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Going net-zero energy in planned community

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Low utility bills forecast for the next 40 years


PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Dick Benner, a former senior attorney at Metro, is one of the co-owners and residents of Ankeny Row, a six-unit Passive House complex.Ankeny Row, a new, net-zero-energy Craftsman townhouse project in Southeast Portland, marks another advance in the city’s green building movement.

The six-unit complex, finished in late-March, sits on Ankeny Street near Southeast 25th Avenue in Portland’s Buckman neighborhood. Portland homebuilder Green Hammer used Passive House standards, which deploy superefficient insulation and other features to assure the units require minimal energy to heat and cool. Add in some solar panels for renewable energy, and the project doesn’t produce any carbon emissions for its energy, earning it the net-zero label and assuring low utility bills. Ankeny Row also is a co-housing community, whose residents share a garden, courtyard and community room.

“You can’t really tell from looking at it that it’s a Passive House; that’s my favorite part,” says Dick Benner, one of the six co-owners and residents, and a former attorney for Metro. “The thing we notice is how quiet it is, and the wonderful air quality inside.”

The superinsulated walls and high-performance triple-pane wood-framed windows at Ankeny Row, along with other features, mean the townhouses can stay 55 degrees all week — without using any power.

In order to soak up the sun most advantageously, the back townhouses are raised, and the front townhouses lowered.

There’s some sensitivity to accelerating gentrification with all the new features, coming on the heels of a Governing magazine article that labeled Portland the fastest-gentrifying big city in the nation.

“We bought the property in the depths of the recession,” Benner says. “It was about a year to a year and a half later that we got an offer for nearly twice what we had paid — boy, had the market changed in a year.”

“It may be in this case considered gentrification, but the owners are community-minded,” says Stephen Aiguier, president of Green Hammer, one of Portland’s leading green builders.

“What we’re trying to do is create buildings that open up to the community, not hide,” Aiguier says. “It’s not gated; the balconies overhang the street. It’s connectivity by design.”

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Ankeny Row is a six-unit passive house development in Southeast Portlands Buckman neighborhood.The townhouses sold for about $440,000, slightly less than the average cost in the Buckman neighborhood this year, according to Trulia, which monitors real estate market trends.

By keeping their townhouse plans in place rather than selling, Ankeny Row owners avoided their land being used for yet another five-story apartment complex, the kind that has been popping up all over inner Southeast Portland.

“Market projections tell developers to build rental properties” for the millennials now entering the housing market, Aiguier says. But the Passive House construction means the residents will have lower costs for utilities — now and 40 years from now. “The concept of affordable housing needs to be reconsidered,” he says.

The average home price in Buckman has appreciated 54 percent in the last five years.

“It’s changing. Not dramatically, but slowly and surely,” Benner says. “There’s a combination of new apartments that are relatively affordable coming and smaller condo projects that are pretty expensive within three or four blocks.”