Built on the Past, Designed for the Future
A new home embraces zero-energy living while respecting its historic neighbors.
Synopsis: Architect Matthew Swett describes how he transformed a blighted eyesore in a protected historic area in Washington State into a high-performance home that respects its surroundings as well as the future of the environment. Incorporating a tight, well-insulated envelope, thermal mass floors, geothermal heating, and photovoltaic power, the net-zero house meets the needs of his energy-conscious client as well as local preservation authorities.
Photo: Denis Hill
A few miles from where I live lies Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. It’s a soul-stirring place where a hummock of land overlooks farmers’ fields as they descend to meet the Salish Sea. I’m struck by the beautiful way in which humans and nature coexist; plowed furrows bending around windswept trees give the sense that human and natural forces have found balance.
This is not by accident. Past residents were so moved by this place that they took steps to protect it. With the National Park Service, they formed the historical reserve—the first public-private partnership of its kind—to look after the character and culture of the community as well as the land itself. Today the reserve extends over 17,000 acres and encompasses the entire community of Coupeville, Washington’s second-oldest town. Situated on the protected waters of Penn Cove, the town owes much of its character to the New England sea captains who settled there and left behind elegantly simple buildings. It was here that I was asked to design a new home that would strike a balance between the heritage of the past and the needs of the future.
Neighborhood friendly—and net zero
My client was a military pilot serving as acting energy manager for the local Navy base. His goals for the house were succinct but comprehensive: It should be well designed and energy neutral, and…