Energy Efficiency in Two Oregon Homes
Two distinctly different homes deploy innovative geothermal systems to attain uber-efficiency
January 1 2012By Addie Hahn
Geothermal in an Urban Eco-cottage
In 2006, Corey Omey and his new bride, Deb, drew an ambitious set of plans for her 995-square-foot, 1925 cottage in the Overlook neighborhood. Their goal was to create a more energy efficient home with natural light, open spaces for the gathering of friends, personal character and warmth. By the time the plans had advanced to the permit phase in 2008, the Omeys’ project included a stair tower, two new bathrooms, updated windows and doors, finishes, cabinetry, porches, and the installation of a 4.5 kW photovoltaic array and solar thermal system.
Creative about their building materials, the Omeys did the unexpected. They turned an old bowling alley into a kitchen counter with an inlaid backgammon board. The couple also crafted a set of bedroom cabinets from a cedar tree in their front yard. They even re-purposed plywood mortgage signs as wall sheathing. Altogether, the use of recycled and reclaimed materials for 90 percent of this renovation significantly cut the couple’s costs.
“The materials and process have personalized the house,” says Corey. “There is a story behind everything we found and incorporated into the finished product.”
Corey, an architect, first visited the home that he and Deb would one day remodel together before he ever met her. In 2001, he dropped by the house with a mutual friend who was cat-sitting while Deb was on vacation. That friend mentioned that Deb might be interested in remodeling her staircase, but it wouldn’t be until a few years later that the two would finally meet.
The new Mrs. Omey was enthusiastic about the renovation plans, but there were a few bumps along the road. She recalls that it wasn’t until they had all the stucco removed, the roof ripped off, no wall at the back of the kitchen, and only a single room with a door and a window that anxiety crept in. A passerby asked whether the house had been gutted by a fire. “At that point there was no going back,” she says. The end result, she acknowledges, was worth the fear, stress and hard work.
One energy-saving upgrade the Omeys treasure is a water-to-water groundsource heat pump, the ground loops for which were installed beneath the couple’s driveway. This placement was accomplished through a technique known as radial drilling, which involves the drilling of a series of holes at various angles. This is a popular process for existing homes with small, developed lots. With this system, the Omeys enjoy efficient hydronic radiant floor heating.
From the start, the sixteen-month-long renovation was a local group effort. There were the raw materials, gleaned locally from The ReBuilding Center in Portland, warehouses, Craigslist, and Freecycle, among other sources. There was also a small army of volunteers who pitched in at various stages. “Our friends and neighbors helped with de-construction, planting an eco-roof, removing stucco—you name it,” Corey confirms. “It often turned out to be a neighborhood and community event.”
In the fall of 2009, the Omeys moved into their striking 1,800-square-foot contemporary home clad in cedar rainscreen siding. Inside, light floods in where darkness reigned, highlighting artful touches—tile mosaics by Dan Borg of Borg Mosaics, including paw prints of a cat approaching a bowl (a tribute to Chloe, a pet that died during construction). There was also an inlaid backgammon board, and neighbor Mike Suri of Suri Iron installed a recycled metal guardrail and an iron water sculpture.
The final building costs came to $134 per square foot, not counting the estimated $30,000 worth of homeowner and volunteer sweat equity. Even after doubling the size of their home, the Omeys now pay for a third of the cost of their energy bills compared with their original smaller house. Additionally, the couple makes a monthly profit of $100 to $600 from excess electricity produced by their photovoltaic system and sold back to the grid. This profit will eventually pay for their investment in the photovoltaic array and more.
The newest chapters in the vibrant tale of the Omey house continue to unfold. The couple has immediate plans to install a garage eco-eave retrofit, which holds plants along the lower edge of the roof that are watered by runoff rain from the upper portion flows. “Deb didn’t necessarily buy this house with the idea of transforming it,” Corey explains, “but she married an architect, so it may have been inevitable.”