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Healthy Home in the Valley

Selah couple's focus on indoor air quality led them to construct Yakima County's first five-star green home

Monday, July 13 2009


SELAH, Wash. -- Bryan and Tricia Smith decided to make a lifestyle change.

With a primary focus on assuring healthy indoor air quality for their children, the couple also wanted to improve the family's diet and nutrition, reduce their impact on the environment, and be able to produce some of their own food.

"We have a couple of children who were diagnosed with asthma and other health problems that prompted us to focus on their environment, whether that be diet or their living environment," said Bryan Smith, a 37-year-old attorney and Yakima native. "We are trying to provide the most nurturing environment we can."

The outward symbol of that change sits on nearly 2 acres along Mapleway Road.

The Smiths will soon move into their new home, the first five-star green home in Yakima County.

The designation, made by the Central Washington Built Green Association, means the home meets the most stringent standards for environmentally friendly building.

From a high-quality electronic air filtration system to solar water-heating, reclaimed wood and wood from renewable forests, and an absence of products and paints that emit volatile organic compounds, the Smith home scores high enough to qualify for the ultimate rating.

About 15 other new homes have been built in the county using many of the same concepts, but not to the degree the Smiths are employing.

Those concepts are at the heart of the green building movement: use of renewable resources, energy and water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and ongoing operation and maintenance that reduces impacts on the environment.

Before the family moves in, the general public will have a chance to walk through the 5,000-square-foot craftsman home.

Public tours of the home will be conducted each Saturday and Sunday through the end of July. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

The home is a demonstration project to show the public what's available for green building.

"A five-star house means more time, effort and thought process has gone into making sure the house meets that level," said Carly Faul, executive officer of the Central Washington Home Builders Association and the Central Washington Built Green Association. "More systems are in place to make sure the house has had less of an impact on the environment."

The Built Green Association is a network of architects, builders, developers and suppliers working to incorporate environmentally friendly techniques in Central Washington.

Faul said the green movement isn't a pull from builders, but a push from consumers.

"Going green is occurring because consumers are demanding it. They are beginning to see the benefits of green," she said.

Steve Weise of Steve Weise Inc., builder of the Smiths' home, said the trend will only become more entrenched.

"This movement will change the face of building," the 23-year Yakima builder said. "It is a grass-roots movement that will sweep across the land. It is a real thing."

Green building has many definitions and interpretations, which can confuse both consumers and builders. That's one reason for conducting the public tours at the Smith home.

Weise said buying into the green movement is based on an individual approach and philosophy.

"Green is a word that describes a culture rising in the United States to be energy-efficient, cost-efficient and carbon-footprint-efficient," he explained.

The two-story home and three-bay garage faces east toward Selah. The home features four bedrooms and 31/2 baths. The dining room, kitchen and high-ceilinged great room with a fireplace are adjacent to one another; that's another element of the green concept, to have main living spaces in one area, Weise said.

In addition to a bedroom and office on the second floor, the home features a theater at the north end.

Bryan Smith declined to say how much the home cost to build.

Weise said homes with green features generally cost about $160 per square foot for first-floor construction and $100 per square foot for a second story, which he said are amounts comparable to the costs of conventional construction.

Faul said incorporating green features doesn't necessarily mean construction will cost more than a conventionally built home.

It just takes more legwork to locate green materials and a close working relationship with the builder, Smith said.

"One problem with building green is you can't go to Home Depot for a one-stop shop. You can get green products there, but what you find in all phases of construction is you have to go to various vendors throughout the state and Northwest to gather what you need," Smith said.

It also requires making choices. A decision to use radiant heat under the floors meant the budget had to be cut elsewhere to compensate.

Reclaimed wood covers the radiant heat coils in the first-floor living area. Doors and trim are alder, which meets the definition of green as a renewable resource.

Cork flooring is used on the second floor.

Use of green materials was an important component of the project, but Smith said a safe indoor environment for his family -- including the use of the electronic air filtration system -- was the overriding concern.

"If your focus is on the sustainability of the project, you want to focus on recycled materials as opposed to air quality," he said. "Our primary concern was not recycled materials but how to make this a healthy living environment."

* David Lester can be reached at 509-577-7674 or

If you go

The certified five-star green-built home is located at 804 Mapleway Road. From downtown Selah, drive west on West Fremont Avenue. West Fremont turns into Pleasant Hill Road. Turn left on Selah Heights Road and right on Mapleway Road.

From U.S. Highway 12, turn right at Old Naches Highway near the Suntides Golf Course. Turn right on Mapleway Road.

The open house will be each Saturday and Sunday through the end of July from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Green features of the Smith residence

* A heat recovery ventilation system and electronic air filtration system.

* Tight exterior construction to reduce air infiltration.

* Radiant floor heat.

* Solar hot water heater.

* Paint with no volatile organic compounds and all water-based glues.

* Formaldehyde-free insulation and cabinets.

* Limited carpet.

* Energy-efficient windows and Energy Star light fixtures and appliances.

* Salvaged wood and cork flooring.

* Dual flush toilets, low-flow showerheads and faucets, drought-tolerant landscaping and pervious pavers.