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Zero-Energy Retreat Home

Two families banded together to build an energy-efficient cabin in the mountains as a getaway for themselves as well as renters.

| June/July 2019

Photo by Sy Stepanov

Imagine a zero-energy home that produces more energy from the sun than it uses. Now, envision building that home and turning it into a vacation retreat with a stunning view of snow-capped mountains — a place that won’t drain your checkbook, but will instead earn you thousands of dollars a month.

A few years ago, my wife, Alex, and I started dreaming about just these things. We had already achieved a piece of that dream — we’ve lived in a net-zero solar-powered house since 2011, when we built Seattle’s first zero-energy home for the price of a smaller townhouse in our neighborhood. It was such a positive experience that we wanted to try building a vacation retreat in Washington’s Methow Valley. Could our dream come true?

Shared Ownership

At the time we began to dream about our retreat, we had long been fans of the so-called “sharing economy.” We’d rented out a room in our house on Airbnb; set up a co-op for sailboats; and even rented out our biodiesel car to strangers. So, naturally, we began looking for partners for our house-building adventure.

Photo by Sy Stepanov

Our friends Dave and Lisa also loved the hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing available in the Methow Valley, and soon, we were making trips together, looking for the perfect plot of land. We knew we had found “the one” when we discovered a 3/4-acre parcel that was within walking distance of the little town of Winthrop, yet was perched atop a ridge with perfect views of the Cascade Range. We formed an LLC and purchased the land together.

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