The Happy Medium

The Happy Medium

The Happy Medium

Written by: Senna Scott

TC Legend Homes Co-Owner, Norm DesRosiers, was born and raised in Alaska. As part of the Federal Homestead Act Program, Norm’s parents were given four acres, in upper southeast Alaska, just outside of Glacier Bay. They built a cabin on this 4 acres.  In order to keep this land, the family had to live there for 36 consecutive months. Norm’s father still lives in this same cabin.

It was more than ‘off-grid’ living since there was no real attention given to the utilities. With no running water, or power of any kind, his family used all wood for heating and cooking over a wood stove.

Norm grew up in the village until he was nine years old, but they were back and forth to Juneau, for school.  Time was running out to complete the 36 consecutive months living on the land so Norm and his siblings were yarded out to the property where they would spend 2 solid years in order to keep the land according to the requirements for the Homestead Act. Still in his formative years, with his brain moving at the same speed as changes in the body, Norm and his older brother became imprinted on an outdoor and primitive existence. This way of living led both brothers to continue a similar way of living, in adulthood.  While Norm chose the Lower 48, his brother still lives in Alaska, but both have homes in the wilderness, with some more advanced systems.

As Norm grew into an adult, he knew he wanted to live a primitive lifestyle, but wanted to use technology to achieve some of the more modern comforts that we all enjoy… running water!  Norm met his wife, Sarah, in 2003.  The two had a whirlwind romance and were married in 2004.

While Norm was raised in rural Alaska, Sarah grew up in Washington State, in the suburbs and went to a college preparatory school.  Although the two had very different upbringings, they both shared a craving for adventure and a desire to live and raise their children in nature and with a sustainable lifestyle.  

So together they created their first house in Washington, when Norm was 25 years old, up on Sumas mountain, in Whatcom County. The house was fully off grid and powered with solar and wind! 

It was small scale.  The entire system was 2kW with batteries and enough amp hours to last 24 hours. They had a 10k gallon rainwater collection system, ran on propane heat, and even had one of the original radiant floor heating systems – “far rudimentary to what TC Legend Homes does now” reports Norm.

Their house was featured in a few runs of the original publications for off-grid living, such as the Backwood Solar and HomePower magazines.

But both Norm and Sarah found that their off grid beginner house with the preliminary uses of this technology was still a lot of work! They burned up and went through ELEVEN back-up generators.

After burning up the first 10 generators, not quite as green as they were hoping to be, at one point their daughter Navah (7 yo. at the time), said to her parents “this house is kind of like a teaching house – you learn all the things you’re not supposed to do.”  

Norm shared that “The house we live in now suits Sarah better than the full off grid house did.” However, Norm noted that they lived off-grid when kids were small. “The utilities take a lot of maintenance, and it takes time every single day.” Sometimes when Norm was at work, Sarah would have to carry a nursing baby to the generator out in the snow, and keep a fire going for heat. It got to be just too much!

So they sold the house and rented it as they went back to the drawing board to start their new house: The Happy Medium. This time, they would try to find the best of both worlds (between outback / off grid and on grid living), with a lot of the same intentions.

The first decision was to be closer to town. Sarah had a 45 minute commute to her kid’s school with two different start times – so she’d have to stay in town all day. It was far too much driving and became exhausting.

They found a 5 acre lot and over the years created the entire landscape around a riding lawnmower so they wouldn’t have to use a weed eater. They since have cared for the land and made it into a nice, park-like setting.

The house itself has a 3 bd / 2 and a half bath upstairs and 1 bd / 1 bath ADU downstairs in the basement (which their daughter, in her college years lives, in now). There is an open floor plan for the kitchen, dining and living areas as well as an office and  loft  area for studying or lounging. In the center of the floor plan is a sunken living room. Norm retorts that “it was a cool idea until it becomes something that’s supposed to function, now it’s a 10k feature to the house that makes it non-ADA compliant!”

There was a lot of intention behind every single detail of their Happy Medium home. From blessing the land before even beginning dirt work, to making sure Systems met the efficiency and comfortability along with all of the original ideas for their dream home (that was sketched back in 2003).  Then, incorporating all those off grid ideas into it while being grid tied. For its time (back in 2013), it was some of the most advanced technology. Here are the features of the Happy Medium and its construction:

Radiant Heat & Earthing – Radiant heat & intentional grounding in the massive concrete foundation (which took 4 months!) Norm ran copper wire in tight loops all along with the radiant heat tubing within the entire concrete slab for the basement AND second floors – for Earthing purposes!  You can ground a slab on grade – but grounded through a tight loop of 12 gauge bare copper wire right into a ground rod – for any of the loose electrical energy or charges floating around (ie. From appliances, EMFs, etc.) 

(Authors note: ‘Earthing’ aka ‘Grounding’ is the experience of having bare feet on Earth which syncs your body’s field to the Earth’s natural DC current. Scientifically shown to support the bodies health and circadian rhythms).

Some other “slightly more holistic and hippie” (Norm’s words) intentions Norm & Sarah included in creating their home were dumping different flower essences into all the interior paints. The kids were included in coming up with intentions for each space in their home.  They used different essences for different paints.  For example, the kitchen and living room paint included intentions of connectivity and love while bedrooms had intentions of peace, comfort, and rest.  The whole family also went through the house and wrote blessings on the studs!

Water – A 30k gallon water reservoir tank was built into the foundation of the house. Literally, underneath the house! Norm’s a big fan of hiding the utilities. Additionally, there is a greywater irrigation system feeding their garden all summer long! Their running water, all from the same rain water source, is separated into three 10k gallon reservoirs, filtered with a sediment, activated charcoal and UV filter.

The septic system is the standard old school septic system, that if designed properly works indefinitely. It’s designed to create a gravity flow system where there are no pumps or additional holding tanks.

Framing / Insulation – Used advanced framing – staggered 2’ x 4’ on a 8 inch plate – so there was no thermal transfer through the walls in the studs. The walls were insulated to R-26. The ceiling / roof system has raised heels to accommodate extra insulation in the attic spaces. (Norm noted that not until he started building with TC Legend did he fully conceptualize the air tightness and rigid insulation in the walls).

Heat – Originally heating was with the propane boiler. Since then, they have retrofitted the house with an electric heat pump.  So now their Heat Pump does 99 percent of the heating for the house even though it is undersized for a house that big! They have since eliminated all the gas in the house except for the cook top.

Since it’s fully ingrained in his mind that it’s a necessary part of homesteading and living in the wilderness, they have a wood furnace in their living area. Norm admits that he’s still slightly obsessed with wood stove heat and capturing as many BTUs out of his wood stove (**See our recent blog on “How to Make a Secondary Combustion Manifold” to make a fire place more efficient HERE **).

So the wood stove makes up the difference that the heat pump can’t. The gas boiler will actually kick in in the worst cold snaps if they don’t have a fire going, and would make up any of the difference.

Solar Power – The house has a 14.88 kW photovoltaic system. Sarah now drives a Model Y Tesla and soon there will be two electrical vehicles and chargers!

Norm commented that “the solar only does about half of overall electrical needs. It isn’t half as efficient as a TC Legend home! No matter how advanced the framing or air sealing is, the performance cannot compete with the homes we build now!”

Garden / Homestead – Currently they do direct burial compost which is burying all the house compost and it’s been working amazingly. The soil is great! All of the perennial tree vines and plants are super healthy, but Norm says that they can’t stand all the weeding.

“The garden has potential to be amazing,” says Norm, “so it doesn’t have master gardener feel to it, but part of permaculture is just throwing plants and seeds out in the yard, and find out which are successful.”

This is their 8th year since planting the orchard and they’ve harvested 300 lb of apples and pears. They didn’t even get to the grapes yet, “but the little black bear in the neighborhood sure as hell did” laughed Norm. Apparently he came home one day and saw a bear climbing in the rafter after eating all the grapes down low… which led to them having to cut the grape vine off the house!

Currently all the farm animals are gone now, but they’ve had chickens, goats (loved them), bunnies, ducks, and mason bees (for pollination). Norm mentioned in regards to all the ‘farm-stuff’ that “there are only so many hours in the day and it became a challenge to keep up with the demands!” 

Permaculture – The pond is elevated from the garden and orchard for natural irrigation. No pumps are needed! The water seeps out throughout the dry season and just naturally irrigates all of the garden. It is a seasonally fed pond, populated with goldfish.

Sauna – There is a sauna built from recycled cedar from a home in Anacortes that was getting demolished. Norm used Costco tinfoil for vapor barrier, and heats it with a standard wood stove. He used rocks from a local river that naturally has volcanic rock washing out from the Mount Baker area, and piled around the wood stove for thermal mass.

Swimming pool – Norm built a swimming pool over the pandemic. The in-ground concrete is fully insulated underneath and in the walls. It was one big experiment but Norm reports that the insulation has fully paid off! The 140,000 BTU heater keeps it at 82 degrees for seven months out of the year by only running for three hours a day!

On-Site Resourcing –The house design integrated onsite alder into the lightweight concrete floors for the upstairs. They also used onsite alder trees which were milled and processed for all the door case and base trim throughout the house. Additionally, the house is sided with the cedar from the site.

Shop / Garage – There’s a shop / garage where Norm enjoys some wood working in and doing other company related projects.

And lastly, Norm says he’s “got a really cool rope swing.” 😊

The main downside, Norm notes, is that there’s a fair amount of work with a long gravel driveway. It requires a lot of maintenance and pot holes suck! (He’s not a fan of paving either). There’s a lot of work clearing fallen trees – which ultimately become firewood. That chore monopolizes a good 30 percent of Norm’s free time, especially in the winter!

And as much as they loved the farm animals, and their many more concepts and possibilities for the land, Norm and Sarah look forward to doing those again, perhaps during early retirement.

Overall, both Norm and Sarah love their Happy Medium homestead and indulging in the benefits of the best of both on-grid and off-grid worlds! There was a lot of lesson learning, experimenting and intention that went into their home so that it remains functional and sustainable for years to come!

12 Shocking Housing Statistics You Should Know!

12 Shocking Housing Statistics You Should Know!

12 Shocking Housing Statistics You Should Know!

Written by: Nicole Miller

 When talking about where we need to go next in the housing industry, it’s important to look at where we are currently and what our trajectory is. This will help us determine the needs of our current and future communities and what we can do to help them. To do this, let’s look at 12 housing statistics.

Housing Statistics for the United States:

#1 “In 2022, about 29% of all US households were one-person households

As our one-person households increase globally, we are no longer needing as many large single-family residences, rather we are needing more multi-family and middle housing options.

#2 By 2030 1 in 5 Americans will be 65+.

With our aging population, there is an increasing need for smaller and more affordable homes for the older population to live in that cannot afford to live in large single-family residences. This also means that the housing being built should consider universal design methods to make the homes accessible to folks using mobility aids and with various disabilities.

#3 By 2025 up to 85% of households will not have children.

A staggering number to look at! Regardless of why people are choosing not to have children these days, it means the population does not need as big of homes to house a family of 3+ anymore. The needs and priorities of our population are rapidly changing, so our housing needs to reflect that.

#4 As much as 80% or more of many cities is zoned exclusively for Single Family.

And yet the laws are still lagging behind and only allowing single-family residences to be built. An overhaul of the legislature is greatly need in order to legalize multi-family/middle housing.

#5 Millennials are looking for walkable living and MMH (missing middle housing).

Studies even show that this generation of renters and home buyers aren’t looking for the traditional single-family home. They are wanting middle housing and housing in communities that are walkable–where they can walk to the grocery store, a park, a restaurant, the gym. But the zoning across most US cities doesn’t allow for this.

Housing Statistics for Bellingham & Whatcom County:

#6 Bellingham is expected to have an average population growth of 1,350 people per year in the next 20 yrs.

This may not seem like a lot, but when you think about the fact that our population is currently at just over 93k people and the vacancy rate is just under 2% (we are in need of more housing already), then the reality of the amount of housing we need to build in the next 20 years to not just keep up with the growth, but also make up for the lack of availability already.

#7 The median income for Bellingham is around $60,000/yr.

This means that 50% of Bellingham residents make $60k/yr or less and the other 50% of residents make $60k/yr or more. This becomes more important when knowing the following facts.

#8 “In Bellingham, 24% of homeowners and 56% of renters are cost burdened.”

If 54% of renters are cost burdened just renting, then that means the likelihood for more than half of our renters to be able to purchase a home is incredibly low. But homeownership is the best way to gain equity. So more than half of renters are stuck in the perpetual cost burdened cycle until something changes that makes housing more affordable or they are somehow able to make enough to purchase a home. But looking at the following facts, you’ll see that’s even harder than in sounds.

#9 “In the second quarter of 2019, the homeownership rates for white, Black, and Latino households were 73.1 percent, 40.6 percent, and 46.6 percent respectively – the largest differentials in fifty years.”

It’s important to note that of those that own homes in Whatcom County, it is mostly white individuals, leaving minorities stuck renting or houseless. Showing that while the issue of housing affordability is affects everyone, it disproportionally affects minorities.

#10 In 2022, the average rental cost was $1,693/mo; In order to afford this, a renter would need to make $33/hr or $67,720/yr. (WHA Cost of Renting Vs Buying in Whatcom County

According to 2020 Census data, 71% of Bellingham households are made up of only 1-2 people. Looking back at the median income for Bellingham (which is $60k/yr), we can see that the average rental is not affordable for a huge portion of our community and it shows why 56% of renters are cost burdened.

#11 The average mortgage payment is $3,439/mo; In order to afford this, a homeowner would need to make $66/hr or $137,560/yr. (WHA Cost of Renting Vs Buying in Whatcom County)

We saw that 24% of homeowners are cost burdened, and its more shocking that more aren’t cost burdened when looking at the average mortgage payment and knowing only 50% of the community makes $60k or more. Even in a household of two making the median income wouldn’t be able to afford the average mortgage payment.

#12 The median home price in Whatcom County in February 2023 was $560,000; However, a couple making a collective $100,000/yr could only afford a house worth $385,000. (WHA What is Workforce Housing?)

In order for housing prices to reduce to a level that the typical Bellingham or Whatcom County resident can afford, we need to focus on building middle housing which is smaller and more affordable. It also allows us to build more units with more density, which will help address the vacancy rates and growing population. Middle housing is a great option for our aging population as well, as they can still live in the city where there are public facilities, and it is less expensive. Middle housing will also cater to our changing population dynamics as we see more and more childless and one-person households.

Thankfully Washington state recently passed HB 1110 which legalizes middle housing and HB 1337 which makes it eases the restrictions on ADU’s. The city of Bellingham is also working hard to implement these at city-level for our near future.

As housing-for-everyone advocates, TC Legend Homes and Powerhouse Designs strives to educate the public on these important issues while providing healthy, net-zero, carbon neutral budget homes in an effort to not only help the housing crisis, but provide top-performing homes.

To further discuss middle housing and the path forward for our community, or to get started on your very own project, contact us today!

Award Winning Samish Solar Home Case Study

Award Winning Samish Solar Home Case Study

Written by: Nicole Miller

The U.S. Department of Energy announced that the submission for the Samish Solar Home from Powerhouse Designs and TC Legend Homes has been selected as a 2023 Housing Innovation Awards Winner!

Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready Home Housing Innovation Awards 2023 Winner official poster. 
"Powerhouse Design & TC Legend Homes" 
"Samish Solar Home, Bellingham, WA." 
Photographed is the home that has won the award. It is a south-facing home with clearstory design, painted a forest green on the exterior with sunroom and covered porch and separate entry between the main house and the garage. 
“This is by far the most e cient, nicest, and most comfortable house we have lived in!” Homeowner
"Project Data
Layout: 4 bdrm, 3.5 bath, 2 fl s, 2,345 ft
• Climate: IECC 4C, marine
• Completed: June 2023
• Category: Custom for Buyer
• HERS Index: without PV 33; with PV
• Annual Energy Costs: without PV
$650; with PV $-300
• Annual Energy Cost Savings: (vs
typical new homes) without PV $1,500;
with PV $2,450
• Annual Energy Savings: without PV
11,550 kWh; with PV 23,100 kWh
• Savings in the First 30 Years: without
PV $62,400; with PV $101,800" 
"Key Features
Walls: SIPs, R-29 total: 6.5" graphite EPS SIP with OSB sides. House wrap, fi ber cement lap
siding. Aerosolized acrylic whole-house air sealing.
• Roof: SIP roof, 10.25" R-49 graphite EPS SIP roof, insulated splines. Synthetic
underlayment, metal roofi ng with cool roof index of 32.
• Attic: Unvented vaulted ceilings.
• Foundation: Slab-on-grade foundation; R-23 ICF stem walls; R-20 closed-cell spray foam
under slab.
• Windows: Triple-pane, U=0.16-0.18, SHGC=0.32-0.50, low-e3, argon-fi ll, vinyl-framed.
Shading: extended eaves, landscaping for shade, half of sunroom roof is opaque metal.
• Air Sealing: 0.27 ACH50, all SIP panel joints sealed with double bead of mastic and tape.
Windows and doors are foamed in. Whole house aerosolized acrylic sealant.
• Ventilation: HRV, continuous at 30 cfm, humidistat and CO sensored for boost. Also
mobile phone alert to IAQ sensors. HRV has HEPA fi lter.
• HVAC: Air-to-water heat pump, 3.92 COP for heating and 6.75 for cooling; 23.02 EER.
Radiant fl oor heat downstairs, fan coil upstairs. Designed for passive heating.
• Hot Water: Powered by the same air-to-water heat pump that heats and cools the home.
• Lighting and Appliances: LED lighting. ENERGY STAR appliances, induction cooktop.
• Solar: 10.8-kWh PV.
• Energy Management System: IAQ sensor controls for ventilation.
• Other: PV designed for house load + electric vehicle charging."

This national award represents a significant achievement, recognizing the most impressive and advanced homes among leading DOE Zero Energy Ready Home builders. Our standard-setting leadership serves as an example of what every homebuyer in the nation should come to expect and demand from their home.

US Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready Home Housing Innovation Awards Winner. "Powerhouse Designs & TC Legend Homes"
"Bellingham, WA
Project: Samish Solar Home
Bellingham, WA"
"2,345 sqft, 4 bedroom, 3.5 bath, 2 floors. 4C Marine, Custom for Buyer." 
"HERS -20. This home's score with PV" - Indicates the HERS overachieves beyond the point of being just a Net Zero home which has a HERS of 0. The average new home as a HERS of 90 and the average existing home has a HERS of 140. 
"$-20 Average Monthly Energy Bill. Calculated." 
"$2,450 Annual Savings. Calculated versus typical new homes."
"$101,800 Saved in the first 30 years. Includes fuel escalation rate, 2021 EIA Energy Outlook."

The Housing Innovation Awards helps us celebrate our success in providing our customers with the best in energy efficiency, indoor air quality, comfort, and construction quality. Awardees this year are being recognized for innovative use of off-the-shelf technologies and strategies to achieve advanced performance; innovative use of leading-edge technologies and strategies to achieve advanced performance; market transformation through education efforts; and innovative implementation of decarbonization strategies.

"Powerhouse Designs & TC Legend Homes, Samish Solar Home, 2023"
A floor plan of the winning home.

Find Out More About the HIA Awards Here.

To start designing your very own potential future Housing Innovation Awards winning home, contact us today!

Featured in the Northern Lights: Point Whitehorn net-zero home constructed with efficient features

Featured in the Northern Lights: Point Whitehorn net-zero home constructed with efficient features

Written by: Senna Scott

Our Point Whitehorn net-zero home was featured in @TheNorthernLight Blaine & Birch Bay’s Community Newspaper!

“Nestled adjacent to wetlands and with views of Birch Bay State Park, TC Legend Homes’ Point Whitehorn house is not your average house. The home has a 7.2kW photovoltaic system – the conversion of light into electrical energy – and is built in a highly efficient envelope, setting it up to be a net-zero energy house in Birch Bay.”

You can learn about our cost-saving measures and design challenges by reading the full article online >> HERE <<

How to Make a Secondary Combustion Manifold

How to Make a Secondary Combustion Manifold

Written by: Senna Scott

Last month Dan did some surgery on Norm’s reclaimed woodstove he got from his in-laws beach cabin, giving it a secondary combustion manifold using outside air.

The idea is to make it burn the gasses released by the wood that conventional stoves waste.

Dan says, “We put in an air supply line piped from the outside to feed the fire so the fire isn’t pulling the warm air from the house’s envelope which helps retain warmth.”

“That air supply then feeds into a manifold overtop of the fire. Dozens of little holes were drilled into a steel tubing manifold I built to spread air out through the stove. A smaller air supply splits off from the manifold at the bottom of the stove, runs across the bottom and to the front of the stove to assist with convection and combustion. Norm will then lines the walls of the stove with firebricks.”

What’s the point of doing all this??

So this fire could burn hotter and more efficiently! 🔥

Norm reports back post-retrofit saying that “the wood stove system is working perfectly! It probably cleans the smoke up to maybe 50 percent, and burns the gasses out of the emissions as well as increasing efficiency of the burn within the burn chamber – increasing the efficiency from about 80 percent to 95 percent!”

( SO cool! )

Norm continued to say, “You can tell it is a clean burn because the glass stays clean and you have a really cool fire. The actual flame in the stove comes not just from the bottom, but it shoots down from the top – making it a really cool flame from both directions, but it’s not overly hot!”

📸 Thanks Norm & Dan for sharing your “sustainability” weekend adventures and photos of your project! 😀