EnviroHouse is home of ‘green’

This article is sponsored by the City of Tacoma and the Make a Splash program.

If you are buying or building a new house, or simply remodeling the one you have, your first stop these days should be the EnviroHouse at the Tacoma Recovery and Transfer Center if you are looking for ideas on how to create an energy efficient and environmentally friendly home.

That’s right. At the entrance to what old-timers called the Tacoma landfill at 3510 S. Mullen St. sits one of the best examples in the nation for green building and landscaping practices at the City of Tacoma’s “EnviroHouse.”    

“We have a little bit of everything here on display,” EnviroHouse coordinator Janda Volkmer proudly noted. “Whether it is the construction of the home, exterior, interior, utilities, appliances, the driveway or landscaping, there are a lot of great ideas and solutions here.”

In general, EnviroHouse is a permanent model home showcasing green building and natural landscape ideas, materials and techniques in support of “a healthy home and planet.”

EnviroHouse champions the benefits of sustainable living and building practices to homeowners, builders, suppliers, landscapers, real estate agents and the general public, highlighting readily available products for new and existing homes and yards.

In fact, EnviroHouse features more than 150 “green” interior, exterior and landscaping examples and ideas, including:

  • Solar electric.
  • Sidewalk/decking materials made with recycled content.
  • Recycled-content carpet, countertops, furniture and tile.
  • Non-toxic paint and natural bulletin boards.
  • Synthetic turf, natural grasses, native plants and recycled-content mulch.
  • Cork and bamboo flooring.
  • Weather-controlled irrigation system.
  • Water-saving showerhead display.
  • Organic and recycled insulation options.
  • Energy-efficient heat pumps, windows, lighting and appliances.
  • Yard, food and pet-waste composting systems.

And, if you are looking at ways to mitigate stormwater runoff in and around your property, EnviroHouse features a fully integrated rainwater management system that starts by collecting rain in roof gutters, then into rain barrels that are linked to provide water for the yard and landscaping irrigation that can be controlled by the weather.

This water-efficient system features low-evaporation spay heads and drip irrigation that applies water directly to roots to greatly reduce wasteful runoff.

As stormwater runoff from local homes, streets, sidewalks and parking lots is the main source of pollution in Commencement Bay and Puget Sound, EnviroHouse was designed to minimize its impact with a rain garden that deals with all runoff that isn’t used for irrigation.

“They have created a very unique system with our rain barrels and irrigation systems,” Volkmer acknowledged. “It is becoming more popular for those homeowners that are concerned about their local environment.”

EnviroHouse also displays several examples of “permeable pavers” and pathways for parking and sidewalk areas that work to absorb and filter runoff, as well as direct it into a rain garden.

You will also find examples of non-toxic paint, siding, and roofing that can greatly reduce the pollutants and chemicals that get into stormwater runoff.

EnviroHouse also conducts numerous workshops each month on topics ranging from “How to Build and Maintain Rain Barrels” and rain gardens, to overviews on solar power and ductless heat pumps. There also are workshops on native landscaping, gardening, and getting started with backyard chickens or beekeeping.

You must pre-register for the workshops at www.cityoftacoma.org/envirohouse.

“The rain barrel and rain garden workshops are very popular and fill up quickly, so you should plan ahead on those sessions,” Volkmer advised.

In general, the number of visitors who drop by EnviroHouse has increased greatly over the past several years in conjunction with the increase in popularity in green living and sustainability, Volkmer reported. And it isn’t just Tacoma residents that come to check out what EnviroHouse has to offer. Of the thousands of visitors to the model home, nearly 40 percent come from outside city limits.

EnviroHouse started in the late 1990s as the “Green House,” a green-living demonstration facility operated by Pierce County Solid Waste Division and displayed for many years at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup until 2004, when it was acquired by the City of Tacoma Solid Waste Division and moved to land at the Tacoma Recovery and Transfer Center to be a permanent demonstration facility open year-round to the public.

EnviroHouse is now a collaboration among City of Tacoma Solid Waste Management, Wastewater Management and Surface Water Management, Tacoma Power, Tacoma Water, and the Master Builders Association of Pierce County.

Remodeling, design and landscape services were provided by Bates Technical College, BCRA, City of Tacoma Streets and Grounds Division, Morley-DeLoma Architects, Tacoma Public Utilities Grounds Maintenance Division, The Berger Partnership, Washington Conservation Corps, and York Enterprises.

EnviroHouse is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. Call 253-573-2426 for other information.      


Steve Kruse, who wrote this article, is a freelance writer.