Super Efficient Energy

A Rainier Vallery homeowner employs the common sense - and human powered - Passive House standard.
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The first time Dan Whitmore welcomed a group of friends to the nearly completed Rainier Valley home he was building for his family, it was a bit like a treasure hunt.

“It was our first blower door test,” says the goateed contractor. (A blower door test is performed to check airtightness of a house and is done with a fan that creates a pressure change.) “There were 15 people running around looking for air leaks.” This summer, Whitmore completed Seattle’s first single family home to meet a super-energy-saving building standard from Europe called Passivhaus (or, in the U.S., Passive House).

Passivhaus, developed in Germany in the early 1990s, emphasizes building a structure so thickly insulated and carefully sealed that it requires little to no supplemental heating or cooling in any season. It was an idea that made sense to Whitmore, who grew up in Oklahoma with professor parents in a solar-powered home.

I like the idea of limiting the energy we use here in our country, so we don’t have to go looking for energy in other countries,” he says. Whitmore was also inspired by his work in the 1990s as a disaster assistance inspector for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Florida and Puerto Rico, where he learned the wisdom of keeping climate change and regional hazards in mind when building.

Like other houses built to the Passive House standard, this one should prove at least 75 percent more efficient than a standard, built-to-code house. Though Whitmore’s home has only been occupied for a couple of months, the house is built to remain a pleasant 68 degrees through the colder months, mostly by way of the heat radiating from a few appliances and the sun. The other source of energy? Us.

“We humans are giving off the heat of a 100-watt light bulb,” Whitmore says. “It’s enough to take care of the vast majority of our heating needs.”

To keep heat from escaping, house walls are 14 inches thick, rather than the 5.5-inch thickness of new construction.

The polished concrete floor on the main level is insulated with five times the standard amount of eco-friendly foam. House foundations aren’t usually insulated from below, but this one is, with another 4 inches of foam.

Windows are triple-paned, argon filled and specially glazed to trap the sun’s warmth. Passive houses also require special ventilation. Whitmore uses an Ultimate Air RecoupAerator, which constantly vents stale air from kitchen, bath and laundry, and brings in fresh outdoor air.

But does it really stay warm when it’s 20 degrees outside?

Whitmore has a couple of space heaters for the coldest nights, and he can always just invite those 15 friends back and trap their heat. “It brings new meaning to the phrase ‘housewarming party,’” he says.

What you can do:

Quick fix: Insulate and air-seal your outlets. As blower tests show, anywhere you have air leaks in your house you’re losing valuable heat, and outlets are an overlooked spot. Thin foam insulation pads, which fit beneath outlet covers (and go around sockets), are very cheap, easy to install and available at most big-box stores. (Don’t forget to turn off the power to the socket before beginning this project.)

Weekend project
: If you can see daylight around doors, window frames or your mail slot, you have leaks. Use caulk or weather stripping to fill the gaps.

Long term: Get an in-home energy audit subsidized by Seattle City Light. For approximately $100 (or free if you qualify), auditors come to your house and check for leaks, insulation and heater efficiency. Use the information to make changes that will cut heating costs (


Read about another eco-friendly home, featured in this story for being The Ultimate Water Saver.

Windermere's W Collection: A High Point Market

Windermere's W Collection: A High Point Market

This $10 million 1933 home was commissioned by nautical author James A. Gibbs, who later moved to an Oregon Coast lighthouse; meticulously restored, it is a typically lavish luxury property from Windermere’s W Collection

It’s no secret that Seattle home prices are rising dramatically. These days, even a relatively modest Seattle Craftsman can command a price topping $1 million. But the growth of the city—particularly in the tech sector—soaring incomes among some locals and the influence of international buyers have combined to increase demand in the luxury market. 

It’s this market that was the impetus behind the recent launch of Windermere Real Estate’s new ultra-luxury arm, the W Collection. Spearheaded by Leigh Canlis—who brings a familiarity with the luxury market from previous roles with Canlis Glass and JPMorgan Chase—the W Collection is a new real estate division catering to clients looking for homes in the $3 million-plus range. "Windermere is one of those companies that has been around for years," says Canlis. "But there is a new market and we needed to create an upper tier division to cater to the uber luxury clientele. I was brought in because I know this market so well and to make the W Collection stand out.” 

A high price tag isn’t the only criterion for homes featured in the W Collection. “There needs to be some pizzazz, a wow factor,” says president John “OB” Jacobi, son of John Jacobi, who founded the company in 1972. 

Images by: Matt Eddington
Above: Traditional furnishings complement the home’s architecture. Below: The adjoining lot was purchased to accommodate a pool and cabana


PRICE: $10,450,000 

SQUARE FOOTAGE: 6,820; 3 bedrooms, 3.75 baths 

LOT SIZE: 0.43 acre 

COMMUNITY: Queen Anne 

PROPERTY TAXES: $86,545 (2015) 


LISTED: April 2016 

KEY DETAILS: Secluded in-city compound with views of the Seattle skyline and Elliott Bay; an elevated pool plus hot tub with an adjoining 530-square foot-cabana, outdoor kitchen space and a fire-lit rooftop patio seating area. The home was commissioned in 1928 by James A. Gibbs, city planner, local historian, politician and founding member of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, and completed in 1933. 


Canlis notes that W Collection clients are likely to be much more understated than the properties they’re shopping for. “For the most part, Seattle millionaires look like everyone else up here. They want to stand out for their accomplishments rather than their affluence,” Canlis says. “That’s what is different about Seattle. You never know who you’re talking to here, and that’s fun.” 

Jacobi predicts a bright future for the luxury home market. “Our local economy is super strong, tech jobs are creating some pretty wealthy people pretty quickly, so price points are going to continue to grow. Seattle [may] have this issue forever.”  

Images by: Nolan Green
This $8 million property’s pool, hot tub and multiple patio spaces offer no shortage of ways to enjoy the backyard of this north-end Mercer Island home


Above: 22-foot ceilings top off floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room with views of Lake Washington. Below: The home’s luxe features include a wine cellar, dog run and sauna

PRICE: $8,480,000 

SQUARE FOOTAGE: 8,579; 4 bedrooms, 4 baths 

LOT SIZE: 0.44 acre 

COMMUNITY: Mercer Island

YEAR BUILT: 1992  

LISTED: June 2016 

KEY DETAILS: 65 feet of lakeside waterfront, a wine cellar, pool and hot tub combo, sauna, three fireplaces, a dog run, and views of Lake Washington and West Bellevue; dock space for a yacht; 22-foot ceilings in the living room; three kitchens (the main kitchen, full kitchen in basement and a butler’s kitchen); custom-stained white oak floors cover the first floor, and the master suite’s walk-in closet includes two washer-dryer sets (one for him and one for her), with drying closet.