Eugene Weekly : News : 2.28.08

Living at Zero
Eugene’s pioneering zero-energy home and family

The concept of the zero-energy home may leave some people puzzled. For Steve and Kay Leppold, it is a reality.

The Leppolds moved into their new, net zero-energy, zero carbon home in Eugene with their two children and a pug last fall. Net zero energy means that over a year the house creates as much energy as it uses.

On sunny days solar panels produce more than enough power to run the 912 sq. ft., energy-efficient home. Extra electricity is fed into the city power grid that the home is connected to. On cloudy, winter days, the home takes energy from the power lines like any other, but it is effectively withdrawing the electricity it banked earlier. The house also has some batteries for short-term power storage.

The house is the “first of its kind in Eugene,” said Steve Leppold. “Building a house is a privilege. We’ve set a local example of what this lifestyle is with the house,” he added. “With all of the environmental world problems, it only made sense to do it.”

The Leppolds say they built their zero-energy home knowing they wanted to conserve resources and to protect the Earth. The home, after construction, creates no net global warming carbon pollution.

The rain water system is another energy-saving feature. The water is stored in two 3,000 gallon containers that send it through a system that includes many filtrations, using ultraviolet purification and other methods. “It’s filtered and purified and the quality is improved,” says Steve Leppold. “It tastes better than tap water, and it’s healthier.” The water serves for drinking water and normal household purposes.

The Leppolds built the house on two infill parcels to conserve space and to eventually germinate their own forest and vegetable gardens.

Steve Leppold has a background in engineering and became a stay-at-home dad when the couple’s children were born. Kay Leppold is a registered nurse. Seattle natives, they moved to Eugene for its favorable, year-round mild climate and opportunity to build their home.

The Leppolds structure their everyday lives to better their community. They don’t own a car, and they walk to places such as the grocery store. The couple uses bicycles, including a tandem, to take their kids to where they need to go.

“There’s the convenience of a car, but in the long run, cars are urgent, and people stress about stuff. Cars are silly,” said Kay Leppold. “With a car I wouldn’t get the same sense of community I would by walking around. I often run into someone I know and talk. It builds community.”

They say it’s important to live in a house that represents their beliefs about living on Earth and respecting what it provides.

Steve Leppold designed the house himself. It includes two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, a front porch and two outdoor decks. The water tanks are built within the design. A loft and a crawlspace are integrated as storage areas. The crawlspace also serves as a holding area for the mechanical equipment used to run the house.

The house functions like any other home, but everything from cooking to heating systems are kept in line with environmental alternatives. Everything, including the appliances and the lighting, is energy efficient. “Doing it is more real than just reading about it,” said Kay Leppold.

The environmentally sound features of the house are not only in place to conserve resources and to avoid pollution of the planet but to set a local example of this way of life. “It is the integrity of doing something that can show what can be done with this model,” said Kay Leppold.

The Leppolds hope that with the model of their home and lifestyle in the community, people will become interested in researching zero energy homes for their own lives and for what is best for the earth around them. To find out more about this zero energy home, go to the website.