By Caroyln Tamler, photo by Tim Chandonnet
Northwest Business Monthly, Vol.34 Issue 8
“To start out on an adventure like this when you retire is like being in the Wild West,” declares Judi Moore. She and her husband Bob purchased property just south of the Greenbank Farm on a 70-foot bluff overlooking Holmes Harbor on Whidbey Island.
The land was untamed, but the real frontier they were heading into was that of incorporating green energy technology into their new home.
These “pioneers” moved in December of last year. The house consists of 1,800 square feet on the main floor and another 1,800 square feet in a daylight basement, plus a 200-square-foot loft. Their living space is just more than 2,000 square feet, with the option to convert the basement into more living space.
Judi says they spent 17 years remodeling a house in California, and were determined that this home would have all of the features they wanted from the get go. For Judi, it takes full advantage of natural light and the views. For Bob, it’s a comfortable, livable home.
The Moores Move to Whidbey Island
Judi and Bob Moore were both secondary school teachers, living and working in Sacramento, Calif. Prior to Bob’s teaching career, he was a heating and air conditioning contractor. His work experience proved to be especially valuable in planning a home featuring the latest energy-efficient technologies.
Judi grew up in Wenatchee, but her family often summered on Whidbey Island. When Judi and Bob were planning their retirement, Judi brought him to Whidbey and the two decided this would be the place they would settle. In 2005, they purchased the three-quarter acre property in Greenbank and began planning their home.
Using a design from Ontario, Canada-based Viceroy Homes, Bob worked closely with the contractor to get the design and features they wanted.
When they purchased the property, it was solid with scrub trees and bushes. While they hired someone to clear the brush, the couple spent their first summer as landowners sawing down 150 scruby alders and cutting the logs into firewood. They left the evergreens, but had them trimmed to fully appreciate the vistas.
Construction started in fall 2006. It was a quick learning curve.
“Neither of us had ever dealt with a home built on a hill,” Bob says.
He describes the shock of digging down for the foundation and finding water freely flowing from the ground. They contracted with RL Construction of Clinton to work on a drainage and septic system. This sophisticated drainage system is essential to handle underground water flow, roof drainage and to protect the bluff. Bob notes homes built on a bluff without this kind of a system can lead to dangerous erosion.
Exploring the house
The Moores made a commitment to build a home with as many energy-saving features as possible. At the same time, the home is a showpiece with floor-to-ceiling windows, vaulted ceilings, wood trim, tile floors and a river rock fireplace that serves as the dramatic focal point of the living room.
The fireplace was designed to handle 32-inch logs, which produce enough heat for the entire house. As the heat rises, it is pulled back down by two ceiling fans.
A five-ton Carrier heat pump was installed as backup for heating and air conditioning. However, the fireplace is so efficient they have not yet used the pump.
Design of the house has also negated the need to use the pump for air conditioning. Four motorized skylights open for fresh air by way of a remote control. The skylights operate like natural chimneys. They also have rain-sensing screens and close automatically when it rains.
The loft area above the living room is a cozy nook for reading or watching television and a great place for their four grandchildren to play. During the daytime, the skylights make the space light and airy.
The master bedroom is heated with a remote-controlled propane fireplace on the wall. The bedroom, like the other rooms in the house, meets Judi’s requirement: “Every window I look out has a view.”
She prefers to use natural light wherever possible. In addition to windows and skylights, the closets all have solar tubes to provide natural light.
All of the appliances in the spacious kitchen are energy efficient. Xenon lights under the cabinets provide high intensity lighting while using minimal energy. The microwave and the oven can both operate as convection ovens.
Throughout the house, there are water restrictors on every faucet and florescent bulbs on all the fixtures except where dimmers are used. The toilets in the bathrooms are low water users. Wherever there were choices to be energy efficient, the Moores were sure to make these choices.
The latest in solar technology
The Moore home has a solar water-heating system for domestic hot water and a solar photovoltaic system for electricity. The systems were designed by Kelly Keilwitz of Whidbey Sun and Wind, located in Coupeville. Keilwitz designed the renewable energy systems to provide much of the Moore’s home energy needs from the sun.
Bob loves to give visitors a look at his equipment room, the operations center for all things solar and electric.
Unlike most conventional homes, the Moore’s home has two water heater tanks. The first tank is heated by solar tubes located on the roof. Each of the 40 glass vacuum tubes is an independent water heater. “This is the latest technology,” Bob notes.
The solar tubes can heat water even when it’s as cold as 32 degrees Fahrenheit, as long as there’s some sunlight. The system provides near instant hot water. The second tank is a conventional electric water heater to provide backup to the solar water heating system. As long as the water in the solar tank is more than 140 degrees, the electric water heater doesn’t need to work. Pumps circulate hot water from the solar collector to the solar tank, and between the two tanks. Bob says the electric water heater seldom runs as the solar collector tubes provide most of the hot water needed.
Adjacent to the solar water heating system in the equipment room the inverter for the photovoltaic (“PV” or solar electric) system registers the amount of electricity being generated from the 16 solar panels on the roof. The inverter, the “heart” of the PV system, is an electronic device that changes high-voltage direct current from the PV system into household alternating current. The arrangement of solar panels, called the PV array, is rated at 3,200 watts and produces an average of about 10 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity each day (an efficient refrigerator uses about 1 kWh/day).
Meters measure how much solar electricity is being produced, and the amount not used is returned to the power grid. The Moores receive credit from Puget Sound Energy for the amount of energy returned to the grid. In addition, the Moores receive an annual check from PSE for the total amount of solar energy produced, at the rate of 15 cents/kWh. Also, they receive 2 cents/kWh for the renewable energy credits, or “green” value of the energy. In total, the solar electricity produced by the photovoltaic system is worth about three times more than the electricity the Moores buy from PSE when the sun doesn’t shine.
Experiencing the view and the beach
The unobstructed views of Holmes Harbor and Saratoga Passage can be enjoyed from every west-facing window in the house, the wrap-around deck and the hot tub.
To enjoy the beach 70 feet below them, the Moores contracted with Accumar Elevator Company of Poulsbo to create an elevator system that takes them down to the beach in just a couple of minutes. The elevator was designed so no parts touch the cliff. The apparatus is housed in a small room at the top of the bluff and is anchored in seven feet of concrete and steel. While Bob and Judi make a point of frequently visiting the beach, their dog, Lucca, is the biggest fan of the system, waiting by the elevator for her ride to the beach whenever she hears a human coming outside.
It took two years for the design and construction of the home to be completed, and the Moores believe they have made their “frontier” home beautiful, comfortable and a superior example of green energy.