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A Zero-Energy Community: Part 8

Project Manager Brad Liljequist chronicles the building of zHome, a ten-unit townhome in Issaquah, Washington—the first multifamily zero-energy community in the United States. Part 8: How it ends...


Because I’ve been talking so much about various aspects of construction on prior posts, I’m going to skip that story, and jump to the grand finale—our education and media rollout.

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Our tours were oriented around a terrific set of signs—thirty in all.

zHome has always really been two things in one—an on the ground, for sale, speculative development, and a market transformation and education process. With the completion of the community in September of last year, we rolled directly into my main raison d’etre on zHome, which is using the community to redefine the paradigm for green housing regionally. This last Fall, zHome came full circle to its original vision, which was to change how of a number of audiences—builders, architects, designers, homebuyers, and the general public—understand the ecological footprint homes have, and how that footprint can be radically reduced.

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zHome has provided a great inspiration for Northwest schools—this is our great trio from the University of Washington College of Architecture and Urban Planning who used zHome as a case study, working with Issaquah Middle School to produce a video about the environmental impact of buildings. Left to right: Sorayya Aminian, Avery Hilliard, and Marissa Heath.

During construction, we had a monthly walkthrough, where people could get a behind-the-sheetrock view of what we were doing. These tours proved greatly successful, typically running 20-30 folks each month. In addition, we did regular construction blogs and videos on our website.
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We had several overseas tour groups visit zHome. This Taiwanese group included a number of academics and architects.
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We had great support from our tour guides, who would provide in depth, one to two hour tours about the ins and outs of the project. Here, Mark Weirenga of David Vandervort Architects shows the wall section mock-up with the three inches of exterior expanded polystyrene.

But the main event was from September 14th through October 31st, when we ran tours and programs at zHome 7 days a week. During weekends, we held continuous tours for the general public, with a group of fantastic guides drawn from the local green building and architectural community. On weekdays, we held dozens of tours for companies, schools, and organizations—lots of architecture firms, but also contractors, cities, and developers. The pace was steady, and by the end of October nearly 10,000 people had toured the site. I was ably assisted in managing it all by Elizabeth Coe, a former elementary school teacher and recent graduate of the Sustainable Building Advisor course at Olympic College.

In addition to onsite education, we worked hard to get regional and national media coverage of the project, which we were quite successful with. Things got off to a bang on September 2 with live video coverage from the Wall Street Journal. By the end of the open houses, we had great coverage by the New York Times, NPR, a front page Sunday Seattle Times story, Global Post (a terrific video piece), Treehugger, Mother Nature Network, Jetson Green, and TV coverage by several local stations. To get this level of national recognition felt great of course, but more importantly helped spread the word that radically green homes with zero need for fossil fuels are possible today.

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We partnered with Mitsubishi to do a test drive event for their new i electric vehicle. The lowest carbon footprint townhome community in the US meets the lowest carbon footprint vehicle in the US! The i is a great urban car with a MPG equivalent of 112.
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We had several green building luminaries stay overnight at zHome on their way through town, including David Johnston, author of Toward a Zero Energy House, and Alex Wilson, Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Building News. Here I wish David goodbye after he taught at the Built Green conference and at King County’s Government Confluence.

We spent a ton of time making sure our tours were top caliber, and I think we achieved that goal. Tours started with an introductory video featuring Denis Hayes, founder of Earth Day, president of the Bullitt Foundation, and zHome friend. The video was filmed and produced by Sheila Mullen and Valerie Vozza, the dynamic duo behind Nancy Guppy’s ArtZone show. We then labored for hundreds of hours to produce a fantastic set of signs which graphically described the technologies and specifications of the community. Erin Gehle of SoftFirm Studios did a wonderful job with the graphics on the signs. With this base of support our tour guides provided superb, in-depth education about zHome.

In addition to our live tours, we also put together a number of in-depth educational videos running off of our website. These have proved popular and provide folks with more background of a number of technologies.

It was an enormous amount of work, but at the end of the day I’m thrilled with how we’ve done in changing the thought landscape in our area. I was recently at Salmon Safe’s annual award ceremony and the MC asked how many in the room knew about zHome. About 2/3rds of the hands went up. That’s pretty good brand recognition. Ichijo USA is already planning future developments which feature many of the technologies in zHome, and I know other builders are looking to follow suit. I think in ten years we are going to be amazed by the pace of change in the home building world.

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Click here to read past installemts of Building A Zero-Energy Community.

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