For one environmentally conscious Ashland couple, building a home that's easy on the planet may not reap big money savings, but it keeps their consciences clear
Walk into David and Susan Chapman's new house in the south Ashland hills, and you'll find green in every quarter.

In the garage, which is detached from the house so no fumes enter the living space.

In a south-facing greenhouse, where a concrete slab collects and spreads heat to a collection of orchids.

In the house's walls themselves, where the insulation packed between studs is free of standard chemical coating.

Building a house that is environmentally friendly can be more expensive up front, but the rewards come in knowing you're leaving a small footprint on the environment, say the Chapmans and others.
— Their just-completed 2,500-square-foot hillside home on Orchard Street is one of four to be featured next week in Ashland's annual Green and Solar Home Tour. The free tour is set from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8.

The Chapman house features an array of energy-stingy systems ' rainwater collection for irrigation of a small yard, solar heating for hot water, a high-efficiency heat pump and, to be installed next year, a photovoltaic system for producing electricity.

It also incorporates strategies to create cleaner indoor air, including formaldehyde-free insulation and an electrostatic dust collector. Walls were painted with low VOC, or volatile organic compound, paint to reduce fumes. The heat exchanger fan cuts down on noise by turning so slowly it can't be heard.

The Northwest-style tiered home is sleek and subtle in design, its nature-toned outside paint melding with other green features.

A south-facing greenhouse is paved with a 1.5-inch concrete slab to absorb sunlight, less in summer when the eave overhang blocks solar heat, more in winter when the low sun sneaks in under the eave, says Susan Chapman. Its heat will percolate into the main house during winter nights and escape out skylights in summer. The result: less energy use.

How did they make sure where sun would fall before they built it? Leave it to computers. Architect Carlos Delgado of Ashland, who designed the house, let the Chapmans drag a sun across his three-dimensional blueprint in a computer-assisted design program, allowing overhangs to be placed in just the right location.

A solar hot water heater gathers sunlight from an array of water pipes on the roof, heating the water tank to 130 degrees. Conventional power is used to raise it another 5 degrees. A non-solar system has to raise it from about 50 degrees. The system cost the Chapmans about &

36;5,000 and will pay itself off in five years, David Chapman says.

Photovoltaic solar panels will generate 3,500 kilowatts of electricity, giving us all the energy we'll need, he adds.

Two 1,550-gallon tanks for rainwater collection could be unsightly unless their location was well-planned. Chapman did that, tucking them under the slab of the greenhouse. Rainwater will be collected by normal gutters and sent to the tanks. Overflow will go to storm drains.

Compact, 11-watt fluorescent lightbulbs, recessed in the ceiling are a biggie in cutting the utility bill, Chapman says, as well as generating less heat than regular bulbs so they don't work against air conditioning in the summer. Summer heat is exhausted in the evening through skylights in the stairwell.

An air-to-air heat exchanger captures heat or coldness, depending on the season, from outgoing air, mixes it with fresher incoming air and pumps it into the house for warm air in winter and cold air in summer.

A plethora of windows throughout the house makes for less use of lighting, says Susan Chapman, who grows orchids in her greenhouse.

Few of the building materials betray their presence by off-gassing chemicals used in manufacture. While normal insulation comes sprayed with the stuff, you have only to request the chemical-free insulation to get it, says David Chapman.

To make their green investment easier, the Chapmans used two programs offered by the city ' Energy Star, which offers a &

36;250 incentive for green features that lower energy costs by at least 15 percent, and Earth Advantage, which offers &

36;1,000, according to city conservation analyst Larry Giardina. Homeowners taking energy-saving steps may also be eligible for state and federal tax credits.

The house, built to Earth Advantage standards, is about 15 percent more energy efficient than if it were just built to building codes, says Giardina.

The payback times vary greatly, but green-and-solar fans prefer to focus on the benefit to air and environment, says Giardina.

Susan Chapman notes, however, that the couple expects the solar water heater and photovoltaic electric system to pay for themselves in about 17 years.

If you're acting with only your own financial advantage in mind, you may not make the best decision about what's in the best interest for the environment, Giardina says.