving plumbing fixtures
- All LED lighting, ENERGY STAR appliances and unit-specific electric car charging.
- Clad with 100 year old reclaimed barn wood
Sloan notes that these specifications ensure that “the homes are draft-free, stay at a comfortable 70 degrees year round, and provide healthy, fresh, allergen and toxin-free indoor air.”
From a site standpoint, the most challenging part of this project was the fact that there was a 30 feet tall building 10 feet to the south of the project. While this may seem inconsequential for most code-built projects, it greatly impacts a project that is depending on significant solar heat gain. Sloan gave us a great explanation of this issue, stating that:
“Passive house techniques rely partially on the solar heat gains through the southern-facing windows to provide some free space heating. In a passive house constructed shell, the heating load is so small, that solar gains become a significant part of the heating. A 30’ tall building immediately to our south meant that we could not rely on much solar gain. We in fact designed and implemented an HVAC solution to the heat gains all coming from the 3rd floor, by installing a fan to move warm air downstairs.”
Of course, for a project of this level of energy efficiency and innovation, there were other challenges as well. Cascade Built had to grapple with the fact that they were building something unheard of in the spec house market with subcontractors who are not used to building passive houses. Costs were often an issue. Because building this way is still new, costs were often unknown or changing.
Despite the various challenges, Cascade Built pressed on. The goal of the project was to have all custom designed, Passive House adherent, affordably constructed, market priced townhomes. Cascade Built delivered on all of these fronts. Sloan stated that the most important thing he learned was that “sticking to your original vision despite various project challenges that arise is rewarding when you achieve those goals.”
Because of their innovative projects such as View Haus 5, Cascade Built is now considered one of the premier green builders in Seattle. Beginning in 2006, Sloan Ritchie set out to build green and is now building some of the most cutting edge green projects in Seattle. As stated on Cascade Built’s website:
“Cascade Built’s deep understanding of building science, collaborative approach and passion for preserving resources sets it apart from competition. Constructing buildings that are better for its occupants, the community and the environment, Cascade Built is transforming the built environment in Seattle.”
So what got Sloan into building green? For him it’s the knowledge that “[building] to these standards is the right thing to do… and an opportunity that was being missed. Resources are finite, climate change is real, and every action has a consequence, and I saw that as a distinct opportunity to do what I thought was the right thing.”
What’s next for Sloan? Another exciting townhouse project – SolHaus in Capitol Hill.
“We are currently working on an exciting net zero-ready townhome project in North Capitol Hill called SolHaus. Like View Haus 5, these townhomes break away from cookie-cutter townhome trend by offering distinctly designed units, large windows that connect indoor living to the vibrant outdoor common courtyard and sweeping views of downtown from the private rooftop decks.”
As for long term, Sloan hopes to be the best of the best moving forward. For a five-year plan, he states:
“…all Cascade Built projects will be in the 90th percentile of newly constructed homes and buildings for energy efficiency, significantly reduced water use and lower resource consumption. These cutting-edge high performance homes will demonstrate the opportunity to build homes and buildings better than code because it’s better for the occupants, for the community and for the environment.”
Here at Evergreen Certified, we look forward to continuing along that journey with Cascade Built.