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United States Science

Green Housing Takes Root in Oregon 388

baldinux writes "I was reading an article in the Portland Tribune which showcased the City of Portland's noteworthy 'Rose House' (1.8mb PDF) project, part of the Office of Sustainable Development and Oregon Department of Energy's plan to encourage sustainable, energy-producing, environmentally-friendly housing for the future, a plan which is gaining national and international attention. The Rose House, at only 800 square feet (approx. 244 sq. meters), is equipped with solar panels and incorporates technologies that recapture lost heat and energy during normal appliance operation, such as ventilation. During peak hours -- when power is at highest demand -- the Rose House could produce surplus energy, feeding kilowatt hours back to the power grid, and `rolling back' the meter -- the power authority's way of purchasing the surplus energy and lessening the burden on comparatively 'dirty' power plants. The article suggests that homes like this could see net power bills as low as $0 per year. The environmental benefits of a lessened burden on centralized, often fossil fuel or nuclear, power generation plants would be considerable."
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Green Housing Takes Root in Oregon

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  • Re:800 SF? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kiryat Malachi ( 177258 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:13AM (#10295613) Journal
    That's because land in Texas is relatively cheap. The real point was the ~15% premium; essentially, in Texas such a home should cost in the 95-120 range, I would bet (depends on relative percentage cost for land, materials, and labor).

    800 sq ft is a decent sized one bedroom apartment, or a fairly small two bedroom.
  • by Doomsdaisy ( 90430 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:17AM (#10295622)
    Portland relies on hydro power rather than dirty power. Isn't it odd that a region that sells its excess kilowatts to other regions is one of the few places in the US where green housing is seriously considered?

    Why don't the regions of the US that rely heavily on coal or nucler power have the same impitus for cleaner alternatives?
  • Everything green... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Infinityis ( 807294 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:24AM (#10295641) Homepage
    "I'm hearing a lot more interest from buyers who have called up and said they want the greenest house in Portland," Heslam said. "For a growing group of people, rather than having the fanciest house on their street, they'd rather impress their friends by having the greenest house on their street."

    It seems more and more that people define their "greenness" as part of their social status. I mean, from hybrid cars to these energy efficient homes, it seems like people have transitioned to environment friendly ways not so much to be friendly to the environment, but rather for others to see.

    I suppose part of it shows the philanthropic side of a person, taking care of the poor, defenseless environment that everyone abuses. Part of me wonders, if it were cheap enough for everyone to do, would the wealthy still do it, or would they simply indulge in the excess which they can easily afford?

  • Re:800 SF? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DAldredge ( 2353 ) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:27AM (#10295644) Journal
    The price per SQ I quoted didn't include the land because I do not think the price quoted in the article include the cost of land.

    Hell, if it was only 15% more they could get very low interest loans from the power company to help pay for the extra. AEP/TXU provides such loans to redo AC with lower energy units and to install heat pumps.

    I bet you they are comparing the cost of this home to the cost of a new home, new land and new utility connections. It is in their best interests to play with the numbers so it looks better on paper. Helps with getting more funding/grants.

    (This may be rambling as I am tired)

  • by Gopal.V ( 532678 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:38AM (#10295679) Homepage Journal
    From the little EE knowledge I have (I'm a CS Major , but the girls were mostly in EE, so ..) , I don't think rolling back the meter's a possible option. Power grids supply voltage at high voltages and use transformers to step it down to reduce transmission losses. Sending current the wrong way doesn't seem to be a valid option to be noticeable (yeah, maybe a bewoulf cluster of these might *snicker*) .

    What is more likely is to have a neighbourhood power distribution inside your local transformer loop and feed the it from your production via the same plug. That too might confuse the shock protection circuit breakers which apparently measure current levels between the two wires to make sure no equipment is earthing the power. Also the power man's in for a shock when he finds that there are 200 power sources he has to disconnect to pull a new line off the main cable . Technical difficulties in implementing this are too high , or we'd already be generating our own electricity. (btw, my desk lamp is powered by a solar panel and a rechargeable battery and that's only because my city scheduled a half-hour power cut daily).

    Feed the power grid back is a pipe dream at least in the Indian power situation. But oregon might be different after all .... If you need me I'll be in my backyward feeding the power grid with my cold fusion powered giant hamster wheel.

  • Re:800 SF? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wine_slob ( 793174 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:39AM (#10295681) Homepage

    Are they talking about Texas...?

    Building costs vary from state to state, county to county and even city to city. Portland, being Oregon's major city, may have higher building costs than the rest of the state, and quite possibly higher than where you are in Texas.

    800 sq feet isn't huge, but is plenty of space for an individual or couple without kids and not planning any straight away. At $117k, the mortgage would be close to average rent with lower bills and, unlike rent, payments would be building equity. Sounds like a nice little place to me...
  • hippie heating! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Deanalator ( 806515 ) <> on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:44AM (#10295707) Homepage
    The building that I live in at Portland State University [] is a "green rated" [] building. Besides all the recirculated heat etc, it also uses collected rain water to do things like flush the pottys.

    One of the advantages I guess to living in a state with dirt cheap electricity and *way* too much water :-/
  • by DAldredge ( 2353 ) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:47AM (#10295718) Journal
    I am not fully up on solar cell tech so these numbers may be wrong but it appears that a solar cell setup costs between $5000 - $7000 per KWH. This being a 3.3 KW setup would place the cost of the solar cells alone at 15,000 - 21,000.

    I just do not see how they can build the house for what they are saying they can. I also do not understand why they had to get a 15,000 grant to build a home that costs nothing to heat/cool.
  • by Mortiss ( 812218 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:50AM (#10295727)
    To further increase eco-friendliness of this house they should also consider equipping it with materials that convert waste heat directly to electricity. icle.jsp?rp=1&id=mg18324635.100 [](Subscription required)

    Although the technology is still in its early stages , it looks promising enaugh to reduce energy waste in households.
  • by wine_slob ( 793174 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:16AM (#10295784) Homepage

    My house was built in 1900. There is no insulation in the walls, none under the floors and only about R12 in the attic. I spent the day at the hardware store looking into insulation options and crawling around under my house with a staple gun.

    I plan to spend about $300 to bring our attic up to R42+ (they say 45% of heat loss is through the attic). Does that make me a green snob?

    Being environmentally conscious/friendly isn't about being hip and it doesn't require spending a fortune. It's pretty easy, really.

    If it does come down to social status for some, I'd rather have green homes and hybrids than monster mansions and Hummers, or even big houses and Dodge Rams...
  • Re:800 SF? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:27AM (#10295806)

    That is way off, in the area of Texas I am in you can build a new home for about 70-90 per square foot . Plus [800 sq ft] is way small if you plan to have a family.

    It may be small, but it isn't too small. I grew up in a house of roughly 1200 sq ft (excluding basement) with four other siblings. My wife grew up in a house of roughly 800 sq ft with two other siblings.

    As long as children share bedrooms, and you forgo the formal dining room, family room, media room, and den, it is doable. Why spend money on rooms you aren't going to use? A living room works just as well as media room/family room. A dining room can be formal or informal. Bedrooms are for quiet study and sleeping, they don't need to be the size of aircraft hangers.

    As for the housing costs, locations differ. For example, in Texas, where you are at, I'm guessing 2x4 construction is the norm. In Minnesota, where I am at, 2x6 construction is mandated by building code. In Texas, I'm guessing you can get by with a small crawlspace, or slab-on-grade. In Minnesota, the frost line is so deep that by the time you get below it, its trivial to add a basement. Etc, etc.

  • Re:800 SF? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by flacco ( 324089 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @06:20AM (#10295934)
    Why spend money on rooms you aren't going to use?

    what he said.

    we bought a 2600sf house on 4 acres for myself, my wife, and three pets. probably about 1/4 to 1/3 of it is essentially unused space - she spends most of her time in the 8x22 sun room on the south side, and i spend most of mine in the 12x21 office on the north side. there are a couple rooms that we don't step foot in for weeks. every time i walk by them, the mortgage payment figure slides around before my eyes. quickly followed by the climate control expense.

    if i had it to do over again, i would go smaller, more energy-efficient, and put the savings toward more land, (even) more privacy, closer to the ocean, or just plain more leisure time; but this was our first house, and we wanted a "nice" place and didn't really give as much thought to the day-to-day practicalities involved.

    my current daydream is to get together with a few other people/couples and go in on a fully self-sustaining vacation house on the shore somewhere. this would allow us to buy land more cheaply (inaccessible, unserviced by utilities, etc), and put the money toward a nice waterfront view and privacy.

    the house mentioned in the article doesn't quite fit the bill, since it's designed to be hooked up to the grid and contribute energy back at some times, and draw energy off it during others; but the technologies used would be applicable to a self-sustaining house as well. and any experimentation that drives the initial price of these technologies down is very welcome.

  • do the math, homey (Score:5, Interesting)

    by poptones ( 653660 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @07:18AM (#10296066) Journal
    I didn't look at the pdf to see if it uses a heat closet, but the fact is most of that "high tech" ain't expensive at all - heat storage, for example, is just well insulated water jugs. PVC pipe ain't that expensive, neither is foam or styrene insulation. You can store hundreds of thousands of BTUs in a solar closet that only takes up a few square feet of floor space. Combine that with a roof collector and a fifty dollar pump and you have all the heat you need for water and heat - and you can use the space to dry clothes, no electric dryer needed. That's the equivalent of three conventional appliances occupying about the same amount of floor space as one in a conventional house - and it's not much more expensive to construct than buying a regular old water heater.

    By the time you ditch the heater, air conditioner, water heater, dishwasher... how much money do you think that saves? The stove and fridge will be more expensive than "conventional" but the fridge is only maybe twice as expensive, the stove less than that.

    My dream home isn't even this big - I've been working on plans for one roughly half this size, constructed on part of an old house trailer frame. I had an office in the back (now used as a storage shed) roughly 10x12 feet, 2x4 walls and one layer of fiberglass insulation - even when it was ten degrees outside I sometimes had to open the door to cool the place off because the heat from the computer and stereo would get the place so hot.

    A developer here in Mississippi has been building tiny homes for years and has, pretty much by himself, converted a run down part of town into a fairly high rent community [] - there's a "church []" (where my buddy used to live) and across from that what looks like a Beale Street hotel [], and several other small homes. It looks almost like a toy model of New Orleans, and the houses are very practical. It's just a matter of accepting the paradigm - once you stop saying it can't be done, one quickly realizes just how practical it can be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 20, 2004 @08:16AM (#10296277)
    A friend of mine had an interesting idea about storing small amount of irregular locally produced power (small wind turbines, solar cells etc)

    He suggested using it electrolyse water into Hydrogen and oxygen which could either be burned to produce heat and water (or even hot water :) or could be used to run a fuel cell. The only problem would be safe storage of gaseous hydrogen (the oxygen could release and normal air used later).
  • by poptones ( 653660 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @08:26AM (#10296328) Journal
    You have those no matter that kind of plant you use. Nobody wants a coal or nuclear plant in their yard, hydroelectric requires... well, enough water to supply the power needed, and even gas plants tend to be in low rent districts. why are these transmission line losses suddenly so notable when the power comes from solar?

    The solar field in california (bakersfield, I believe) uses high temperature collectors, molten brine, and a stirling engine to generate power, and so far as I know the best that's done is about 30%. You can get very nearly that right now from concentrated PV - a single cell a few inches on a side can supply as much power as a whole panel if it's made properly, the rest of the assembly is just mirror and a cooling manifold (which also provides a steady supply of heat for storage). This is present day tech - within the next decade there's serious talk of multilayer cells that can go as high as 60% efficiency in concentrated applications. That could mean a kW supplied by as little as 16 sq. in. of semiconductor material.

  • Re:Stupid (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BenjyD ( 316700 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @08:32AM (#10296354)
    No, off Newmarket Rd near the airport. Considering my last place was a 350-400 sq ft place in central london, this feels like a palace to me.
  • Re:800 SF? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by root_42 ( 103434 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @08:41AM (#10296400) Homepage
    > Plus it is way small if you plan to have a family.

    Man, you americans sometimes seem so weird. Sorry, for saying this, but here in Germany, a house with 240 square meters is more than average. A lot of families WITH children live in flats of 60-70 square meters or houses around 120-140 square meters. 240 square meters would be considered luxurious. I guess the US are really just bigger than Europe... :)
  • Re:Initial Cost (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:14AM (#10296602) Homepage Journal
    I'm going to start having to keep this story in a text file...

    My dad built two earth-sheltered passive solar homes, which were about 1200 sq ft and cost next to nothing. They didn't have solar panels, but they did have a large greenhouse and a solar water pre-heater. It was basically a box made of foil-backed insulation that had a black 55-gallon drum in it. This was hooked up between the water supply and the hot water heater. When it was sunny out, it preheated the water and saved energy. Since it was an electric water heater, the $50 of materials paid for themselves the first year. No major installation costs, no big expensive solar panels, and a very rugged design.

  • Re:Initial Cost (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cat_Byte ( 621676 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:02AM (#10297003) Journal
    I considered the same thing but couldn't get an answer to an important question I had for the people selling it. Can it survive the occasional baseball/grapefruit sized hailstorms we sometimes get in TX? Another thing was I figured if I added all of the green energy stuff to my home owners insurance that the added premium would probably offset the savings. I have lots of plans on how to make a home more energy efficient. I would love to do it someday. I even did a simple modification to my 2 story house that lowered my electric bills quite a bit. I ran an air duct down to the bottom floor from upstairs into the AC unit. During the winter it would suck the coldest air off the bottom floor right into the unit and blow heat out from the ceiling on the bottom floor. Just closing that off in the summer time kept it blowing cold air upstairs & trickling down through the house. It helped quite a bit.
  • by AnotherSteve ( 447030 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @01:04PM (#10298798)
    That's what they use between units in a row of condos or townhomes. Instead of running the insulation up and down between the studs, you weave it in and out along the wall. Keeps the noise down. So, yeah, your larger builders would have experience with it.
  • by Moofie ( 22272 ) <> on Monday September 20, 2004 @02:03PM (#10299415) Homepage
    As a new resident of Portland, I've been interested to learn about this region's sustainable development efforts. (Specifically, Portland has them)

    Moving out of cities and getting off the grid is simply not sustainable for a useful number of people, so decreasing the footprint of urban areas is an important idea. I'm glad Portland is leading that group. (Note: this house is a tiny tiny tiny part of that effort. It's been going on here for better than 20 years.)
  • Re:The future... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bob_jenkins ( 144606 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:08PM (#10300892) Homepage Journal
    I'm thinking of buying a 1200 sq ft house in an established area, tearing it down, and building a 6000 sq ft house in its place. Most of that square footage would be underground, but still. I'd have flat roofs for decks or gardens or water heating on top, not really to be green, but just because with a 60'x90' lot and a 50'x60' house, where else would I put the back yard? Trial floor plans here []. I'd tear down an old house and build a new because there are no vacant lots left in Silicon Valley.

    My current 1400 sq ft townhouse (3 adults 3 small children, really 900 sq ft you can walk on) is cramped. People sleep in the living room. There's more stuff than storage. There's no space for a workshop or a kid-free home office. Reading a newspaper is challenging. I can imagine moving into an 800 sq ft house, but I'd probably have to give up my computer and guitar to do it.

    What's the disadvantage to having a large house other than heating? Making houses tiny is a much more intrusive way to address heating costs than using insulation, solar water heating, and glazed windows.

Marvelous! The super-user's going to boot me! What a finely tuned response to the situation!