Oregon’s Hood River Valley offers year-round recreational opportunities with skiing on Mt. Hood, hiking through forest lands and fishing in clear waters. Outside of Parkdale, Tom Kelly and his wife Barbara Woodford found a spot amidst this rugged setting to build a mountain home.

The owner of Portland, Ore.-based Neil Kelly Co., a design/build and remodeling firm with a portfolio of environmentally responsible projects, Kelly wanted to do more than build an inviting retreat for his family. He wanted the home to inspire others to be sustainable. As the first house on the West Coast certified under the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes program, the Kelly-Woodford home has accomplished that goal.

Neil Kelly Co.


Kelly gathered a team that included Anchorage, Alaska-based architect Liz Olberding, AIA; members of the Neil Kelly Co.; and the Salem-based Oregon Office of Energy. Olberding’s first move was to examine the site. “All my clues come from the natural environment,” she says. “I wanted the house to be respectful of its surroundings and take advantage of passive heating and cooling opportunities.”

With its pitched roof, the exterior follows a somewhat traditional form while the interior has a warm, minimalist quality to reduce material use. A gentle slope on the property allowed Olberding to tuck the private spaces partly underground, which helps keep interior temperatures even and prevents the house from imposing on the site.

A second-story open space that combines kitchen and living areas is lined with windows to offer daylighting, passive heating and a marvelous view of Mt. Hood. Kelly describes this loft area as “a very spiritual place” that can entertain up to 100 people while maintaining a sense of intimacy. To minimize heat loss in the temperate climate, Olberding used low-U-value windows but reduced their sizes to prevent excessive heat gain in the 2,000 square-foot (186-m2) home.


A 3-kilowatt photovoltaic system generates electricity for the home. Although it’s common practice to place PV systems on the roof, Kelly didn’t find that attractive, and there were snow and maintenance issues. Instead, the team planted two PV tracking arrays in the backyard among the native landscaping.

Approximately 9-feet (2.7-m) wide and 6-feet (1.8-m) high, each tracker has nine panels that articulate in latitude and longitude, providing 1.5 kW each. They follow the sun across the sky during the day and reposition themselves at night to face east and wait for morning. Kelly says they are approximately 30 percent more efficient than static PV arrays.

Hydroponic tubes embedded in a concrete floor use hot water to heat the house. An extremely efficient variable-speed-drive pump brings well water into the system and into the home’s plumbing. The team also included variable-speed-drive energy-recovery ventilators, or ERVs, to decrease energy consumption.

Neil Kelly Co.

The integrated system was planned around a revolutionary cold-climate air-to-water heat pump that was intended to generate hot water for the radiant floor and domestic water use. Combined with the PV array and ERVs, the system would have helped the house achieve net-zero energy, but last-minute patent issues prevented the new technology from being released. The team purchased a highly efficient heat pump and a reverse-cycle chiller for the exchanger to mimic the air-to-water heat pump as closely as possible.

The off-the-shelf components didn’t prove to be the optimal solution because they didn’t generate domestic hot water like the original system would have done. Looking for new strategies to increase energy performance, the team installed an electric-resistance hot-water heater and replaced one of the variable-speed-drive ERVs with a clean-

air furnace and heat-recovery ventilator. The current system has only been in place since March, so the team is waiting to see if it will achieve the performance levels they’re seeking. A solar hot-water heater may be added in the future.

Although more PVs would produce additional energy, the team’s goal is to make the house more efficient. It has been a challenging process, but the team realizes that is part of what it means to be on the cutting edge.

“We need to be experimental,” says Monty Moore, vice president and general manager of Neil Kelly Custom Homes, a division of Neil Kelly Co.

“Manufacturers won’t create sustainable products and systems without demand, so it’s important for us to keep moving them forward.”

Neil Kelly Co.


Interior systems are designed for double duty. The team selected concrete masonry to make a central wall serve as a structural component, as well as provide thermal mass to support the passive solar system.

Rather than install a standard 1 1/2-inch (38-mm) radiant concrete floor that would require wood joists at 16 inches (406 mm) on center, the

team wanted the floor to do more than just house the hydroponic tubing. It was decided to pour the concrete 4-inches (102-mm) thick and use metal decking, so the floor would span farther and become a structural element. This allowed the beams to be placed 4- to 5-feet (1.2- to 1.5-m) apart. Maximizing the structural capacity of the beams and the concrete in this manner reduced the overall amount of wood used in construction.


Coming from her premise that “the idea of permanence is about as green as it gets,” Olberding carefully chose materials that were highly durable to help the home last for generations. The structural walls are comprised of honed concrete block and a material made from mineralized wood chips and cement that offers superior insulation values. The product is much less material intensive than a traditional wall system built to provide similar insulation values. Its porous surface needed protection, so Olberding covered the exterior with stucco and used clay plaster for the interior wall.

The disparate siding materials created air infiltration at the connections, however, and the team had to go back and reseal them. “I really like the aesthetic of having different materials, but next time I’d put more thought into the connections,” Kelly admits. “One of the great things about this house was that we could take chances and learn from them.”

Another first for the team was the integration of Reston, Va.-based Forest Stewardship Council-certified glulam beams, which Moore says were nearly impossible to find when the project was in its design phase in late 2005. It was perfect timing that he discovered a lamination shop already in the process of certifying the beams they used in the home. In addition, many of the interior materials were locally sourced and made with recycled content.

The house’s grand opening was in July 2006. Kelly hosts open-house events for the public and he’s seen visitors truly connect with the home. “It’s a fabulous place to be,” he says. “I think it’s become a powerful example of how to mix green practices with architectural appeal.”

>> KJ FIELDS writes about architecture and sustainability from Portland, Ore.

Neil Kelly Co.


BUILDER / Neil Kelly Co., Portland, Ore., www.neilkelly.com

ARCHITECT / Liz Olberding, AIA, Anchorage, Alaska, (907) 230-9871 INTERIOR DESIGNER / Therese DuBravac, Neil Kelly Co.

MECHANICAL AND ELECTRICAL CONSULTING / Oregon Department of Energy, Salem, www.oregon.gov/energy

SOLAR CONSULTANT / John Grim Engineering, Lyle, Wash., (509) 365-5421

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER / Froelich Engineers, Portland, www.froelich-engineers.com


LOW-U WINDOWS / Ultrex by Integrity from Marvin Windows & Doors, Warroad, Minn., www.integritywindows.com

HEAT PUMP / York Heating and Air Conditioning, Norman, Okla., www.yorkupg.com

REVERSE-CYCLE CHILLER / Aqua Products Co. Inc., Prosperity, S.C., www.aquaproducts.us

CLEAN-AIR FURNACE AND HEATING-RECOVERY VENTILATOR / Lifebreath from Nutech Brands Inc., London, Ontario, Canada, www.lifebreath.com

FOREST STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL-CERTIFIED FRAMING LUMBER / Warm Springs Forest Products Industries, Warm Springs, Ore., www.wsfpi.com

FSC-CERTIFIED GLULAM BEAMS / American Laminators, Drain, Ore., www.americanlaminators.com


DAKOTA RED NATURAL EARTH PLASTER / American Clay Enterprises, Albuquerque, N.M., www.americanclay.com

KITCHEN COUNTERTOPS / Paneltech International, Hoquiam, Wash., www.paneltech.biz, and IceStone LLC, Brooklyn, N.Y., www.icestone.biz

KITCHEN CABINETS / Neil Kelly Cabinets, Portland, Ore., www.neilkellycabinets.com

KITCHEN CABINET PANELS / Kirei board from Paperstone, Hoquiam, paperstoneproducts.com

PHOTOVOLTAIC PANELS / Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Cypress, Calif., global.mitsubishielectric.com

PV TRACKERS / AEE Solar, Redway, Calif., www.aeesolar.com

INVERTER / Fronius USA LLC, Brighton, Mich., www.fronius.com

METAL DECKING / Verco, Phoenix, www.vercodeck.com

Hydroponic tubes embedded in a radiant concrete floor use hot water to heat the house. An extremelyefficient variable-speeddrive pump bringswell water into the system andinto the home’s plumbing.
Neil Kelly Co. Hydroponic tubes embedded in a radiant concrete floor use hot water to heat the house. An extremelyefficient variable-speeddrive pump bringswell water into the system andinto the home’s plumbing.