Each year, NAHB recognizes innovators for their efforts in paving the way toward a more sustainable, energy-efficient future with Best in Green ‘One to Watch’ Young Professional of the Year Award. The winner for 2018 is Anthony Maschmedt, principal and founder of Dwell Development in Seattle, Washington.
Maschmedt, a pioneer of net-zero energy home development, is constantly spreading his wealth of knowledge about green building best practices at events around the country. Maschmedt chairs the board of the Built Green program, which is part of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, and is also a key member of the Columbia City Business Association.
Maschmedt boasts countless achievements when it comes to building homes with zero net energy consumption, including the 2018 U.S. Department of Energy Housing Innovation Award, the 2018 Sustainability Leadership in the Built Environment Award, and many more. He shared with us his insights on the green building industry and what’s to come.
NAHB: Please give our readers a high-level overview of your role as principal at Dwell Development, and how your company came to be.
Anthony Maschmedt (AM): In 2005, I left a family design-build firm to start my own sustainable design practice in Seattle. As owner and founder, and a small fish in a big pond, my goal was to distinguish myself from other builders.
Starting this company was the best decision of my life. When the market crashed in 2008, my firm was thriving from our unique sustainable designs. I continued to get loans with no problem, even after the crash.
NAHB: What major changes have occurred in the past decade in the high-performance home space?
AM: Not enough has not happened, unfortunately. I thought there would be more change and a stronger push for building highly energy-efficient homes. I originally started Dwell Development to set myself apart and to get in front of the market, so that people would come to me as an expert. Other builders are missing out on this section of the market.
I continue to be successful in this space, even though the overall market doesn’t yet reflect the need for building green homes. That being said, there have been many technological advancements in product innovations, including efficient heating and cooling, insulation, and high-performance windows.
In the past 10 years, smart home technology has come a long way. The market has made huge strides in terms of managing all the different systems in a home. There are a lot of companies doing exciting work in the technology space, and Dwell Development loves partnering with innovators pushing the envelope with smart technology.
For instance, a complete smart home management system company, Kirio, was created by the owner of Dwell’s first Passive House, and now they are a leader in home automation systems. Because of their technology, the heat-recovery ventilators (HRV) in my homes remain balanced and the ductless mini-splits are operating much more efficiently.
NAHB: With regard to the smart home aspect, how do you educate your customers on the house as a system and the management of that system?
AM: Dwell Development actually interviews buyers and vets them to see if they are qualified to appreciate and take full advantage of the home they’re buying. If we end up contracting with a buyer, we do an hour-long training to explain how the whole house works. To measure our homes’ performance accurately and be sure that we have hard data on how our homes are performing in terms of energy efficiency, customers sign an agreement that allows Dwell Development full access to each home’s utility data.
NAHB: How has the demand for zero-energy homes shifted over the last decade, and how has Dwell Development pivoted its strategy in response to the demand?
AM: We haven’t had to shift our strategy at all; the marketplace is shifting toward us. We have created a product that people instinctively want (good indoor air quality, low volatile organic compounds inside, a building that is always bringing in fresh air, zero electric bills). They just might not know it yet.
NAHB: Do home buyers come to your firm because of its reputation in the green building world, or do you heavily market your company’s skillset to attract potential customers?
AM: We do a bit of both. We are a boutique firm that builds a handful of high-quality, healthy homes per year, and we have a waiting list. Dwell is a brand, and the stronger we portray and demonstrate that brand in the built environment, the more respect and acknowledgement we get, which further develops our brand. Without a brand, you’re just another builder and cannot set yourself apart in your local market.
NAHB: What is the biggest hurdle for your design team when incorporating green practices and features?
AM: Since we’ve been at this for such a long time, through trial and error, we have tried every type of system, so we have worked out the most cost-effective way to build net-zero energy homes. Overall, though, I would say the biggest general hurdles have to do with city regulation and permitting.
For example, we had a senior site inspector challenge us on our HRV installation at final inspection. We’ve installed hundreds of these units and this inspector had seen them, but never knew what their function was or how they worked. Instead of just asking us, he failed us on final inspection. He pulled out his outdated city code book from five years prior, and could not find anything related to an HRV, so that justified his position.
We provided him with the current code and he still didn’t budge, so we took up our position with the director of the planning department at the city of Seattle. It became apparent that since we were the only builder installing these at the time, we needed to educate and share the concept of HRVs with the city, so they could better understand their function and use.
It was a great opportunity to inform, initiate change, and allow a fast-growing city such as Seattle the ability to support innovative ways of bringing fresh air into newly constructed homes. These standard HRV details are now used by all builders in Seattle who install HRVs. Ultimately, it was a big win for everyone.
NAHB: Do you incorporate renewable energy into all your homes?
AM: We design all our homes for solar. Even if we don’t end up installing the solar ourselves, we make the home solar-ready. Additionally, we use solar thermal for heating potable water on certain projects that we showcase on an annual basis.
NAHB: Where do you source your reclaimed building materials?
AM: My wife, Abbey, is our designer and curator for reclaimed materials. She finds most of the supplies locally and if not, regionally in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, or Montana. She has connections to companies that specialize in reclaiming old barn wood and sustainably forested materials.
NAHB: What strategies do you have for minimizing construction waste?
AM: The recycling program in Seattle actually makes it quite easy. Materials are comingled on site and sorted once they get to the recycling facilities. We even get reports back after separation, so we know the percentages of each type of material that is being recycled. Additionally, education and training for subcontractors and tradespeople on-site is extremely important to effectively recycle and minimize waste.
NAHB: Since your homes have such a tight envelope, what systems do you use to ventilate the home to bring fresh air in and make the home “breathable?”
AM: We build all our houses to the Passive House model: Build it tight, ventilate it right. For tight building envelopes, the HRV is the single most important system. Depending on your climate, an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) might be used. The houses we build are constantly removing stale air and bringing in fresh air.
NAHB: How do the prices of your high-performance homes compare to conventional code-built homes?
AM: Our homes sell for a higher price per square foot. You have to keep in mind that it’s not just one thing, but a wide array of factors driving that price. We are a specialty firm that focuses heavily on planning unique sustainable designs and architecture. We have a higher premium because of the full package.
NAHB: What advice would you have for builders looking to start building more sustainably?
AM: Just do it. But seriously, it’s the right way to build a house. The knowledge, systems, and technology are here and readily available. I would say that younger, newer builders will have an easier time starting from the get-go with sustainable building practices.
I am also an open book and happy to share my knowledge and best practices; I wish every builder would build with efficiency in mind. If you’re getting started in the space, just give me a call. Updates to the building code will eventually put us where we need to be, but we might as well get there now. If more developers build green, it will increase my competition, but I would welcome that. This would allow for more homes that use a fraction of the energy of a code-built home to be on the market and reduce the carbon footprint of development by leaps and bounds.
I’ll share one story about our success after the market crashed. In 2009, we built a sustainable micro-community of 42 homes called Rainier Vista. The first home we sold at the framing stage was on the market for less than a day and sold for $400,000. Another builder down the road was building conventional code-built homes, one of which was on the market for 179 days and sold for $300,000.
These two homes were the same size — 1,500 square feet — and on the same street. And no, it did not cost me an extra $100,000 to build our home. That was certainly validating and showed me that not only are people willing to pay a premium for the types of houses we build, but that once people have information about these homes and what they offer, they make the conscientious choice to buy them over other available homes on the market.
NAHB: Have you taken any courses or training that you found helpful for builders looking to increase their knowledge on how to incorporate green building practices?
AM: Most of my knowledge has come from boots on the ground, trial and error. I would definitely recommend going to your local HBA since they usually have high-quality, ongoing education. In addition, attend trade shows such as the International Builders’ Show, or sign up for the slew of available webinars that are focused on sustainable development.
NAHB: Any predictions for the green building industry for the next five years?
AM: I think that solar will be standard in every new building; there’s no reason it shouldn’t be already. I also think we’ll see an uptick in solar thermal (hot water) installs. Additionally, every new home will be managed with smart home technology. Basically, my major prediction is that solar and smart home penetration will grow exponentially.
NAHB: Congratulations are certainly in order. Thanks for taking the time to share your story, Anthony!
AM: Thank you. I am honored to be recognized by the NAHB. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to share my story, and to expose more people to the world of high performance, net zero-ready home construction.