As warmer weather rolls around, your thoughts may start drifting to home improvement or maybe a bit of garden work. And if you want to take on those projects with a sustainable twist, there’s a wonderful resource in Tacoma ready to guide you.

The EnviroHouse is designed to educate homeowners, landscapers, schoolkids, and citizens interested in the growing field of sustainability, and it does so by focusing on the most personal parts of our world: homes and yards.

Tacoma’s EnviroHouse

Tucked into a little lot beside the Tacoma Recycling Center, this timberline modular house originally served as a mobile education center owned by Pierce County. The house would be set up at various fairs and special events around the region, and visitors could tour the inside to see examples of eco-friendly fixtures and structures. Eventually, it was sold to the city of Tacoma, which upgraded the space, gave it a permanent home, and reopened it in 2006.

Tacoma EnviroHouse
Samples of countertops made from recycled glass in Tacoma’s EnviroHouse. Photo credit: Kiernyn Orne-Adams

The genius of the space is in how commonplace it is. Its 820-square-foot interior features all the rooms you’d find in a typical home. What’s unique, of course, is the fact that every inch of the space is designed to educate, showing off materials that are both efficient and energy-saving.

You can wander into the kitchen and admire colorful slabs of flooring made from soy materials, then head to the main entryway to see columns of insulation made from chemical-free fibers. In the ordinarily unexciting bathroom, you can test out various water-saving showerheads or admire the Richlite countertop made entirely from recycled paper.

Then, it’s time to step outside, where the small but mighty garden awaits. You can stroll between raised flower beds and admire the fruit trees growing nearby, then check out several makeshift walls displaying different green building materials that work well for exteriors, including wood fiber, clay, and straw. Along the path, you can learn other ways to sustainably spruce up your yard, such as collecting rainwater for later use.

It’s not just the materials themselves that are environmentally friendly; there is plenty of careful consideration to how the products are sourced, including transportation emissions and the amount of carbon released. And the parts that can be seen are almost as interesting as what’s behind the walls – or in the pipes, for that matter. While the City of Tacoma technically runs the house, there is also a great deal of collaboration with local utility companies that fund the project. A whole variety of environmental organizations around town also provide educational resources. The result is a team effort to bring green living to the community.

Tacoma EnviroHouse
The house’s demonstration materials, such as this clay-straw wall, include background information on how the materials are built as well as their environmental advantages. Photo credit: Kiernyn Orne-Adams

A Green Place to Live in Tacoma

Janda Volkmer, the EnviroHouse Coordinator, shares that the main focus is utilizing the area’s fantastic resources. “I think Tacoma has led the way in terms of opportunities for citizen involvement,” she said, citing the various committees and organizations devoted to making the city a greener place to live.

The house is truly built to cater to every age. Youngsters can learn about recycling by watching the process unfold next door, while homeowners can get inspiration for their next renovation. Even apartment dwellers can see some great examples of making the most of a small space.

Tacoma EnviroHouse
A selection of irrigation systems, complete with information to help visitors to Tacoma’s EnviroHouse decide which would work best for their home. Photo credit: Kiernyn Orne-Adams

Sustainable Workshops at EnviroHouse in Tacoma

But this is not just a place for looking. It is also an active learning site with a whole host of free workshops to try out. You can learn about efficient heat pump systems and food preservation, discover new herbs and native plant species to spruce up your garden or find out how to create your own worm bin composting system. And if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can even learn how to raise chickens, ducks, and bees in your backyard.

The instructors are as varied as the topics. “I try to find people who have good reputations and knowledge in their field,” says Volkmer. She also focuses on drawing local talents, from farmers and gardeners to educators and members of the Health Department. “I try to get local if I can,” she said. Instructors will often leave behind their business cards for visitors to pick up, a perfect pairing to the library of resources at the front desk. Ranging from tips on proper recycling to brochures from local conservation groups, they offer a chance to keep learning long after the visit has ended.

Tacoma EnviroHouse
A series of garden beds are being prepared for the growing season at Tacoma’s EnviroHouse. Photo credit: Kiernyn Orne-Adams

Whether you want to spruce up your garden, fill your yard with birds, or simply add some beauty and clean energy to your home, Tacoma’s EnviroHouse has got you covered.

The house is located at 3510 South Mullen Street, right next to the Tacoma Recovery and Transfer Center. It is open for walk-in visits from Thursdays through Sundays, but group visits can be arranged by appointment; you can call 253.573.2426 for more details. Additional information, as well as recordings of previous workshops and classes, can be found on their website.