The Healthy House Institute (HHI) is partnering with design-build firm Earthcraft Construction to build the educational organization’s new headquarters in Boise, Idaho’s Salome Terrace subdivision. It also will be HHI president Allen Rathey’s personal residence. Serving as a pilot project, Rathey and his wife are looking to “walk the talk” of living green by downsizing into the 1,800-square-foot home, certified by Energy Star and the EPA’s Indoor airPLUS.  

The home is a physical representation of HHI, an educational organization and website dedicated to providing consumers with information to make their homes healthier. “Websites are wonderful,” Rathey says, “but they’re not tangible.” The new home creates a concrete example of the practices the organization preaches and proves that a green, healthy home can be affordable and obtainable to a wide demographic. “We wanted to do it right, but we didn’t have a fortune to invest,” Rathey says.

After interviewing numerous builders, Rathey connected with Mark L. Hixson, the president of Boise-based Earthcraft Construction who has more than 30 years of experience building green homes. For Rathey, the key to making green homes accessible to all budgets is partnering with a design-build firm that is aware of sustainable practices but is also willing to work with clients on limited budgets. Earthcraft and the home’s project manager, Hans Glenn, who is also Idaho’s LEED for Homes advocate, designed a concept that allowed the couple to build a healthy residence for the cost of a conventional spec home in the Boise metro area with the idea that it would spur similar construction in the area.

img_0051The team installed ductless, mini-split heat pumps—which are both more efficient and healthier—a solar hot-water system, and a backup tankless water-heating unit that regulates incoming water. Water treatment and filtration systems, which employ reverse osmosis, help save on heating costs, reduce detergent use, preserve appliances, and most importantly, save the residents money. In addition, energy-efficient windows from Page’s Windows in Meridian, Idaho, maximize performance; advanced framing provides more insulation per inch; and a heat recovery ventilator balances saves energy through an aluminum-core transfer process while providing fresh air.

The largest energy saver may be the home’s soy-based foam insulation, which seals potential leak points and provides a direct thermal barrier while greatly reducing VOCs compared to conventional spray-foam insulation.

The home’s radiant floors, which have been slow to catch on in the United States, act as a backup heat source to the home, which has been oriented for maximum solar heat gain in the winter and reduced exposure in the summer. The sun is meant to heat the home’s concrete floor slab, which is insulated underneath so absorbed energy doesn’t escape into the Earth. The home also features myriad edible plants and fruit trees in its landscaping as well as drought-tolerant plants and water-efficient irrigation practices.

The Ratheys are relatively new to the world of sustainability, having acquired the HHI intellectual property as recently as 2008 from founders John and Lynn Bower. Rathey says the Bowers were pioneers in the industry, founding the company in 1992 as a publishing company, producing materials that promote healthy construction and a healthy lifestyle. Now that legacy lives on digitally through the HHI website.

With a background in cleaning and facilities, Rathey’s route to HHI and sustainability was nontraditional, but after creating several Web-based entities centered on healthy facilities and cleansing the indoor environment, he acquired HHI. Rathey believed strongly that health came first, then green, before coming to the realization that the two are synergistic. “You can have it all,” Rathey says. “And you don’t have to spend a fortune. If the homeowners and team are willing to be disciplined and rigorous and adopt a design-build paradigm to control costs and address the vital issues of health and sustainability, it’s amazing what can be done.”