green building - backyard house by megan lea

Wood from three old Oregon barns now makes up Megan Lea’s Backyard House, a 154 square foot studio with loft. Quartertwenty was the builder for the project.

For almost ten years now, the advent of autumn and the sight of kids with backpacks heading back to school has also signaled another seasonal, annual event: the Build It Green! Home Tour. The BIG! Tour began in 2002, and since then has offered up a catalogue of green building examples. This year’s insider’s view of green home building and remodeling is Saturday, September 24, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The tour pops through all five “quadrants” of Portland, and uncovers a slew of new buildings, remodels, and additions. Project sizes range from diminutive (a 154 square feet backyard studio) to rather ample (a 2699 square feet – could they round up to 2700 and call it good? – single family home and accessory dwelling unit). All are worth taking a peek into and hearing firsthand from the owners and designers (often the same person) what lessons they learned.

The projects include “affordable” construction – a building type sometimes thought not to be possible when following the “green” standards of environmentally conscious construction. Habitat for Humanity proves this to be a fallacy; one of the new units at Rivergate Commons in North Portland built to be above energy efficiency codes will be on the tour. Another homeowner shows off her tight-budget DIY effort at upgrading the energy efficiency of her 1700 square foot house, with help from the Clean Energy Works program.

Some efforts are beautiful and visually enticing (Megan Lea’s Backyard House), others innovative but all but invisible. Who would know that a studio addition has “liquid applied waterproofing,” for example, or that a foundation is “insulated foam”? These are the sorts of secrets we learn to look for on the tour. The rainwater cisterns, solar panels and salvaged barn siding we know by now to recognize, but there’s still lots to learn before we can really say that green building is just boring old beige.

Tickets for the tour ($10-$15) are available online through the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. An added bonus is the free information festival to be held at Green Depot (formerly EcoHaus), where you can also get tickets and the tour map. All in all, it promises to be a Saturday filled with learning opportunities even for those of us not heading back to school.

Even if you don’t make it to the tour, check out the Build It Green! Info Fair at Green Depot | 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. | 819 SE Taylor, Portland, OR | 503-222-3881