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Father-son team promotes pathways to high-performance homes

April 22, 2023


By Janelle Guthrie, Communications Director 

Skagit/Island County Builders Association Member Ted L. Clifton and his son, Ted W. Clifton, a member of the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County, have spent their careers building high-performance homes.

Both recently won 2022 Housing Innovation Awards (HIA) from the US Department of Energy (DOE). The younger Clifton of TC Legend Homes in Bellingham won the grand prize in the Custom Homes for Buyers – Less than 2,500 Square Feet category. The senior Clifton of Clifton View Homes in Coupeville earned recognition in the same category.

Saving energy, saving money

The highest honor builders can receive for building Zero Energy Ready Homes (ZERH), the Housing Innovation Awards recognize high-performance homes so energy efficient they can offset most or all the energy they need with a renewable energy system. This not only benefits the environment, but it also helps the homeowner save thousands over the life of a 30-year mortgage.

It’s a feature TC Legend Homes’ Clifton loves to spotlight. His most recent HIA-winning home, “House in a Hollow” in Bellingham, saves its homeowners a minimum of $1,200 annually and up to $2,150 a year with solar photovoltaic panels. That translates to $86,600 over 30 years.

“It’s less expensive to build net zero over time,” Clifton said. “You can offset the added costs to build a net-zero home with the energy savings over the life of the mortgage. And homebuyers will start seeing those savings on their first energy bill.”

TC Legend Homes’ award-winning 1935-square-foot home boasts a high-performance insulation system, comprehensive draft protection and a fresh air system for cleaner indoor air. It also includes energy-efficient appliances and advanced lighting technology for energy and water savings.

In its “Tour of Zero” overview, DOE quoted the new homeowners as saying, “A net-zero home is appealing because of the money factor, and environmentally, it’s a good thing, too.”

Anything worth doing must be done sustainably

The younger Clifton has been building to the DOE ZERH program criteria since 2015.

“I believe anything worth doing must be done sustainably,” he said. “It is our mission to build homes as sustainably as possible, and part of that is affordability. With rising energy costs, net zero energy homes are better positioned to help keep housing affordable.”

He believes using net zero energy as a benchmark makes building green much more affordable than building to the code minimum.

“Prescriptive building codes may be helpful to some builders,” he said. “But can also stifle innovation.”

Commitment to high-performance homes

A designer and builder for more than 55 years with experience building in California, Alaska and Washington, Ted L. Clifton was a founding member and president of Built Green Washington.

With 14 Zero Energy Ready Homes recognized by the DOE, Clifton View Homes has won at least one Housing Innovation Award every year since 2013, except 2020. He built his first home at 21 and his first zero-energy home around 2007.

One of his most recent homes is not only zero energy, it also uses reclaimed water to produce the homeowner’s food supply. The home’s extensive landscaping, designed and developed by Evergreen Landscaping and Construction, LLC, also relies on reclaimed water for irrigation.

The younger Clifton started working for his father in 1989 and then started his own company in 2006. He built his first net zero-energy home in 2011. Designed by his father, that home, widely known as the “Ballard Net-Zero Home,” was Seattle’s first true Net-Zero-Energy home.

DOE credits TC Legends with 34 ZERH projects and award-winning projects showcased every year since 2013, including five honorable mentions in 2016.

A ready playbook

Ted L. Clifton has not only built his career around green building and energy efficiency, but he’s also been sharing his designs through his in-house design firm, Zero-Energy Plans, LLC, since 2006.

According to an interview with the Zero Energy Project, Clifton started Zero Energy Plans “to make the proven zero-energy home designs we had already drawn available to others to advance the concept of how homes should be built.”

His son, Ted W. Clifton, also has an award-winning design firm, PowerHouse. Both offer a variety of plans to adapt to a wide array of housing needs and price points.

The senior Clifton, who will be inducted into the BIAW Hall of Fame at the BIAW Summer Board of Directors meeting in June, encourages builders to release their fears about green building and embrace electrification.

“What you feel about it doesn’t matter,” he said. “In fact, your feelings may just be getting in the way of your brain.

“Electrification is happening because it makes such perfect sense, and ultimately will cost us all a lot less,” he said. “The sooner builders can do an about-face, and update the way they do things, the sooner they will experience the benefits I have been enjoying for the last 15+ years.”

With that said the senior Clifton supports a performance pathway over prescriptive mandates in the state building code.

“We need codes that work for every builder,” he said. “Let us do what we know how to do.”

Ted L. Clifton will be one of several codes experts teaching BIAW’s upcoming classes on the latest requirements approved by the State Building Code Council.


*Original article was featured in the April 2023 issue of Building Insight magazine.

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