Vent Pipes Never Looked So Sexy

On my last trip to the Harpoon House I observed a cool strategy for getting plumbing out of the walls. Why would you want to do this? For one, insulation improvement. The more stuff in the walls, the less insulation can fit in the cavity. More insulation = more efficiency = lower heating/cooling bills.

Here’s an example of a simple yet brilliant way to deal with one of the most common pieces of plumbing: a vent pipe. By running the pipe outside the house and behind the siding, the homeowners have effectively increased their wall’s R-value without adding significant additional costs. Since the home’s design already included a rain screen, bumping the siding out another 2″ meant they could run the pipe up the side of the house.

Harpoon House makes use of SIP panels, so this makes even more sense (SIPs are pre-fabricated, preinsulated panels). The fewer holes and tunnels you put in the panel and insulation, the fewer opportunites for air intrusion and heat loss. Kudos to the Harpooners!

Build it Small: Portland’s Harpoon House

Last weekend I visited the Harpoon House in Portland’s Buckman neighborhood.


Owners Matt Kirkpatrick and Katherine Bovee were kind enough to show me around and talk about how their dream of a small home is growing into a reality. Some highlights include:

  • <500 sq. ft. footprint on 2500 sq. ft. of land.
  • Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) for a super-energy-efficient envelope.
  • Triple-pane windows.
  • Eco roof with no composition shingles!
  • No garage
  • Anticipated LEED certification

This is Matt’s first house as a designer, and it’s impressive to see the level of ambition for someone so new to the field. Even more remarkable is that the couple was able to pull off the purchase and financing in a decidedly un-friendly lending climate (When I asked Matt what the biggest hurdle was about building, he didn’t hesitate to reply, “the bank.”)

Harpoon House Sign

As the project moves forward, we’ll update with new developments and site walk-throughs. This is a great example of the growing “small house” trend and it will be interesting to see how closely this project meets the couple’s needs.