Soggy and Sustainable: Portland's Water-Conscious Demo Home

Images: Portland Water Bureau.

Back in December of last year, I blogged about the KB Home’s Springwood community in Roseville, Calif., site of the first three homes in the U.S. to be bestowed with WaterSense Labeled New Homes certification, a relatively new and still under-the-radar program from the EPA that’s similar to EnergyStar for Homes but zeroes in on residential water conservation instead of energy efficiency.

Although the program is still going strong as far as I know, I haven’t stumbled across all that many WaterSense labled projects — new homes designed to save in the ballpark of 10,000 gallons of water annually — over the past few months ... until now.

Located on a once-vacant, city-owned lot at 1616 NE 140th St. in Northeast Portland’s Russell neighborhood, Water House is the first home in Oregon to gain WaterSense certification and was a stop on last weekend’s 10th annual Build It Green! Portland Home Tour (check out the complete roster of super impressive featured projects here).

Out of all the fabulous Build it Green! tour homes, Water House caught my eye not only because of its unique WaterSense branding but because, unlike most of the other featured projects, it’s not a private residence (at least not yet, anyways) but a sustainable demonstration home/urban infill project owned and operated by the City of Portland that functions “like a laboratory for the public and industry to learn more about sustainable building practices, materials and systems.” Completed this past February, Water House has hosted an estimated 1,700 guests through public and private events and tours so far according to Darcy Cronin, Facilities Services Specialist with the Portland Water Bureau. The home will continue to host events and workshops (coming up: a free “rain gardens 101” workshop on Oct. 16) through the coming months. Then, in the spring of 2012, the Water House will officially be put on the market and become a private home.

At 2,199-square-feet, the three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch-style abode is designed to use water 20 percent more efficiency than standard new homes. Additionally, Water House has achieved both EnergyStar certification and Earth Advantage Platinum certification (the Earth Advantage Institute along with Energy Trust of Oregon, Rivoli Designs, MIG, Metro, Portland General Electric, Alan Mascord Design Associates, and the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland served as project partners). These additional certifications prove that although water conservation may be the Water House’s soggy raison d'être, the home is certainly no one-trick green pony. Among the home’s features are a high-efficiency Daikin Mini-Split heating and cooling systems; a LifeBreath heat recovery ventilator; a Rheem Marathon electric water heater; Kohler fixtures and Fisher & Paykel appliances; recycled paints; triple-paned windows; recycled glass countertops and bamboo cabinetry; sustainable landscaping including a rain garden; a 600-square-foot guest house, and much more. In all, over 30 local green companies contributed over $150,000 in products and services to the Water House project which has, not surprisingly, managed to raise some eyebrows over its $400,000 price tag.

To learn more about Water House, head on over to both the Portland Water Bureau website and the official Water House homepage. There's also a Water House Facebook page and a Water House Twitter account worth checking out for additional info not just about the home itself but about residential water conservation in general. Portlanders: Did you have a chance to tour Water House during the Build it Green! home tours this past weekend or prior to that? What did you think? And what are your thoughts on the city financing such a project? Everyone else: What are your thoughts on WaterSense certification? Do you think it should be just as important to green-minded new homeowners (and to developers and contractors) as the EnergyStar label?