Retiree Fired Up About Creating a Passive House Community in Portland

by Susan Williams, Executive Director

Environmental and Energy Study Institute

 

Michael RoyceMichael (pictured) and Francie Royce, empty nesters in Portland, Oregon, spent years looking for a place to build their retirement home. Finding a large lot available in a walkable, bikeable part of town was a priority. When they finally found two lots with a warehouse on them in a very attractive part of town—close to grocery stores, restaurants, parks, bus routes, and more—they knew they had found the location for their retirement home.

They wanted to create a small, intentional community of green homes where they could live out the rest of their years independently (an intentional community is a planned residential community whose residents combine forces and share resources to achieve a common vision). They teamed up with long-time friends, Dick and Lavinia Gordon, also empty nesters, to do just that.

The community—which they call Ankeny Row—will have six homes, a community room, central courtyard, a hot tub, and a bike room. It will also have a carport with a charging station for one or two community-owned electric cars. A schematic design has been completed, and the founders are currently looking for others to commit to joining their community before starting construction.

Ankeny Row Streetscape Perspective: (Courtesy of Green Hammer)Ankeny Row Streetscape Perspective
(Courtesy of Green Hammer)
The small “pocket neighborhood” they are creating will be built to Passive House standards (also known as PassivHaus standards, since they were mostly developed in Germany). These standards, among the most energy-efficient in the world, feature super-insulated air-tight construction, heat-recovery ventilation, and passive solar heating. Since Michael and Francie had worked in renewable energy and urban planning, going green was a natural fit for them.

Michael and Francie wanted to go with Passive House standards rather than the more common LEED standards because Passive House is better for energy conservation—one of their main goals. Michael explained that they would be “foolish not to do it because of the multiple incentives” available to them—from the federal government, the state of Oregon, and the local Bonneville Environmental Foundation. Michael expects a payback period of five to six years. The Passive House construction methods cost about 10 to 15 percent more than typical building techniques—but their electric load will be 40% lower. Adding solar PV—4 kW per unit—means that the homes will be net zero energy.

Another benefit they value is that the interior air quality will be much better (since the homes will constantly be delivering fresh, filtered air and evacuating carbon dioxide). They also chose a heating system that will distribute heat well, which will be all the more comfortable to them as senior citizens. “A Passive House doesn’t need central heat,” Michael explained. Their homes will use a mini-split ductless heater, which delivers warm air directly into different spaces, instead of routing it through ducts first. “I’ve been more comfortable in a well-constructed house with the thermostat set at 66 than a poorly constructed one with the thermostat set at 70,” Michael noted.

These will be top-of-the-line homes with about 1,500 square feet of interior living space (the walls are so thick in Passive House construction that the exterior square footage is about 1,800 square feet). The homes are priced in the upper $400s. Michael and Francie are managing the process, and selected local construction firm Green Hammer, which specializes in Passive House construction, through a competitive bidding process. Green Hammer—and the Royces—hope this project will be a model for the rest of Portland, and beyond.