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Seattle’s Dwell Development: Interview with a Pioneer in Sustainable Home Building

Seattle’s Dwell Development: Interviewing a Sustainable Home Pioneer

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Aug 15, 2018

A new generation of homeowners around the country is demanding that homes be healthier, more energy-efficient, durable, and resilient. In response to these demands, thousands of building contractors around the country are rushing to learn the essential elements of sustainable construction to meet the public mandate for more sustainable homes.

However, finding a builder with years of experience and knowledge in the sustainable construction industry can be a challenge. While Rise does not play favorites, we are impressed by one early adopter: Dwell Development.

Located in Seattle, Washington, Dwell Development has been in the sustainable construction industry since 2005. Winner of the 2018 Sustainability Leadership in the Built Environment Award from "Sustainable Seattle," they won the 2016 Zero Energy Ready Home from the Prestigious Housing Innovation Awards from the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, they have recently had two of their homes recognized and certified by the ILFI (International Living Future Institute) as Net Zero Energy Homes—the 9th and ten homes ever certified to this level in the World.

We recently talked by phone with Anthony Maschmedt, principal of Dwell Development, board member of the Master Builders Association "Built Green" Residential Building Program, and a strong voice of the sustainable community in Seattle. He shared Dwell Development's vision, the elements of sustainability incorporated into every home that they build, and their commitment to pushing the envelope for more radical standards of home sustainability.

Vision for Sustainability

Dwell Development is focused on building homes that define sustainability. Their website states that they "build sustainable homes because it's the right thing to do." Anthony mentions that sustainability is the "core value of everything we do" and that Dwell Development is committed to "delivering the most sustainable homes in the world that are recognized internationally."

The sustainable homes offered by the company are modeled on the passive house design—a model characterized by a home that is built airtight with high levels of insulation so that you can essentially heat the home with nothing more than a hairdryer, in theory. Anthony states that passive house design is used as a "template for all our homes. I call it 'Powered by Passive House.' By incorporating this principle, we can get buildings that are very energy efficient and can be net-zero when solar panels are installed."

To maintain safe and healthy indoor air quality, Dwell Development installs a heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system on every home they build, operating on the principle that "to build it tight you have to ventilate it right."

The vision for sustainable construction put forth by Dwell Development harmonizes well with the local population of the Seattle region. According to Anthony, Seattle is one of the "most progressive towns in the country, and sustainability is very well received." Homeowners who contract Dwell Development have "done their homework and understand the value of sustainability."

Essential Elements of Sustainability 

Dwell Development works closely with the Built Green certification program, the largest home verification program in the Northwest. This regional certification program established environmental standards for construction materials, energy efficiency, water use, and indoor air quality. The program is voluntary for builders and offers sustainability ratings ranging from 3-Star, 4-Star, 5-Star, or Emerald Star. Dwell Development is the only residential developer in the state of Washington that exclusively builds homes that achieve the 5-Star rating, which means their homes are constructed about 50%-60% better than the current local energy code.

To achieve the 5-star ratings, every home that Dwell Development builds incorporates several elements of sustainable design:

  • Complete airtightness and waterproofness: Dwell Development's homes are built entirely airtight, close to passive house standards. A fluid-applied air barrier is installed on the exterior of the house that maximizes the airtightness and waterproofing. In addition, Dwell incorporates a new interior air barrier technique that introduces the latest technology from AeroBarrier.
  • High-performance windows: All homes include high-performance windows that maximize the energy efficiency of the house. 
  • Maximum insulation: Dwell development builds double 2x4 walls that are 10 to 14 inches thick. This construction method essentially allows the company to double the R-value of the homes they build. Anthony equates this with "wrapping the house in a big blanket to make for a super quiet and comfortable home."
  • HRV System: Because every home is built airtight, Dwell Development's projects include an HRV system to ventilate the house and ensure safe and healthy indoor air.
  • 100% LED lighting: Every light in the home is LED, thus drastically reducing the energy demand compared to conventional incandescent lighting.
  • High-performance Heating and Cooling Systems: Constantly looking for the best ways to heat and cool homes, Dwell Development's heating and cooling technology choice depends on the specific context. They routinely incorporate ductless mini splits, CO2 heat pumps, hybrid water heaters, and other innovative systems.
  • Water Sense plumbing: All of the homes they build plumbing fixtures are certified or better. This allows the homes to reduce water use by at least 60% compared to standard plumbing fixtures.
  • Solar Energy: All of Dwell Development's homes come solar-energy ready. While they install solar panels on some of the homes they build, every home is designed with a solar panel system in mind so that homeowners can achieve net-zero energy status in the future if and when they decide they want to install panels.

Anthony estimates that a typical Dwell 2,000-square foot home only costs 5-7% more than the average code-built spec home in the Seattle area despite the extensive and across-the-board sustainability measures incorporated into every home. With the savings from vastly increased energy efficiency measures, payback comes within the first few years, and the homes appreciate at a much higher rate than code-built homes.

According to Anthony, Dwell Development "is committed to going beyond the code minimums. Our homes are 60% to 100 % above the energy efficiency requirements…and people see the value in the homes we build. It is simply the right way to build."

Pushing the Standard

Over the past decade, Dwell Development has been raising the bar on sustainable home construction in the Seattle Region over the past decade. They have been fundamental in education and training and have helped lead the regional sustainable building certification program "Built Green." Despite this impressive trajectory, they do not rest on their laurels—they continue to push sustainability standards.

According to Anthony, "Our mission is always to lead and challenge and strive to do more on every home we build. We never sit back and think we're done but are always looking for the best products and techniques to make our homes more sustainable and energy-efficient. That is the challenge I put to the people who work with us: What innovative thing are we going to do next?"

Dwell Development is just one of the many builders in the Seattle area that know something about sustainable home construction. To find one located near you, be sure and check out the home pros section of the Rise platform.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-11-18T06:22:17+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.