As homes get greener, NEEA works on the next green thing

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The Pumpkin Ridge Passive House by Hammer & Hand of Portland is one of the homes in the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance's effort to raise efficiency standards.

The Pumpkin Ridge Passive House by Hammer & Hand of Portland is one of the homes in the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance's effort to raise efficiency standards. 

It’s hard to resist the temptation to call this The Next House.

There’s still a lot of study to be done on a fistful of super energy-efficient homes, but the goal in this latest evolutionary step in green building is to find a home that mingles extreme energy efficiency and mainstream amenities at a price point that works for a majority of buyers.

The jury is still out on whether this latest endeavor can do it, but hopes are high.

“We’ve been experimenting in the program with a pilot for the next-step home. And the idea is to really find out how far you can go and hit what we call the sweet spot, the economic sweet spot,” said David Cohan, senior manager of codes and standards for the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, known as NEEA.

NEEA has been steadily tweaking building codes toward ratcheting up energy efficiency since 1997. That’s when the organization began working with state authorities in Bonneville Power Administration’s territory to drive residential building codes toward more stringent energy efficiency requirements. NEEA also provides training to builders to get there, and education to consumers about why it’s important.

BPA is its biggest funder, and NEEA’s funding mix also includes Northwest utilities. Small wonder: Avoiding new energy generation is far less expensive for utilities than building it. In 2011, NEEA reduced energy consumption across four states by 95.2 average megawatts with its hands in everything from streetlights to energy efficient televisions to get there.

NEEA teamed with Energy Star Homes to create the Northwest Energy Star Homes program, a home-building certification program backed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that anoints energy-efficient homes exclusively in the Northwest. Now NEEA is using that program — and builders who elect to participate — to raise market expectations for energy efficiency and spark revisions in state building code.

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