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earth sheltered passive solar designs

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vashon dental clinic

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The Vashon Dental Clinic is Design Northwest’s pioneering earth sheltered passive solar building. We became interested in passive solar architecture in the years following the energy crises of the 1970’s. Nearly thirty years ago a forward-looking client who wanted to build a new building for his dental practice gave us the opportunity to realize our vision.

Our goal was to design an energy efficient, sustainable building that used solar energy as its primary source of heat and light. Furthermore, we made it a design goal to use standard construction methods and materials, keeping the construction costs within the bounds of conventional building costs. The result was the region’s first earth sheltered passive solar commercial building, housing our client’s dental practice as well as the offices of Design Northwest.

Given the uniqueness of this pioneering project, we had little precedence to rely upon. Therefore, during the preliminary design process the building was computer modeled for solar heating and cooling. Surprisingly, it was determined that when careful glazing design, thermal mass, insulation and earth sheltering were combined, the building was so efficient that too much solar heating could be an issue. Thus, south facing skylights were deleted from the preliminary design to prevent overheating.

Carefully tracked, the clinic’s construction costs proved to be equal to a conventionally constructed building. Additionally, measuring the building’s energy performance was critical, as that would be the primary indicator of the design’s success. Several years of monitoring the building’s supplementary heat pump showed that the 2600 square foot clinic portion of the building averaged $70 per year to heat and cool.

In the years following its completion, the building received a great deal of widespread publicity including coverage in print, radio and on television. Major recognition of Design Northwest’s pioneering design was realized when the firm was awarded the Seattle King County Board of Realtors annual Builders of Our Community Environmental Award.

Today the clinic continues to repay its owners forward thinking. The earth sheltered concrete structure has been inexpensive to maintain. Annual heating and cooling expenditures are expected to be approximately $130, based on early usage patterns adjusted for current electrical costs. The Vashon Dental Clinic highlights Design Northwest’s proven approach to sustainable building with earth sheltered passive solar designs.

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