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Green Building News

Energy Positive in Oregon’s Painted Hills

A solar-powered ranger station wins an award at the International Builders’ Show

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This solar-powered building has an impressive backdrop. The Painted Hills Ranger Residence is located in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in north central Oregon. This one-bedroom, one-bath cabin won a gold EnergyValue Housing Award at the International Builders’ Show in Florida.
Image Credit: Kirby Nagelhout Construction
This solar-powered building has an impressive backdrop. The Painted Hills Ranger Residence is located in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in north central Oregon. This one-bedroom, one-bath cabin won a gold EnergyValue Housing Award at the International Builders’ Show in Florida.
Image Credit: Kirby Nagelhout Construction
The cabin is 1,002 sq. ft., with the exterior walls and roof constructed of structural insulated panels. The second floor of the cabin features a loft area that can serve as a second bedroom. It also offers access to a 580-sq.-ft. patio over the garage.

There isn’t much tree cover at the site where the Department of the Interior built a 1,002-sq.-ft ranger cabin for the National Park Service’s Painted Hills unit, which presides over part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in north central Oregon.

But the sun exposure in this spectacular and remote location is being played to advantage with a 5.6-kW photovoltaic system that, combined with a well insulated and relatively airtight shell, helped earn the gird-connected house a HERS Index rating of -46. (The targets were -15 with the PV system, +44 without.)

Designed by Jones and Jones Architecture of Seattle and Zero Energy Plans of Coupeville, Washington, the project also won a gold EnergyValue Housing Award last month at the International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Florida.

Mike Taylor, vice president of Kirby Nagelhout Construction, based in Bend, told the Daily Journal of Commerce that the large south-facing roof where the PV array is mounted is clearly the key energy driver. Moeover, the home’s insulation system and airtightness didn’t require special materials or construction techniques. “The exciting thing is that homes like this could be built without a lot of the exotic methods people associate with super-efficient residences,” he said.

Aiming for durability and comfort

The 1-bedroom, 1-bathroom house features what Nagelhout Construction vice president Chris Prahl, the project manager, says is a carefully constructed shallow foundation to accommodate the clay-laden soil at the site. The foundation is insulated to R-20 underneath and R-10 on the perimeter. The R-26 walls and the roof are structural insulated panels (SIPs), and the ceiling is insulated to R-43. Rim joist insulation is R-10 foam and R-22 fiberglass batts. All windows are triple-glazed.

In addition to the PV system, the building’s energy needs are served by a solar hot water system. The house equipped with both a heat recovery ventilation system and a high-efficiency minisplit heating and cooling system.

The building has Hardiepanel siding and metal roofing (expect for the garage roofing, which is PVC membrane roofing chosen to accommodate the 580-sq.-ft. patio that sits above the roof). A blower-door test showed an air-leakage rate of 198 cfm50.

Prahl says construction costs came in at $294,000, although he notes that the total includes the costs of building in an extremely remote location and, because it was a government project, wage rates that were higher than average for the area.

3 Comments

  1. User avater
    Mike Eliason | | #1

    intrigued by the size of PV
    intrigued by the size of PV array... with an all-electric PH this size, the max electrical usage would have been 3900 kWh/a - meaning ~3kW would have been adequate. utilization of solar DHW, and the PV req'd for site net zero would have been far less than 1/2 of the built array. and the specs aren't too far off from a PH for that location...

    phenomenal scenery though, eastern oregon offers some amazing treks.

  2. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Response to Mike Eliason
    Mike,
    I can think of several possible explanations. Perhaps the duties of a park ranger require unusual equipment not found in a typical residence. Or perhaps the default values for plug loads and domestic hot water use in the PHPP spreadsheet are unrealistic for American homes.

  3. Gordon Taylor | | #3

    John Day, Painted Hills, etc.
    I am really pleased to see this, not least because it may entice some GBA participants into visiting this truly wonderful area. By all means go, if you ever have a chance.

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