Base’s efficiency guru brings green tactics home

Janis Reid photo
Helen, Chris and Jillian Taylor sit in the dining room of their home, “Front Haven,” on Front Street in Coupeville, built to generate all its own energy from thermal and solar energy sources.

For Chris Taylor it was all about finding a balance.

And as an energy efficiency specialist for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, he had the expertise to build the perfect net-zero energy home.

But it had to be livable space too, Taylor said.

Envisioning a home in keeping with the tiny house movement, which pairs spacial frugality with energy efficiency, Taylor purchased the Front Street property and “the ugliest house in Coupeville.”

Intent on demolishing the home and starting largely from scratch, Taylor worked closely with Matthew Swett of Langley-based Taproot Architects to bring his dream house to life.

“I’m an engineer, not an artist,” Taylor said.

But Taylor laid out some general guidelines for the home. It needed to connect to nature and the community, be light, warm, energy efficient and “not so big.”

A large house is “more to clean, more to heat,” Taylor said. “We really use every room in the house.”

Two years later, the finished product is a 1,700-square-foot home with a 1,400-square-foot basement and a free-standing, 600-square-foot cottage for guests.

Though small by some standards, the design walks just the right line between form and function for the Taylors.

“I love entertaining from the kitchen. … There are views from all sides,” said Taylor’s wife, Helen.

But while she finds the home beautiful, it’s important to her that it consumes as few resources as possible.

“It’s kinder to the earth to not suck resources away,” Helen Taylor said.

The design of the home was intended to blend into the history of Coupeville, with rooflines designed at the same pitch as neighboring homes to keep the new structure “in harmony” with the rustic, seaside community.

“There are 100 details that connect this house to the community,” Taylor said.

Taylor also used locally forested wood from within 100 miles, used local contractors, the floors are natural bamboo and slate, and recycled materials were used to construct the deck.

The property features a rooftop garden, and the landscaping is engineered to keep all storm water on the premises. Solar panels generate energy for electricity, and the geothermal heating system pulls warmth from the earth that is circulated throughout the house.

For all these features, the home has been awarded Built Green 5-Star by Master Builders of Puget Sound, received seven first place ribbons at the Skagit-Island Counter Master Builders Home Tour and scores LEED Platinum.

Taylor said he did all this for virtually the same price as a conventional home. In some cases there’s “an up-front investment,” Taylor said, but the financial savings they enjoy from the efficiencies will continue to pay off for many years.

While not all homeowners can build a home from scratch, there are small things that can be done to increase energy efficiency, Taylor said.

First, increase insulation, Taylor said, and second, switch to LED lighting.

“It’s not sexy,” Taylor said; however, “I light my entire house with the about the same energy as most people use for their TVs.”

Updating old or leaky windows is also a great way to keep heat in homes longer,  Taylor said, and energy-efficient appliances can have an impact as well.

“These houses really pay off,” said Taylor’s 12-year-old daughter Jillian. “You can use resources wisely, especially if it costs the same.”

And while she is well aware of the house’s features, her favorite elements are the glass chandelier in the dining room and the view of Penn Cove from her bedroom.

“I live in a beautiful place,” Jillian Taylor said. “I’m happy now.”