Imagine building an affordable home that also meets sustainable requirements. Imagine outfitting this affordable home with solar energy and going beyond Net Zero. According to local green designer and builder Ted Clifton (of TC Legend Homes), with the right priorities in mind, we can build Positive Energy homes here in Bellingham.

But wait a minute. Can we reap the rewards of solar energy in a region that is dark and cloudy for half the year?

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Green Designer-Builder Ted Clifton shares his Power House with another family. Photo credit: Patricia Herlevi.

“Solar power works well here with the long days of spring and summer,” Ted tells me during an interview at the Power House he and his four-person crew built in the Roosevelt Neighborhood. “Panels work better at 70 degrees.”

Ted adds that power companies that practice net-metering bank up the extra power and then return it to the Positive Energy household during the winter months.

Ted left the room then returned with his electricity bill and also a copy of a check he received for a surplus of energy. He mentioned that his entire electric bill for the past year was $27, which he mentioned is the same for powering a hot tub.

While the concept of Net Zero has grabbed headlines in green building circles and designers bandy it around at green building conferences, Ted introduced a newer concept, Positive Energy, which refers to the energy a solar house generates and returns to the grid.

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This rustic kitchen is located inside the Power House in the Roosevelt Neighborhood. Photo credit: Patricia Herlevi.

In reference to his cooperative household, “The house powers itself plus an electric car. When you design a house from scratch, you can make it more efficient,” explains Ted.

The Power House possesses many green features, such as radiant heat under concrete flooring, solar panels, rain catchment for the permaculture lot, south-facing windows and two families share the 2,750 square feet that comprise the house build on a quarter acre.

The long dining table where I sat during the interview with Ted, features reclaimed maple from Ted’s family’s previous Sudden Valley residence where they lived for seven years. A walk through the downstairs part of the home revealed clean air from a sustainable heat and ventilation system, post and beam construction, and handcrafted woodwork.

The afternoon sun filtering into the kitchen, along with Ted’s toddler son curled up on an oversize couch could have popped out of the pages of a magazine. The entire house includes two regular bathrooms downstairs, another bathroom upstairs, two kitchens, and three functional bedrooms as well as, a shared recreational room.

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The dining room table was made from a reclaimed maple from Sudden Valley. Photo credit: Patricia Herlevi.

When Ted and his family hosted a Green Drinks March 2015 meeting, 200 attendees spilled out of the house and into the garden space. And while property values are generally lower in the Roosevelt Neighborhood than the sought after Bellingham neighborhoods, Ted exclaimed that it’s still possible to build affordable and sustainable homes in Washington State.

“Keep construction costs down by building simple.” It’s about prioritizing and working with designers who practice innovation, such as building a flat roof, using reclaimed materials and SIP (panels), a practice Ted learned from his father, Ted Clifton, Sr. of Clifton View Homes (also a regional green designer-builder).

Father and son know about building for colder and cloudier climes since they originally moved to Washington State from southeast Alaska. Ted grew up on Whidbey Island and says that his father who jumped on the sustainability train long before it was fashionable inspired him.

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The Power House, built by Ted Clifton, powers itself plus an electric car.

And even though Ted, Jr. dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps, Ted’s studies led him on another path.

“I wanted to be an architect, but I ended up going to Western Washington University and studying geology.”

However, Ted still worked in construction on the side, and after building the first Net Zero house in Seattle’s Ballard Neighborhood in 2011, he came full circle. His company TC Legend Homes has worked with clients in the greater Seattle area. And his company built two Positive Energy homes in the Roosevelt Neighborhood, although Ted says his is the rustic version.

The bulk of his clients hail from the Seattle area which caused Ted concern in the amount of oil his Subaru burned on the commute. Today, Ted drives a Tesla electric car which he powers at his home.

And he also says cooperative households (he shares with a couple who live upstairs) are the wave of the future. The two families share the building and maintenance costs. And what they save on electricity and water (rain catchment practice), balances out the mortgage and other expenses.

With affordable housing on many people’s minds, let’s apply some positive energy to building homes that include green features once only enjoyed by elite. Ted’s Power House is a shining example.

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