Ankeny Row

A Net-Zero Retirement Community
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The five Craftsman-style two-story townhouses that make up Ankeny Row cluster around a central courtyard. A 500-square-foot common room, which includes a kitchen and open dining/entertainment area, is available to residents for meals and gatherings.
Elevation concept of one set of homes.
Landscape architect Erin Muir of The Figure Ground Studio was hired to make sure the buildings were well-integrated with the rest of the site, and that it included both private nooks and public gathering places. Her design included a winding path that leads from the common room’s patio and terminates at what was to be a shared spa garden. All paths and patios are wheelchair-accessible. Muir also had to meet the city’s requirements for dealing with stormwater, which she ultimately solved by integrating deep stormwater planters throughout the site.
The five Craftsman-style two-story townhouses that make up Ankeny Row cluster around a central courtyard. A 500-square-foot common room, which includes a kitchen and open dining/entertainment area, is available to residents for meals and gatherings.
The five Craftsman-style two-story townhouses that make up Ankeny Row cluster around a central courtyard. A 500-square-foot common room, which includes a kitchen and open dining/entertainment area, is available to residents for meals and gatherings.
The five Craftsman-style two-story townhouses that make up Ankeny Row cluster around a central courtyard. A 500-square-foot common room, which includes a kitchen and open dining/entertainment area, is available to residents for meals and gatherings.
Dick and Lavinia’s kitchen and dining area. No two units are quite the same in layout or interior design and finish.
Francie and Michael’s bright and cozy living room area is appreciated by their dog Winston, too.
The community layout was designed with solar exposure in mind. The north row of houses is even terraced 18 inches higher.
The slab foundations are set on 9 to 16 inches of EPS insulation for R-37.8 to R-67.2.
Two-by-four framed walls are combined with 9.5-inch I-joist trusses. The cavities Filled are filled with dense-pack cellulose insulation, creating R-45 walls.
Roof cavities have 30 inches of loose-fill cellulose insulation for R-100 ceilings.
Exterior sheathing is DensGlass fiberglass-faced gypsum for moisture protection—it rains quite a bit in Portland, Oregon.
The moisture and air barrier is SIGA Majvest woven polyolefin, which helps keep air leakage under 1.00 ACH 50.
All units have heat-pump water heaters for added efficiency.
Each unit has its own main distribution panel, bidirectional utility kWh meter, and utility-PV interconnection.
Each home has its own PV array, inverter, and production meter. Inverters are SMA Sunny Boy 3800TL-US models rebranded by SunPower.
Lavinia Gordon and Dick Benner stand in front of their ethanol-fueled fireplace, which is used mostly for ambiance.

When attorney and Green Empowerment nonprofit founder Michael Royce dreamed of the perfect community in which to retire, he envisioned something akin to his childhood neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The 10 townhouses on Ogden Avenue shared walls and a common backyard. Everyone knew each other, and Michael, his brother, and their friends would run in and out of each other’s houses. Neighbors sat on their porches and visited until late in the evening.

Today, Michael is one of 11 residents of Ankeny Row, a “pocket community” in the heart of Portland, Oregon. Ankeny Row shares features with Michael’s old Milwaukee neighborhood. The townhouse-style units share walls and a common courtyard. Residents are both neighbors are friends. Parking is conspicuously absent.

But Michael and his wife Francie, a former city planner, didn’t just stumble upon this idyllic community. They helped create it.

Creating (More Sustainable) Community

The seeds of Ankeny Row were sown in 2004, when the Royces began brainstorming with friends Lavinia Gordon and her husband Dick Benner. All longtime Portland residents, they shared the desire to downsize and create a different kind of retirement community—one that kept them engaged in their neighborhood and supported their active lifestyles. Their vision aligned with the urban cohousing model: small, super-efficient dwellings, with a shared green space and a common room, set in a vibrant, walkable neighborhood. They couldn’t find exactly what they were looking for, so they decided to create it.

Their backgrounds (law and city planning) helped them navigate the challenges of buying land, setting up a limited liability corporation, and marketing their vision. In 2010, Lavinia’s daughter Sarah was riding her bike down a street in southeast Portland and noticed a “for sale” sign on a vacant lot. The location was ideal: in a neighborhood populated by cafes, brewpubs, markets, and a historic theater. Its “walk score”—a measure of how easy it is to get around without a car—is 87 out of a possible 100, qualifying it as very walkable. Portland was still climbing out of the recession, and the lot was priced well. It included an easement to an adjacent industrial site with an ailing warehouse. The group purchased both lots, doubling their canvas to 12,600 square feet.

“As our thinking gelled, we knew we wanted Passive House construction,” says Michael. They wanted to rely on the envelope for principal energy efficiency, as opposed to relying on systems.

“My concept of Passive Houses was that they were blocky buildings with small windows,” says Benner. “But I was struck by a Passive House in rural New York, which had large windows and just skewered that notion.”

Although the group held the vision for green community, they knew that they needed professional assistance to develop it. By the time Francie called Green Hammer, a Portland-based design/build firm, she and her partners had already interviewed 12 architects. The firm impressed the partners with their commitment to sustainable design. Green Hammer specializes in Passive House construction, and their staff includes four certified Passive House consultants.

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