Local builder showcases green Blaine home

Published on Thu, Mar 4, 2010
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When Bellingham builder Mike McAuley was looking for a site to build his dream project – a state-of-the-art green home – he chose Blaine’s lettered street neighborhood because of its affordability and quality of life.

As a result, McAuley, who also sits on the Port of Bellingham’s position 2 seat, designed a 2,200-square foot, three-bedroom, two 3/4 bathroom American Foor Square home at 475 E Street. 

“I wanted to build something forward thinking but also something that fit into the older, established neighborhood,” he said. “I wanted something that would look like it had already been there.”

The home boasts a variety of “green” or environmentally friendly features while maintaining a well-built, modern apperance inside and out.

Outside, visitors will notice fruiting trees (McAuley says he designs his yards to be “as edible as possible”), removable pathways of cement pavers that use less concrete than conventional sidewalks, cedar siding and a steel
roof that is virtually indistinguishable from traditional single-ply roofing and lasts up to 20 years longer.

Inside, the home is comfortable with wood floors and plenty of open space. Rather than including hallways (something McAuley calls a solution to bad design) he uses an open floor plan to create a feeling of common living space.

Energy efficiency

Although the home is studded with energy-saving features, most are invisible to the eye. The home’s 22 windows, for example, provide passive solar heating in the winter and enough air ventilation in the summer to keep the house cool.

And the dual-flush toilets McAuley installed in the home’s bathrooms can save an average of 4,745 gallons of water per year without any change in the occupants’ behavior.

The heating system is comprised of infrared heating panels installed on ceilings throughout the house. The panels radiate heat that warms objects in the room as opposed to conventional systems that push warm air around. As a result, infrared heating panels are free of allergens and dust that collect in the ducts of forced air heating systems.

In a 2001 report by the U.S. Department of Energy, the agency found that infrared radiant heating can reduce heating costs by more than 50 percent when compared with baseboard electric heating systems  and by more than 30 percent when compared with conventional heat pump heating or forced air heating.

And because panels are attached to ceilings, there is no need for ducted furnaces, fans, heat pumps or in-floor electrical or hydrolic systems that require expensive installation.

To augment those energy savings, McAuley used a tankless water heater, which heats water only as needed and can save families 10 to 20 percent per year, depending on usage. The device – about 2 1/2 feet tall and six inches deep – hangs on a wall in the home’s utility room and takes up only a fraction of the space of a conventional water heater.

Flooring and countertops

The bathrooms and kitchen feature ceramic tile and wood flooring, polished slate countertops and accents such as a space divider McAuley constructed out of used mahogany he found in his neighbor's barn.

McAuley said because of the tendency for carpets to collect dust mites and allergens, he avoids using them altogether.

“When you weigh the health and environmental costs with the benefits of using carpet, it just doesn't add up,” he said.

Although tile countertops earn less points as part of the LEED certification system, McAuley said he favors them because they requires less energy to manufacture than flooring made from recycled content.

“The problem is the green building community tends to give the highest LEED ratings to products with recycled content but for me it always comes back to embodied energy,” he said. “Sometimes standard old polished rock is the greenest way to go.”

Green economics

Green building represents a $7 billion market in the United States, according to a study by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit group representing the interests of builders nationwide.

The Whatcom County Building Industry Association estimates that an average home certified by their Built Green program will cost the home owner about three to five percent more than a conventionally-built home. Those costs, however, are often recovered within two to five years.

“In the end, I want people to look at this house and say, ‘This is a nice house,’ and not even notice that’s it’s a green home,” he said.

McAuley Building Conservation group can be reached by calling 360/201-7199.