On Monday, February 18, we literally “broke ground” on the construction of our new Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) on San Juan Island. The geotechnical engineer was right: the site is comprised primarily of bedrock overlain by a layer of soil anywhere from 4-40 inches. In the area of the house footprint, some of the bedrock breaks through the soil layer and is visible at the surface. Great for the bearing capacity of our foundation; expensive to remove. To deal with our geological challenge, we found one of the best excavators in the business: Island Excavating, Inc. of Orcas Island, WA. On Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, they got down to business.
Backtrack to the summer of 2017, when we first laid eyes on our piece of Paradise on Washington’s San Juan Island, the largest of an archipelago of islands in the northwest corner of the state. Driving to see our lot for the first time, we passed through American Camp on the south end of the island, a US National Monument of stunning natural beauty and awe-inspiring views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier. Would this be our new commute home? We had to pinch ourselves, already feeling a strong emotional connection to this jewel of an island. Driving onto the Cape San Juan peninsula, we marveled at the low-key lifestyle of the community we would soon call home. We learned that Cape residents had worked hard over the years to maintain the carefree feeling of being on permanent vacation. Once at the lot, it was love at first site with the near-acre of stratified bedrock, twisted madrona trees and wheat-colored native grass, not to mention a dock on Fish Creek, which is really a small inlet off of Griffin Bay. Within 2 months, it was ours and we began to plan for the unique home we would build there.
Our initial planning was centered around the goal of building the best environmentally-friendly home we could afford. As architects, we were familiar with high-performance design concepts like LEED, Passive House and Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) After studying all three, we decided that Zero Energy Ready Home was the best fit for us. A program sponsored by the US Department of Energy, it gave us the most design flexibility and assured us that we would always be carbon neutral, that is, we would make as much energy as we would use in our home and thus have zero adverse impact on our planet.
In order to prepare for our design adventure we first found a great builder in Bellingham, WA. With half a dozen high-performance and ZERH homes under his belt, Dave Brogan of Bellingham Bay Builders had the experience to advise us on the many details involved in building a ZERH home. At Dave’s recommendation, we hired an energy consultant, Elizabeth Coe, who would crunch the numbers to get our design to Net Zero, and who will also substantiate with the DOE that our constructed home meets the criteria required to be certified a Zero Energy Ready Home. One of the most important first steps in embarking on the construction of a ZERH home is to assemble a great team consisting of builder, energy consultant, architect and- in our seismic zone- structural engineer. Our team would grow to include a geotechnical engineer and consulting archaeologist (more about that later).
Back at the lot, our excavator continued using his hydraulic hammer to break up the stratified layers of Jurassic-era sandstone and siltstone. Our new name for the house is 'La Pedrera': the Rock House. Our adventure has begun!