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Less energy: Seattle Green Home Tour 2013

April 30, 2013

It was LD Arch Design’s second year on the Seattle Green Home Tour. The “Blue View, Green Built” home in Green Lake had a successful tour day this past Saturday, with over 200 people coming through (which made for a busy day!).southeast corner 2

It is an inspirational story – the owner saw some great green homes on the tour in 2011, connected with contractors and architects before and during the tour in 2012, and was just finishing construction of her own green home for the 2013 tour. The project was published prior to the tour in a Daily Journal of Commerce Green Building Blog article, as well as on the Good Life Northwest blog. Here are a couple of photos during a lull early in the day and people coming in the front door (photos courtesy of Rachel Lee, TC Legend Homes):

upstairs entry

The inspiration

The owner Becky was most inspired by a net-zero energy home built in Ballard (which has a great blog about the design and performance of that house).  She began learning about green building, joined the NW Eco Building Guild, and talked to many green building professionals. She saw the LemonDrop Addition that was on the 2012 Green Home Tour and connected with LD Arch Design’s “thrifty and thoughtful” design approach. Read more about Becky’s inspiration and how she chose the “dream team” in her blog about the project. Here is a photo of architect Parie, owner Becky, Eric and Alex (the Ballard homeowners), and builder Ted (and his cute kids):

the team

Affordable deep green

Becky began the process with a desire to demonstrate that a beautiful deep green remodel does not necessarily have to be super expensive. We are still finishing the last details, but it appears that the construction costs will be under $150/SF, which is well below the Seattle “starting point” of $200/SF for a custom remodel. (That number does include the solar panels, but does not include the garage – including the area of the garage brings the cost down to $125/SF.) We believe that the home will be net-zero energy (or very close), but will track the utility costs in the coming year to see how it performs. Here are some green home tour goers checking out the home:

upstairs 3

The secrets to success? There is a high priority on creating a simple and beautiful spatial quality, investing in the building envelope (really good windows and high insulation walls), and working with natural daylighting and ventilation. Becky chose the existing home for its great location and solar access so we had “good bones” to work with. By keeping the finishes simple and using reclaimed materials, we were able to use some beautiful materials within a modest budget. Becky likes making things — here are some pendant lights that she created from recycled miniblinds:

blinds lights

When looking at the exterior envelope, it is always a juggling act to provide ample natural light, but at the same time minimize heat loss through openings in the walls. One strategy is to make sure that all of the windows are doing at least two jobs. The big south-facing windows provide passive solar gain and will also provide views to a future green garden, with trellises to allow for future flowering vines.

trellises

More details to come, but here is a good photo of the front garden balcony — it has an interesting mix of weathered steel, galvanized steel, and cedar that will be a good backdrop for Becky’s gardening.

balcony up

Less energy: A super green Greenlake home remodel (under construction)

December 16, 2012

Here are some first peeks at a home remodel underway in the Greenlake neighborhood of Seattle that will be net zero energy (or very close). The client loved the location – the house itself, not so much.  The existing home was built in the 1980s, with a huge garage door facing the street and an interior layout that somehow made every room feel tiny and dark. Here is the before photo:

greenlake remodel before

While not a beauty, the house had “good bones” – a well-built unfinished basement level, a good solid structure, and good solar access. We looked at how to restructure the roof to allow for lots of area for solar panels, as well as natural lighting from above. For the exterior, we were focusing on a highly energy efficient shell, with structural insulated panels (SIPS) and high quality triple pane windows. Window sizing and locations were carefully weighed to balance the desires for good passive solar gain from the south and for views out to the east and west. The remodeled home has quite a different aesthetic:

greenlake remodel after

One big desire for the design is to collect and use rainwater for a lush garden surrounding the house. A dark charcoal grey is the primary color of the exterior, to show off the plants, and we are working to find beautiful ways to gather the water. In the front of the house, there is a balcony with a rainchain to a water feature and planter below. The rear of the home has a double sliding glass door that opens out to a patio and garden. (The client is a Master Composter and wise in the ways of plants, so the landscaping will be amazing.)

Chan siding 1 back view

On the interior of the home, the upper floor is an open plan, with a large central kitchen (the most important space in the house), a dining room next to the big glass doors, and living and office space. It is a space filled with light, surrounded by nature, and optimized for entertaining. The client is a fantastic cook and loves to host dinner gatherings.

Chan kitchen camera 2 colors

It is starting to come together. The SIPS panels are much quicker to install than a traditional stick-framed house, and they provide superior thermal performance. Here is a photo of the roof panels being lifted in with a crane.

roof panel with crane

And here is the building with the walls and roof installation complete. It is starting to take shape!

sips complete

Another really wonderful aspect of this project has been the contractor (Ted Clifton of TC Legend Homes) and client working diligently to salvage and repurpose materials from the home. The contractor carefully disassembled the parts of the structure not being used, pulling nails and delicately detaching plywood panels. The owner coordinated tirelessly via Craigslist and Second Use to make sure that everything that could be reused was connected with people who could use it. She researched in the King County Recycling Directory and located places to recycle any materials not able to be recycled by the Hungry Buzzard recycling contractors (such as foam carpet padding).  She has collected lots of stories along the way that she is going to put into a blog as a beautiful tribute to the salvage and building process.

Architects in communities: An opportunity for human-centered design

December 5, 2012

A recent article in the New York Times Sunday Review, entitled “Dignifying Design” describes the engagement of recently graduated architectural students in the design of a hospital in Rwanda. The photos in the article show a simple, bright, elegant space that looks quite a bit different from hospitals in the United States.

Rwanda hospital

A quote from the article struck me:

Mr. Murphy had a surprising insight about how much the developed world has to learn about good, human-centered design from the developing world. After finishing the Butaro Hospital and returning to the United States, Mr. Murphy said, he was struck “at how over-designed most hospitals are here — yet there’s little natural airflow, a lack of color and craftsmanship, and few outdoor spaces to take a deep breath and gain some perspective.”

The NY Times article lists some opportunities, one of which I was able to participate in from 2001-2004 with the Rose Architectural Fellowship. Apparently there is tremendous interest, but only a few spots available:

  • 4 spots at Ideo.org
  • 12 spots with the Rose Fellowship
  • 24 spots with Code for America

But, the good news is that these opportunities do exist, and that they have grown substantially in the last decade. When I applied for the Rose Fellowship, there were only four spots available across the country, and I was not aware of any other similar opportunities. And when I gave notice at the architecture firm where I was working at the time, they seemed confused that I would want to do such a thing. (I remember one comment, “Congratulations, I think”.)  So it is good to see that the opportunities are not only available, but that emerging architects want to pursue this type of work.

There are so many opportunities for improving the quality of our public architecture. As the author of the NY Times article writes:

But we have to advocate for [good design in the public realm] and many of us, until now, simply haven’t realized that we deserve better. We couldn’t imagine the alternative. But once you see what good design can do, once you experience it, you can’t unsee it or unexperience it. It becomes a part of your possible. The public-interest design movement is counting on it.

Although LD Arch Design focuses primarily on green residential additions and remodels, I do use my time to provide pro bono and reduced fee architectural services for community projects. A recent example is the Southwest Early Learning Preschool expansion in the Delridge neighborhood of West Seattle.

Less energy: Backyard chickens!

April 26, 2012

And we have a winner from the chicken coop design giveaway at the recent Seattle Green Home Tour. The LemonDrop Addition was on the tour and there were a couple of chicken-related events – both a raffle to win a custom chicken coop design as well as a live green roof installation on the roof of the chicken coop. Thanks to landscape design Keri DeTore for the installation of the green roof!

Here are some images of the chicken coop green roof in process. It was a great way to see the parts and pieces of the roof design. As with most green roofs, there were several layers to the roof. First, a waterproof roof membrane that is impervious to root penetration. In the “low-tech” chicken roof version, this was a rubber pond liner, while the green roof on the LemonDrop Addition is a professionally installed, fully adhered commercial rubber roof membrane. Next is a drainage mat, which is a product designed specifically for green roofs that serves to retain moisture, but also to allow it to drain freely off the roof to avoid ponding. It is covered with a landscape fabric that keeps the soil from passing through, so that the system doesn’t get clogged up. We happened to have just enough left over from the green roof installation on the house.

After that comes the planting medium – I am careful not to call it dirt because it is pretty far from what you would typically consider appropriate for planting. This mixture was about 60% perlite, 10% sand, 10% pumice, and 20% compost. The goal is to have primarily mineral materials, so that the planting medium will not decompose and disappear over time. For the main green roof we were able to special order the soil mixture to our green roof consultant’s specifications, but the chicken coop roof was too small for that to make sense. And of course, the plants! It is important to pick plants that have a shallow root system and that can survive extreme moisture and extreme drought conditions. Here’s a group of sedums that went on the roof, and there were also grasses, thyme, and kinnickinnick.

When space in your yard allows, it is a wonderful treat to have chickens – a good source of eggs and entertainment. The use of very locally grown food also reduces the amount of energy used to raise and transport the eggs to your supermarket. And many people believe that home-grown eggs are healthier, or at the very least fresher and more delicious.

I look forward to coming up with a fun and creative custom chicken coop for the winner of the raffle. Here is a “chicken chapel” that I may use for inspiration. Pretty fancy digs for the chooks.

Read and see more images at: Translucent Chicken Chapel Puts Another Spin On the Coop.

And another modern chicken coop with green roof – I love this as a beautiful tiny house/art object in the backyard.

Read and see more images at: Chic Modern Chicken Coop with Living Rooftop

And here is a cool mobile coop design that even looks like a mobile home. I really like the curved fiberglass roof, although I worry that it might get hot in summer.

Read and see more images at: Designer John Wright’s Modern Coop is a Stylish Hen House Made From Recycled Wood.

 

Less is more GREEN: LemonDrop Addition on the Seattle Green Home Tour

April 18, 2012

We are excited to be a stop on the Seattle Green Home Tour this Saturday and Sunday (April 21st and 22nd). The LemonDrop Addition is a great example of an affordable green addition, starting with a tiny yellow “warbox” and adding a passive solar addition with a green roof. The difference in the comfort of the home and how it works for our lifestyle is immense. There will be lots of green building strategies and products on display, so stop by if you are in the area.

I have been writing through this blog about LD Arch Design’s philosophy of “less is more GREEN” – in other words, designing with less space, less new stuff, less toxic stuff, less energy, and less water. I make the point that this approach often costs less in construction costs as well. Additionally, some recent articles point out the environmental benefits of retrofitting homes lightly (which is also in line with the mission of “thrifty and thoughtful design for a small planet”).

Reuse is greener:

A recent study by Preservation Green Lab compares the environmental impact of retrofitting an existing building for better energy efficiency vs. tearing down the building and replacing it with a new green building. It turns out that there is significant “embodied energy” in existing homes (i.e. all of the energy that it took to build them in the first place) that is wasted if the home is destroyed. As the report says:

Carbon payback times vary considerably by climate and building type, but the new report shows that reuse, even without energy performance improvements, almost always trumps demolition and new construction.

Of course, best is to find that “sweet spot” where you are achieving significant energy improvements in an existing building.  As Jason McLennon, CEO at Cascadia Green Building Council says, “Existing building reuse is an incredibly important part of a strategy for energy reduction. It needs to be at the top of the list.” Read more about it at: Retrofits (Usually) Greener Than New Construction, Study Says

Reuse should be done strategically:

Martin Holladay with the Green Building Advisor points to a recent study that tracked deep energy retrofits to existing homes in Utica, New York. It turns out that the retrofits typically cost around $100,000 and reduced energy use by 60-65%. This was good information because it shows that the simple payback period for these retrofits was 139 years. He compares this to putting the same money into a solar electric system, which would generate five times the amount of energy saved. Again, there appears to be evidence that preservation of existing buildings is a good option, particularly if the energy retrofits can be done strategically, and perhaps in combination with energy generation. Read more about it at: The High Cost of Deep-Energy Retrofits.

And smaller homes are cool again:

It turns out that there are currently 40 million big suburban homes that are no longer wanted. An article in Grist points out a new study by the Metropolitan Research Center, which shows that we do not have enough attached homes and small homes. So it makes sense to design for efficiency in a smaller home, with less fear that you are doing something that is not as marketable. Read more at: America has 40 million McMansions that no one wants.

So, check out the LemonDrop Additon for strategies for making your existing home more environmentally sustainable. This research suggests that “less is more GREEN” indeed.

Less space: LEGOs influence spatial design and societal problem solving (and they are way cool)

March 15, 2012

In honor of my son’s fifth birthday, a post about the wonders of LEGOs – a couple of examples of real-life walls built with LEGOs, as well as some “LEGO-inspired” architecture and urban design concepts. Some LEGO walls are made just for the kiddos like this bedroom wall photo, but grown-ups seem to be getting in on the fun as well.

I’ll start with a LEGO staircase in a Manhattan apartment. How awesome to be a kid in this home! The boy’s bedroom loft and stairs up are wrapped with a lovely pixilated wall of color. Read more at “Please Meet Manhattan’s Very Own Totally Lego Staircase”.

And this is what happens when you get a bunch of creative agency folks (at NPIRE in Hamburg) who need a divider wall and have a bunch of LEGOs left over from their childhoods. Read more at “NPIRE Uses 55,000 Legos to Create a Funky Pixelated Room Divider”.

But, lest you think this is all child’s play, check out how the ingenuity of LEGOs inspires design at all scales. Here is a tiny (258sf) Manhattan apartment that transforms in a myriad of ways to reveal a kitchen, wardrobe, dining table and bed tucked behind walls. You have to see the video to fully appreciate how intricately thought out it all is. Read more at “Action-Packed, “LEGO-Style” Transformer Apartment Unfolds in 258 Sq. Ft.”

And another beautiful transformation in this elegant kitchen drawer design. How cool is this? You think you’re going to find the drawer full of table linens, but instead it’s the table! Read more at: “The Works In a Drawer: Dining Table and Seating Pull Out Of Kitchen”.

And then, if you are not yet convinced of how the culture of LEGOs has impacted design, here is a cool article about the LEGO building room at the National Building Museum. It appears that the group of builders each day is influenced by the creations around them, so the researcher Alex Gilliam set out to study the effect of building “outlier” forms for visitors to find when they entered the space in the morning. It turns out that he was able to influence the design direction of kids and adults alike with his prototype models. A very interesting concept, which he further relates to how we as a society interact with each other:

Prototyping and “showing” new behaviors, expertise, and relationships is essential to best meeting the substantial needs of society today. As we all know, many systems and organizations for solving our cities’ most pressing problems are broken, and by extension our understanding of how to solve them and who participates is also often broken. As such, we need more places and generative opportunities, like LEGO rooms, to fundamentally rethink how people might engage with one another to make our cities great.

Read more at: “Building blocks: What LEGOs can teach us about rebuilding cities”.

So maybe my son’s fascination with LEGOs (and the impending LEGO building birthday party) will reshape the future. My “AFOL” (Adult Fan Of Lego) husband will be glad to know this. I know I’ll be doing my part to build “outlier” creations to add to the mix.

Less water: Grass grows right up over the house

January 23, 2012

In the wake of creating the organic pods for the Gingerbread Octopod, I am drawn to the rounded forms of the following three designs. It’s funny how structures are rarely straight in nature, but almost always straight when made by humans.

Here is a collection of nine homes in Switzerland, described in the article: Awesome Hidden Lair Tucked Under Mounds of Green Grass. Design and images by Vetsch Architektur. The homes are integrated into nature, as well as offering ample opportunity for living in community.

One drawback of many earth-sheltered homes has been the lack of light from more than one direction. While they can have expansive south-facing windows, these houses feel buried to some degree.

A cool design in the UK incorporates a flower shaped collection of outdoor terrace areas that bring light into the house from many different directions in the 8000 SF zero carbon underground home. Described in the article: Gary Neville’s Underground Eco Home Blends into the Earth, it is designed by Make Architects.

And another home built in Wales shows the power of this type of design to enable people to use local materials. It doesn’t have to be an expensive technology and can be quite low impact on the surrounding natural environment.

A quote from the builder Simon Dale:

Simple, low-impact homes can be built where they are needed, with natural materials and accessible methods. These buildings can easily provide high levels of comfort and efficiency at a tiny fraction of the cost of their conventional equivalents. Effective and reliable systems for water, sewage, heating, refrigeration and even modest electricity can be simply made in low-tech ways with reused and natural materials.

For more information see the article: Extraordinary Off Grid Hobbit Home in Wales Only Cost £3000 to Build, or check out the builder’s website: A Low Impact Woodland Home.

Buildings are straight and square because it is easier to mass-produce, transport, store, and plan for straight and square. While I would certain advocate caution about using this style of buried building for our waterlogged soils in Seattle, it is always interesting to look at the many ways of doing things. There is certainly an appeal to the organic forms and integration with nature that could be integrated into more urban designs as well.

One concept gaining popularity is the use of vegetation on the building, whether on the roof or exterior walls. It is a great way to integrate nature, create natural habitat, reduce stormwater impacts, add visual and acoustic buffering, increase insulation, provide shade, and reduce the urban heat island effect. Plus it looks cool. Interested in green walls? Check out this groovy infographic about all of the different types.

There are many great technologies being developed to support the integration of landscape and buildings, and some of them are possible to do as a retrofit on your existing home. You can see these and other lovely images of green walls at the blog post: growing a green wall.

I’m particularly interested in the idea of growing food on a vertical system, such as this beautiful installation in South Korea.

As I type this post under the green roof on my home office, I am considering how best to incorporate a future planned green wall update, as well as how to plant the green roof on the chicken coop. I would certainly call this a growth opportunity!

Related blog posts:
Less water: The aesthetic of living walls
LemonDrop Addition Update: State of the Green Roof
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