Project Spotlight – Tacoma Furnished Monthly Rental

Project Spotlight – Tacoma Furnished Monthly Rental

Back in the fall of 2019, we visited an in progress project in Tacoma, Washington that was initially intended as off-campus housing for Pacific Lutheran University students. The project involved an extensive expansion and full renovation of an existing single-family home. The first floor’s larger, shared amenity spaces were covered by a mini-split, ductless heat pump. However, because the airflow properties of the floorplan causing ‘cold spots,’ and the fact that each private room needs its own thermostatic controls, the developers chose to use Ducoterra’s Solaray II ceiling heat panels – provided by Mighty Energy Solutions – for the majority of the space, including the entire second floor.

However, since the project completed in early 2021 (during the pandemic,) it was decided to make the project available on Furnished Finder – an online service used mostly by traveling nurses who need temporary accommodations when they are in town.

Park Ave. Tacoma, WA Bedroom w/ceiling heat panel

Independent Control

Since some units go unoccupied from time to time, and each person staying here are on temporary assignment with no lasting connection with their fellow occupants, the feature of the infrared heating panels (up near the ceiling light in the photo) that allows each room to be independently heated was perfect for this application. Rooms not in use can be kept at a minimal temperature, saving energy and money. Meanwhile, each occupant is able to control the temperature to their own comfort levels with no effect on the preferences of other occupants.

As you can see, the panels are unobtrusive and completely out of the way. The infrared radiance they produce that warms the room and its occupants is entirely invisible, and total absence of moving parts means that they are completely silent and do not stir up the air and any particulates in the room. This healthy, practically invisible approach is appreciated by health professionals. And no one needs to hear a loud bang when the heat comes on  – especially people who may be experiencing jet lag.

Complete Cozy Comfort

While the mini-split ductless heat pump in the great room does an efficient job of heating that space, the developers chose to augment this solution with additional panels for increased comfort and even distribution of heat in the shared amenity spaces.Park Ave. Tacoma, WA great room and kitchen using mini-split, dutless heat pump and infrared radiant ceiling heat panel

This efficient hybrid approach that takes advantage of the two types heat creates more flexibility of control and is a common means of providing additional heat the less than perfect coverage of the mini-split system, which has the added benefit of providing air conditioning in the increasingly hot summers in the area.

And, in terms of property management, the life-time warranty and 100% maintenance-free aspect nature of the infrared radiant heating panels was very attractive for the owners. And they won’t have to replace the panels for decades.

Park Ave HallwayPark Ave - kitchenette

Project Amenities

  • Nine private, fully furnished bedrooms
  • Secure remote access to the main entry and your personal room
  • Bathroom shared with only 1 other room, which may be empty at any given time
  • Weekly housekeeping to keep everything spotless
  • All utilities including WIFI and cable included
  • All basic toiletries provided and restocked weekly
  • Outdoor patio with BBQ and entertainment space to enjoy with new friends
  • Kitchen fully stocked with all appliances and items you may need
  • Kitchenette outside bedroom for quick and convenient access
  • Security System and cameras in common areas for additional sense of security
  • New laundry facilities
  • Air conditioning in common areas
  • Reserved parking space
  • Less than a mile to the freeway
  • Less than 15 minutes to all local hospitals and medical centers
  • 5-10 minutes from 3 major shopping centers

Geo Answers: Sustainability – Part 8: A Cradle-to-Cradle Approach

Nothing lasts forever. Even with the up to 40 year life-expectancy of infrared radiant heating devices, like nearly everything, eventually they will wear out. And it might not be the heaters that fail. It might well be that the building itself needs to be demolished, or a major renovation results in a great deal of interior demo. Salvaging still useful parts of a building is a great new trend. This aspect of demolition may be more precisely called “disassembly,” where anything reusable or recyclable is kept intact and used elsewhere, or transformed into new things, rather than just packed into a landfill. This is referred to as  ‘cradle-to-cradle’ approach. And Ducoterra infrared radiant heating panels have been way ahead of the cradle-to-cradle curve.

Ducoterra infrared heating panels are easily dismounted from the ceiling by removing a maximum  of eight bolts or screws (depending on panel size,) and three wires. Once removed, the panel can be easily broken down into four readily recycled components: the aluminum ‘box,’ the steel back, and the sheet of aerogel insulation and wire element inside. So, either decades after, or when the building or some part of it is being demolished, it will take very little time, effort, and energy to return a panel’s materials back into usable components for new, useful items going forward.

What this means, in terms of sustainability, is that a cradle-to-cradle product remains sustainable even after it is no longer useful in its current form. This mimics what nature itself does. Rather than producing waste as an ultimate end product, it produces resources in a closed loop cycle where there is never any actual waste. A dead leaf, for example, becomes food for small organisms, which, in turn, become food for larger organisms and the cycle continues.    

see also: Part 1: Definition of Terms Part 2: Environmental Impacts | Part 3: Embodied Carbon | Part 4: Installation Impact
Part 5: Operational EmissionsPart 6: Installation Impact | Part 7: Resilience

Geo Answers: Sustainability – Part 7: Resilience

Resilience is a special subset of durability and reliability. Something may be built to last and work as intended for a long time, like a solid old car. However, it may not adapt well to contemporary uses, or lack modern safety equipment and amenities, or otherwise become obsolete in a new and changing context. The car may run great, but it runs on gasoline and was, possibly, even intended to run on leaded fuel. And, for example, it will never be autonomous.

Systems in your home that run on electricity are resilient in that, no matter how the electricity is generated, or how much that method of generation changes, electric systems and appliances will continue to work without skipping a beat.

Electric infrared radiant heat requires few to no moving parts to fail or wear out. And the parts that can eventually fail (usually after decades of regular use) will, very likely, continue to be readily available or effectively substituted for the foreseeable future. These appliances can easily be salvaged from a building that has outlived its usefulness and be reinstalled in another setting. Since they are usually mounted well above the floor, they are far more likely to survive all but the worst floods. They don’t have any pressurized refrigerants, so there is no chance of toxic leakage that will also render them useless until repaired and recharged. And they can be easily adapted to ‘smart device / smart home’ control systems, no matter how that technology evolves.

Building things to last and be readily repaired is great. Building things that can also survive and adapt through rapidly changing technological landscapes, large-scale infrastructural changes, and even increasing environmental threats is even better. 

see also: Part 1: Definition of Terms Part 2: Environmental Impacts | Part 3: Embodied Carbon | Part 4: Installation Impact
Part 5: Operational EmissionsPart 6: Installation Impact

Geo Answers: Sustainability – Part 6: Durability and Reliability

How long something continues to work properly and efficiently is practically synonymous with the concept of sustainability. Using durable shopping bags instead of one-use paper or plastic is a simple example of this concept. The more use we get out of things generally points to those things being more sustainable as they don’t have to be replaced as often. That being said, keeping an old, gas guzzling car around isn’t sustainable in a number of ways. And, as long as homes generally last, failing to upgrade the insulation, appliances, windows, etc. is problematic in this sense as well.

However, when you have a system in your home that works efficiently and well for its purpose for decades without the need for repair, that reliability and durability is not only one less thing to worry about, but it is one less thing adding to the waste, embodied energy, etc. that is choking our landfills, and heating up our planet in production and transport.

Motorized fans, heat pump compressors, valves and piping, and many components of forced air heating systems are subject to inevitable failure because of the friction and pressures involved. These systems don’t work if they can’t blow air around, or if they spring even the smallest leak. That tiny leak in a pressurized pipe, for example, represents dangers such as carbon-monoxide poisoning, the risk of fire or explosion, or a release of toxic refrigerants.

Using gas to heat air is a further example of how, even if the system were to last forever, the inefficiency and impacts of burning fossil fuel means the system fails, in the environmental sense, well before it ceases to function. Upgrading to an electric or geothermal solution is the only way to increase the sustainability of your home heating solution in this respect.

On the other hand, far infrared radiant heating is a great example of the type of sustainability associated with a solution that is truly built to last. Because the technology uses no moving parts, it is not only silent and unobtrusive, the opportunities for failure are small. And, since the basic technology used in infrared radiant heat has been around for decades, its durability and sustainability have been proven over and over again in actual use around the world. Finally, since it is converts electricity directly into heat, upgrading the source of the electricity automatically upgrades the system itself.

This is why Ducoterra, maker of the SolaRay II infrared radiant heating panel have established a lifetime warranty. Most people will have to upgrade or replace the insulation in their walls, and install new windows before they have to replace their infrared radiant heating system.

The more we can apply this simple principle of sustainability to how we design and build the things we use every day, the greater the overall sustainability of our society will become. When something works efficiently and effectively for a long time, it’s hard to see the downside.

see also: Part 1: Definition of Terms Part 2: Environmental Impacts | Part 3: Embodied Carbon | Part 4: Installation Impact
Part 5: Operational Emissions

 

The NW Green Home Tour: New Social Equity Projects

No matter at what scale you examine the impacts of Climate Change, the people with the least resources are impacted the most while contributing the least to the problems involved. It’s not hard to understand this dynamic. The more impoverished a person is, the more likely it will be that they live in a place with environmental challenges. Yet this aspect of ‘eco-friendliness,’ and sustainability often goes unaddressed by even the most conscientious of efforts to mitigate negative environmental impacts.  

This makes two of the new entries into the 2021 NW Green Home (Virtual) Tour exciting additions: Facing Homelessness’ BLOCK Project and the BIPOC Sustainable Tiny Art House Community (BIPOC STAHC)

Both of these great endeavors incorporate green and sustainable building practices, literal small footprints, and community building. Unlike most ‘green’ building projects, they also address inequities as they apply to sustainability.

Facing Homelessness’ BLOCK Project takes a highly creative approach to addressing the issue of houseless people. Not only do they design and build astonishingly clean and comfortable tiny homes using environmentally friendly materials and techniques, they locate these homes in the backyards of generous neighborhood residents. And they proactively seek the input of the entire neighborhood in doing so.

The actual small footprint of these homes automatically make their carbon footprint low. But it doesn’t stop there. If scaled up to a more ‘normal’ square footage, these homes would still maintain a small carbon footprint. And, on top of that, the project provides homes with all the amenities needed to help break a people out of the vicious cycle that, otherwise, keeps the houseless in their predicament.

Mighty Energy Solutions and Ducoterra are proud to have provided the infrared radiant heating systems for these wonderful tiny homes. And Mighty House Construction is also proud to sponsor this entry into the Green Home Tour. It is an honor to take a small part in this notable approach to the pernicious cycle of homelessness experienced by more and more people.

BIPOC Sustainable Tiny Art House Community (BIPOC STAHC) is taking a similar approach to a slightly different challenge. Seattle is losing artists in droves as housing becomes more expensive. And making art often requires spaces, equipment, and amenities that are also becoming less and less affordable. Most artists already face financial challenges by virtue of the difficult realities of art economics. This situation is made even more untenable when compounded by the social inequities experienced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC.)

Some artists move into vulnerable neighborhoods – partly for the lower costs – and apply their creativity to the betterment of their community. But this tends to lead to gentrification as these neighborhoods get noticed for this creativity and ‘hipness.’ This is a disaster for the existing residents and, very often, the artists themselves as more privileged people move in and drive up property values up – along with the cost to live there.

So, in order to overcome this conundrum, BIPOC STAHC is working to build a non-gentrifiable community of tiny, eco-friendly homes in a healthy setting with access to a larger, shared set of amenity spaces. This will improve the living conditions, affordability, and provide the opportunity to build wealth for disenfranchised artists of, so far, low privilege. Going from renting a tiny, unaffordable apartment in a dirty, industrial part of town to owning an, albeit small, but clean and healthy home in a community of creative people is certainly a move in a better direction for everyone involved. And, since any city planner will tell you, diversity and the arts are significant factors in the health of a city, this project will be a boon to the city and the region as a whole.

We sincerely hope these types of solutions gain traction as we move into a cleaner, more sustainable way of life.

Please be sure to check out the 2021 NW Green Home (Virtual) Tour for all it has to offer. And do not miss the chance to learn more about these amazing Social Equity initiatives:

Facing Homelessness’ BLOCK Project:  Saturday, May 15 |  9 am – 11:30 am
BIPOC Sustainable Tiny Art House Community: Saturday, May 1 |  9 am – 11:30 am