• Greener and greener

    Washington state man builds the most energy-efficient home he could
  • OLYMPIA, Wash. — Saving money was never on Dennis Kaech's mind when he built his Olympia, Wash., home. But saving energy was.
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  • OLYMPIA, Wash. — Saving money was never on Dennis Kaech's mind when he built his Olympia, Wash., home. But saving energy was.
    "I wanted to see how many crazy things you could put in a house," Kaech said on a recent winter day in his light-filled home on the city's west side.
    By "crazy things" he means energy producers and heat conservers. Kaech, 69, is a retired high school science teacher. Fun for him is a day spent calculating how many kilowatts he can save with a new heating system.
    Kaech has spent $350,000 on the house. But it's not a gold-plated palace with luxe finishings. The money is inside the walls, under the floors and on the roof. He wanted to build the most energy-efficient home he possibly could. He appears to have succeeded.
    "I'd probably get 50 cents on the dollar," Kaech said of his investment — if he sold it today.
    The home features a windmill, solar panels, passive heat storage and enough insulation for a colony on Mars.
    Kaech bought the property in 1978 but didn't begin construction until 2008 after tearing down the previous home on the site. In November, he moved in.
    The house is open and inviting — mostly. Directly behind a bank of south-facing windows is a formidable rock wall. It's not some horrible blueprint screw-up. Kaech designed the house that way. The rock wall, recycled from the previous house's chimney, is heated by solar rays and by a wood burning stove. In the evening, the wall releases heat back into the house.
    They aren't the only heat-holding rocks in the house. A concrete box underneath the living room holds more than 4 tons of rock. It absorbs excess heat and then releases it as the house cools.
    The walls of the wood-framed home are built like a layer cake. Underneath HardiePlank siding is a layer of foam insulation acting as a thermal break, followed by house wrap over subpaneling. Inside the 2-by-6 framing, Kaech installed 4-inch batts of fiberglass insulation and had a 2-inch layer of blown-in foam insulation. Lastly, sheetrock followed.
    The walls have a total combined R-value of 31. R-value is a measure of a material's ability to block heat transfer. The higher the R-value the better the insulation is. Building codes require a minimum of R-20 for exterior walls. For his north and west facing walls Kaech used prefabricated insulated panels manufactured by Premier Panels of Fife. He also minimized windows in the north walls — an energy saving move.
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