Luxury Meets Sustainability in Seattle’s First Certified ‘Passive House’

Catherine Sherman
August 5, 2013

It might be time to start keeping up with the Jonses — or the Ritchies if you live in Seattle. The family of four just moved into their newly constructed home in Madison Park. The design is sleek and unconventional, but the real kicker is the utility bill. As Seattle’s first certified “Passive House,” the home uses about 75 percent less overall energy than a house built to today’s code standards.

Homeowners: The Ritchie Family
Homeowners: The Ritchie Family

Sloan Ritchie built Park Passive for his wife, Jennifer, and two kids.

“There’s this myth that if you’re going to live in an energy-efficient home, it won’t have windows and you’ll have to wear a sweater all the time,” said Cascade Built founder Sloan Ritchie, who built and now lives in the home. “That’s not true at all. The fact that it’s super energy efficient doesn’t preclude it from being luxurious.”

The 4-bedroom, 3-bath home has a heat pump, water heater and 24-hour ventilation — systems you typically don’t see combined in one house — but instead of remaining exposed, they’re tucked neatly away. What remains is a spacious main floor with a kitchen and living space framed by sliding glass doors. Upstairs, a kids’ playroom and yoga studio are illuminated by a skylight from Poland. A third-floor master suite has a private terrace leading to an urban-style rooftop deck and garden.

But according to one of the lead designers, Marie Ljubojevic of NK Architects, the home’s look and feel were secondary.

“The house dictated to us how it was going to be designed,” she explained. “Jennifer [Ritchie] didn’t want the house to look like every other house going up in Seattle — every other modernish house. … It was going to be simple from the start because there’s a lot going on whether you can see it or not.”

Perhaps indicative of the name “Passive House,” the home has a lot going on behind the scenes. In order to be certified by the Passive House Academy and Passivhaus Institut, every detail must be just right in order to reduce the home’s heating load by up to 90 percent. The Ritchies met this rigorous standard by making the house airtight, adding more insulation and using better windows and doors than traditionally used in North America.

“The biggest challenge was adhering to all the rules,” Ljubojevic said. “None of the details we had in our design library could be used.”

For example, every time a wall turns a corner, there’s less thermal efficiency, and the Ritchies were restricted to a small lot, making it challenging to implement an open floor plan. Meanwhile, the high-performance windows had to be shipped from Lithuania and moved in with a crane, as they are extremely heavy with triple-paned glass and two layers of glaze.

These challenges didn’t deter Ritchie’s team from completing the house in less a year, though. They even found time to incorporate the home’s roots into the fabric of the new construction, salvaging wood from a tree on the property to build the stairway and a vanity.

“Buildings account for some 50 percent of our electricity use and nearly 40 percent of our overall energy use,” Ritchie explained. “My hope is that over the next 10 years, this kind of building will be required by code.”

In the meantime, Seattle’s first Passive House, known locally as Park Passive, will serve as a prime example of vibrant urban living and environmental sustainability.

Home photos by Aaron Leitz Photography.


Catherine Sherman, a real estate writer for Zillow Blog, covers celebrity real estate, industry trends and home improvement tips. Read more of her work here.