Tom and Kathy Carstens are like proud parents when they show visitors around their new home in the Applegate, which was built almost entirely of recycled, reclaimed or natural materials. They beam, especially, over their electric bills, which average about $15 a month, even though the 2,544-square-foot home is heated, cooled and powered entirely by electricity.
Their builder, Gary Dorris, is equally proud. Dorris won a national award from the National Association of Home Builders for the work he did in crafting the Carstens’ home, which sits at 1,400 feet with sweeping views of the Applegate Valley.
Dorris is a second-generation builder whose family has built houses in the Rogue Valley since 1947. The Carstens’ home is the first green building Dorris has ever built, but it won’t be his last. His goal, he says, is to become entirely green.
“I think we should promote this kind of building,” Dorris says. “It doesn’t take a lot of extra work to build an energy-efficient home. There are just a few things that we (builders) could all do that would be a big improvement for the homeowner.”
Tom and Kathy are not your garden-variety tree huggers. Tom is a 60-year-old retired marine pilot who served as commander of the legendary Black Sheep Squadron. “I’m a conservative marine,” he says. “I’m about as conservative as you can get.”
Energy-efficiency and sound building practices are apparently not political philosophies, because the Carstens used construction materials and methods which are as progressive as you can get.
They spent two years studying energy-efficient homebuilding techniques, researching the materials they used, and ultimately hired an architect out of Portland who specializes in sustainable design.
Tom brags that almost no living trees were cut to build their largely wood home, except for minimal interior framing, and those boards came from sustainably harvested wood.
The exterior walls are constructed from recycled wood-fiber blocks that resemble conventional cement blocks. The blocks were insulated with mineral wool then filled with concrete, creating an airtight envelope. The interior walls were insulated with batting made from recycled blue jeans.
The roof is covered with panels that resemble a giant ice-cream sandwich. The panels contain 10 inches of polystyrene sandwiched between layers of plywood. A fire-retardant layer was laid over the outside and then covered with metal roofing.
Inside, the open floor plan features exposed Douglas fir beams taken from a 100-year-old church in Portland that was demolished. The living room is floored with locally-harvested madrone. The custom kitchen cabinets and woodwork were made from fire-salvage timber. All wood used in framing was Forest Stewardship Council-certified.
The countertops in the guest bathroom are made of recycled glass. Other counters are made of recycled paper bound by non-toxic resins. The laundry room counter is made of recycled, post-consumer paper and plastic.
“There is no formaldehyde in this house,” says Tom. The non-toxic paints were purchased from Miller Paint. The non-toxic stains and varnishes used on woodwork and cabinets came from Phoenix Organics.
Construction crews enjoyed working on the house, Tom says, “because they didn’t have to wear masks.”
Solar panels cover the garage roof, generating nearly enough electricity to run the house. All appliances are Energy Star certified. All light bulbs are low-energy compact fluorescent. The geothermal heating and cooling system incorporates 2,000 feet of underground piping. The air inside the house is kept fresh with a filtered ventilation system that uses the electricity of a 100-watt light bulb.
Even the furnishings were chosen with care, such as the coffee table made from the hatch cover on an old ship, and the stained-glass light fixtures made from old table lamps.
“We probably spent more time researching the windows than anything else,” Tom says. A large percentage of the south and west sides of the home are covered in insulated, UV-resistant glass, which provides unmatched views and winter warmth. An 11-foot overhang on the west side blocks summer heat.
The house received a Platinum rating from Earth Advantage, the Portland organization that certifies green-built homes. The organization conducts pressure tests on ducts and the house envelope, and then uses a rating system that grades such factors as indoor air quality, construction materials and building techniques. A minimum score of 150 is required for the home to receive Earth Advantage certification, which qualifies the owners for certain rebates and tax incentives offered by utilities and the government. The Carstens’ home received a score of 650.
Tom says he and Kathy have received roughly $20,000 in cash rebates and tax credits from the state and federal governments, and from the Energy Trust of Oregon. The house cost a third more to build than a conventional house of the same size. Between the rebates, tax credits and energy savings, Tom estimates the extra cost of going green will be covered in eight years.