Lessons From The Field: A Passivhaus and A DIY Off-Grid Property

4:00 pm, Room 110 - Application

Jon Alexander, Sunshine Construction/George Ostrow, Velocipede Architects/Jim Bristow, Bristow Enterprises

Hear stories of two separate journeys into the unknown. Thrill to the challenges they faced, learn from the complications they conquered, and delight in the mishaps along the way.

Phantom Lake Passivhaus

Passivhaus is the world’s most stringent energy efficiency standard for buildings. To build one, a contractor must use state of the art construction methods and materials. The particular challenges of building a PH are extreme air sealing, heavy triple glazed windows, extra thick sub-slab insulation, a layer of rigid insulation on the outside of the walls, and a Heat Recovery Ventilation system.

This new single family house on a waterfront lot in Bellevue was the speaker’s first PH project. He took the 4-day Passivhaus Builder Training class to prepare. He has 25 years of experience in green building & remodeling. Even so, Jon went through a significant learning curve to build his first PH. In this practical talk, he will share the challenges he faced and the methods he used to overcome them.

Hood Canal DIY Off-Grid Garage/Workshop

Jim and his family have a fully off-grid 5 acre property on Hood Canal with 2 cabins, and had a need for a garage-workshop. For many years he had a plan to fill an unused space with a carport, and the longer he planned it, the more materials he acquired, including materials from the following sources:

  • Re-bar and form materials destined for the scrap pile from a retired concrete contractor;

  • Metal roofing from the Re-Store (now Ballard Re-use) traded for bowling lanes from Sunset Bowl;

  • Beams, brackets and bolts from Bergen Park in Ballard;

  • T and G roof system from neighbors cabin he salvaged;

  • Beams, studs, posts, etc. milled on site from windfall Doug fir trees-100 percent of framing other than roof system and aforementioned beams, etc.;

  • Plywood and other materials lightly used from Craigslist;

  • Windows from 6 year old house in Ballard and Ballard Re-use, all good quality thermopane;

  • Rigid foam insulation salvaged from Bremerton post office and another building;

  • Siding milled onsite, full 1 by 12 Douglas fir and cedar;

  • Masonry stove will use as much material from property, river rock, etc.

The only materials bought new were–Plastic vapourbarrier, Concrete, Nails and screws–some salvaged, Plywood subfloor, House wrap, Titanium roof membrane. They had a need, a site, and piles of materials looking for a home, so a 20 by 20 carport idea became a 24 by 32 by 26 foot tall workshop and beautiful living space reality. Most of the construction was performed by Jim with the help of his trusty Kubota tractor, and at times with a little, sometimes a lot, of help from his friends and family. He documented the project from start to current state with hundreds of photos and videos.

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand air sealing products: what works and what doesn’t when it’s raining

  • Learn how to safely move and install really large, really heavy windows

  • Discover the problems with extra thick subslab insulation, and their solutions

  • Hear what kind of ventilation ducts to use and how best to route them

  • Learn how to pick a feasible off-grid property

  • Find out ways to utilize reclaimed materials from off site

  • See how to utilize on-site available materials and resources

  • Find out how to build around space and materials, and be flexible

Jon Alexander is the President of Sunshine Construction LLC and has been a general contractor for 35 years. Jon is one of the founders of the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild and has given numerous presentations and workshops on green and healthy building at local and national conferences. Sunshine Construction has specialized in green building & remodeling since 1992 and did Built Green’s first 5-Star new home & its first 5 Star remodel. Jon has a BA in Environmental Studies from the University of Washington and is a 4th generation contractor.

George Ostrow is an architect in Seattle specializing in green design. VELOCIPEDE’s projects include net zero energy, net zero water, Passivhaus, Built Green 5 Star and Emerald Star, and LEED Platinum. Their work has been published locally and nationally, and received awards from Built Green and the Master Builders Association.

His 20 year old firm designs single family, multifamily, and commercial projects, in both modern and traditional aesthetics, all over the Puget Sound region. George commutes daily by bicycle and his shower is fed by a CO2 heat pump water heater (COP of 4.0, GWP of 1).

Owner-builder Jim Bristow's creativity and prowess extends to reclaiming dead spaces, scrounging materials from demolished buildings, maximizing energy efficiency and mobilizing friends and neighbors to community activity and action. Jim's career as a DIY builder began as a teenager when he built his own living shelter in his parent's backyard. Jim's business, Bristow Enterprises specializes in rainwater capture and reuse, energy efficient installations and educating homeowners about how to save money and reduce their carbon footprint before investing in new technology to further a high consumption lifestyle.