Local couple designs unique housing

Development in Tonasket will house six families

— A local couple is putting together a retirement project unique in Okanogan County.

Bob and Jane Thompson are in the process of building an energy-efficient housing community on Havillah Road that will feature six individual units and a community building.

“This development is going to be quite unique,” Bob Thompson said. “We don’t like to do things everybody else does.”

Every person who buys one of the “Pleasant Glade” homes will own the house, in addition to shared ownership of the community building and the surrounding three acres of land that is suitable for gardening or a small orchard.

The homes and community building will be partially underground as part of a heavy focus on energy-efficiency, which also includes the use of specialized building materials and natural earth roofs.

“They’ve made conscious decisions on what kind of materials to use and it’s really a wonderful project,” Green Okanogan Treasurer Peter James said. “They’re just exceptional inventors and artisans and it’s great housing.”

The Pleasant Glade houses should be about twice as efficient as the average homes that are built to current construction codes, the Thompsons said.

They will include energy-efficient lighting and electrical appliances, ductless heat pumps and extensive use of FastWall, a building material made of recycled hardwood pallets that are combined with a cement slurry.

“Energy bills should be at least half that of a house built to current code,” Bob Thompson said.

The earth-bermed sides and green roof with planted vegetation help to further insulate the homes.

The roof requires extra bracing, “but there are many benefits,” Bob Thompson said.

“You’re absorbing the moisture rather than letting it run off. You’re also prolonging the life of the roofing material, because it’s not exposed to direct sunlight. Aesthetically, you’re adding something that’s really going to look nice and it will moderate the cold and hot swings.”

He said if the roof membrane is protected from ultraviolet degradation, it can last five to 10 times longer than a standard roof.

The homes use a great deal of recycled and repurposed building materials, with posts and beams that have come from everything ranging from apple sheds to bridges to old hotels.

“The people in Omak would probably appreciate the fact that there’s a good deal of the Stampede grounds grandstand beams in the house,” Jane Thompson said.

It’s the combination of the energy-efficiency and shared land that makes Pleasant Glade a rarity across the country.

Although the phrase “community living” often evokes thoughts of communes from the 1960s and ‘70s, Jane Thompson said the development is something entirely different.

Each of the homeowners will own their own lot, but the surrounding land and community building are shared. Each person will become members of a homeowners association.

“Don’t call it a commune,” she said. “It’s an intentional community.”

Although they are not common, examples of earth-bermed and underground houses can both be found in different intentional communities across the country, said Laird Schaub of the Fellowship for Intentional Communities.

Schaub’s Sandhill Farm in Missouri and the Malcolm Wells-designed Raven Rocks in Ohio are variations on earth-bermed or underground intentional communities, Schaub said.

There is no screening process for people who would want to buy the homes, Jane Thompson said, but she expects people interested in the homes would already be inclined toward the community concept.

“We’d like to encourage a wide range of ages and backgrounds,” Bob Thompson said. “The more diverse a group of people we can get, the better we’ll be.”

Although the concept of Pleasant Glade is unlikely to become a sweeping trend, there are portions of its construction that can be easily incorporated into many new homes.

“People that have properties that lend themselves to underground living might be influenced to take advantage of that,” Bob Thompson said.

The Thompsons, who already live in one of the few underground homes in Okanogan County, will live in one of the Pleasant Glade homes when they’re completed.

The first two homes and the community building are on track for completion sometime this summer.

Each home will include about 1,250 square feet of living space.

The community center will have two floors and about 4,500 square feet.

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