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  • Denise Garcia

Post #2: La Pedrera rises out of the bedrock.

Updated: Jun 6, 2019


The following blog will chronicle the construction of a new Zero Energy Ready Home designed by Domain Design Architects and located on San Juan Island, Washington. Denise Garcia and her husband, Eric Schmidt, who together have degrees in architecture, landscape architecture and city planning, have been passionate about environmentally responsible design since their student days at MIT. Their new ZERH home is the culmination of over 30 years each of professional experience. We hope this blog will inspire others to consider building a Zero Energy Ready Home.


Spring has arrived at Cape San Juan.



San Juan Island, March 18, 2019

Cape Drive Zero Energy Ready Home

Blog entry #2- La Pedrera rises out of the bedrock


It's been 4 weeks since we first broke ground and work has been progressing steadily. The entire foundation has been excavated and footings are starting to be formed. The outlines of the house are becoming more apparent. For a smaller home, the structure commands the site with its presence and nestles into the rocky landscape like it was always meant to be there. Siting a home is the first important design decision to be made, particularly for a high-performance home like ours. Luckily, we have a site with features that allow us to both capture the water view and orient the roof for good solar exposure; two reasons we fell in love with our lot immediately.


Four weeks have passed and work has steadily progressed. The foundation is fully excavated and footings are formed. La Pedrera is slowly rising out of the bedrock.


When we first began designing our home, we made the second important decision for an energy-efficient home: make the square footage as small as possible to reduce the energy load while giving us a spacious open floor plan. An important part of this process was value engineering. Having both a ZERH builder (Bellingham Bay Builders) and an energy consultant (Elizabeth Coe) on board early in the design process gave us the ability to make qualitative design decisions with corresponding quantitative impact. We highly recommend this "team" approach to designing and building a home. A major breakthrough came when we decided to eliminate the second floor and go with a single-story structure: foundation members became smaller, framing became more straightforward and a tight building envelope became easier to achieve. We were able to fit all of our needs into 1,632 square feet.


The model of our home, after value engineering a second floor out of the design. Cutting our square footage reduced our energy load and allowed us to eliminate 10 photo voltaic panels from our solar array.

Our ground floor plan after fine-tuning the design. We wanted an open floor plan with great views to the water.

In Zero Energy Ready homes, the building envelope is absolutely crucial to the performance of the home. Getting certified as a Zero Energy Ready Home can be accomplished in many ways through decisions made about the primary elements of the building envelope: framing, insulation, thermal breaks, windows and air sealing. One of the reasons we like the Zero Energy Ready Home program by the US Department of Energy is that it allows owners to consider an 'a la carte' menu of high-performance details and (with the help of the design team) lets them select the ones that best fit their needs while satisfying the requirements of ZERH certification. That kind of flexibility allows for differences in climate, square footage and budget.



Back at the site, work has progressed on our septic system:



Our 1,500-gallon, dual-chamber septic tank, partially backfilled.


The septic line leading from the tank to the drain field. Soil depths are greater here, making excavation relatively easier.



The components of our septic drainfield: sand, lateral piping and infiltration chambers.


Our first inspection will include certifying that all erosion-control measures have been installed. A continuous straw wattle has been staked across the entire width of the lot, just downhill from the foundation excavation.



View to the water showing formed footings in the future crawl space area. In a few days we'll have our first concrete pour. La Pedrera will begin to rise out of the bedrock!




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