Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Green Home Economics

Photo: Eco-Home, Indie Budget

Green Guide 108 | May/June 2005

Eco-Home, Indie Budget
by Francesca Lyman
Filed under: Water heaters, Eco-Renovation, Green homes

The sun makes its way through the open slats of their back porch as Julie Grant and her fiancé, Mike Daugherty, lean against their all-purpose chop saw. When these urban homesteaders bought their 1904 one-story, 900-square-foot, wood-frame house a few months ago, they realized it needed a lot of work. But then, says Julie, with a wry smile, "All the houses we looked at that we could afford needed a lot of work."

Being a graphic artist and a jazz drummer by trade didn't stop them from plunging into a full-scale renovation of their late-Victorian bungalow in Seattle's Rainier Valley, a former lumber-mill town. And instead of a conventional Great American dream house in a new suburb, their more modest choice bought them $40,000 to invest in a remodel. The house was solid for its age, and its worst problems were add-ons, like the 1970s vintage electric baseboard heat, which, says Julie, was "hideously ugly and notoriously inefficient." After ripping out the baseboard, they corrected other funky features too—doorways that were never plumbed and partitions that broke up already smallish rooms. "The hallway into the kitchen was so wavy it looked like a funhouse," she says, laughing.

As if the task wasn't daunting enough, they wanted to make the house eco-friendly too. Unfortunately, Julie's copious research yielded little good advice from shelter magazines and home-supply stores. "All the stuff we found was so laughably out of our price range—and not by, like, a little stretch," says Julie. "I mean, they were all beautiful, but the gorgeous recycled glass cost $6 per four-inch tile!" Julie mentions one article in which a couple spent $30,000 on tile just to surface their bathroom. Such a move would have wiped out most of their budget. For their bathroom they plan to use a small amount of slate tile at $5 per square foot.

Nonetheless, Julie and Mike were determined to prove that they could make their high-minded ecological principles hew to an ultra-low budget—by choosing a small, efficient house close to a transit line, using a tankless water heater and gas heat and employing salvaged and recycled materials.

Strategic budgeting

Green building advocates admit that installing some green products, such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood from well-managed forests, can cost up to 10 percent more. The Environmental Home Center in Seattle has received so many questions about cost that it has responded with a green-budget brochure (see Resources).

But Derek Long, of Sustainable Connections in Bellingham, Washington, which promotes local green building, notes, "Very often you will find that a number of 'green' features for a home have a strong financial payback over time that makes them right for anyone with any budget." Long points to groups like Habitat for Humanity, which helps its low-income clients by installing efficient appliances and lighting and super-insulating homes that are usually smaller and demand fewer resources to begin with.

Savvy Salvaging

"Recycling is the key to eco-renovation on a budget," says Julie, who brags about the vintage back door that she found browsing through a salvage warehouse. "It's solid and came with real brass weather stripping that's expensive and difficult to find nowadays."

They saved hundreds of dollars by salvaging doors and windows from places like the Second Use store and thousands more by using the "sweat equity" of their own labor. "Then we hired a contractor for things we couldn't do, like reframing the attic, moving the back door and rewiring and plumbing," says Mike. For the kitchen, too, they scrounged from another remodel a Corian countertop and sink that were destined for the dump.

They discovered beautiful, wide-planked nineteenth-century fir flooring throughout the house that they could refurbish, instead of laying down new wood planks. Upstairs, they turned the unused attic into a sunlit master-bedroom suite, adding an old dormer window found on Craig's List and a skylight looking out on Mount Rainier.

Heating Choices

Downstairs, though, "It looks more like a bomb went off," says Julie, gazing at the hundreds of feet of polyethylene plastic tubing, uncoiled across the yard, the bowels of the new energy-efficient radiant-heat flooring they will soon install in the crawl space under their house.

Because the house lacked ductwork and a basement, they placed a wall-hung, tankless water heater, which warms water on demand, in the kitchen. In the crawl space beneath the first floor, they fit the tubes for a radiant-heating system that would save energy for the whole house. "Our house was small enough for one unit to do the job," says Julie of the water heater. The cost, including installation: less than $4,000.

Having already removed their electric heat, they switched to natural gas, which the city converted them to for free, making it even more cost-effective. Meanwhile, radiant-heat flooring below the house will offer them energy savings of up to 40 percent over a forced-air system, while being quieter, cleaner and more efficient.

Energy- and Water-Saving Appliances

A small, stackable ASKO washer-dryer came with an Energy Star rating that garnered Julie and Mike a $100 city rebate off the $2,300 price tag. That higher cost was offset by a gas range they got free through their county's waste-management hot line. A $700 Energy Star-rated Whirlpool fridge rounded out the kitchen. And the house came with a low-flush toilet.

Since the roof faces south with no big trees shading it, the couple says they are "definitely serious" about one day installing solar panels. "Probably we will start small—by getting outdoor solar lights," says Julie.

Framing, Trim Work and Walls

By opening up the attic for a third bedroom, the couple was able to turn a small bedroom downstairs into a music practice room for Mike's drum kit and another bedroom into Julie's studio space. Their second-floor attic remodel didn't require another heating unit because it was designed with a spiral staircase, which cuts through the middle of the house, venting heat upward.

Although they couldn't afford FSC-certified wood for framing and had to take what the local lumber yard provided, they did use eco-friendly trim in the form of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) with high recycled-wood content. They haven't done much painting yet, but Julie has purchased Rodda low-VOC paint for two rooms. To repair walls after removing partitions, they used drywall made of recycled materials.


In the kitchen, Julie and Mike are installing no-adhesive, no-VOC cork flooring. For the attic remodel, they also bought Interface Flor carpet tiles made of recycled carpet. And they used low-VOC finish on their hardwood floors (see Resources).

The couple looks forward to their Housewarming Bash, at which Mike's jazz band will entertain out back. For now, though, they're knee-deep in the new cork flooring they just bought for their kitchen space—an expense they saved for by scrimping elsewhere. As for the housewarming, "It's perhaps a month away!" vows Julie, and after that the wedding.

—with additional reporting by P. W. McRandle

Monday, March 26, 2007

Rise and Cool and Sustainable Roofing

The Rise of Cool and Sustainable Roofing
Demand is growing for high-performance roof systems that meet standards for performance and longevity while also being energy efficient and sustainably constructed. Drew Ballensky lays out the details of next-generation roofs in Eco-Structure Magazine.

For nearly 10 years, the hottest trends in commercial roofing have been "cool" and "sustainable" roof systems. These concepts have been embraced by a growing number of industry associations and government agencies, and virtually every type of commercial roof system is under pressure to demonstrate it is energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

As cool and sustainable roofing continue to gain wide acceptance, they are driving significant change in the design and manufacture of roof systems, product innovation, marketing strategies, owner and manager selection priorities, and market dynamics. These trends, reinforced by a growing number of revised building codes and legislation, are creating demand for a new class of HPR, or high-performance roof, systems that can satisfy traditional performance criteria, including installed cost, performance and longevity, as well as newer criteria, such as preservation of the environment, energy efficiency and life-cycle costs.

more go to

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Zero-Energy Homes in Issaquah

"Zero-energy" homes planned in Issaquah
By Sonia Krishnan

Your future home could come from the recycling bin.
Solar energy would power it.

The best part? Utility bills would be next to nothing.

They're called "zero-energy" homes — homes designed to produce as much electricity as they consume. And in Issaquah, city officials are planning an unusual partnership with a builder to construct King County's first community by 2009.

"This would be the first step in a new paradigm for green development," said Brad Liljequist, sustainable-building and lead urban-design consultant for the Issaquah project.
The 10 energy-saving town houses in the Issaquah Highlands will be aimed at the median market.

"We don't want this to be for an exclusive few," he said.

How the homes work
A "zero-energy" home is designed to produce as much energy as it consumes. The diagram shown here (PDF) of such a home shows how its features help reduce energy consumption and cost. While the ultimate goal is to get to zero, most homes end up slashing utility bills 50 to 70 percent.

The city's efforts follow in the path of a U.S. Department of Energy program pushing zero-energy home construction. "Building America" began in 1995, with a goal to trim household energy use by 70 percent by 2020.

About 2,000 zero-energy homes have been built around the country since 2003, said Tim Merrigan, senior program manager for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

Federal and state tax credits, coupled with financial incentives from utility companies, are driving the trend forward, builders say.

While the ultimate goal is to get to zero, most homes end up slashing utility bills 50 percent to 70 percent, Merrigan said.

That's enough to draw increasing numbers of buyers in fast-growing states such as Arizona and California, where residents face some of the nation's highest energy costs. In Washington state, another zero-energy community is planned for Lopez Island, San Juan County.

The timing seems ripe.

In November, the environmental catchphrase "carbon neutral" was selected as The New Oxford American Dictionary's "Word of the Year." Three months later, a team of international climate scientists declared humans to blame for global warming. And late last month, former Vice President Al Gore's documentary on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," won an Oscar.
"You could say it's reached a tipping point," Merrigan said.

Residential buildings in America contributed 21 percent of the country's carbon-dioxide emissions to the environment in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Inefficient heating and cooling systems, poor insulation and energy-sucking appliances, such as outdated refrigerators, are mostly to blame for high fuel consumption.

Then there's the "standby factor."

Keeping appliances such as stereos, computers and televisions plugged in all day consumes between 500 and 1,000 kilowatt-hours a year per household, said Alan Meier, scientist for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who has written on the phenomenon.
That's comparable to about one month of power consumption, he said, and equals at least 700 pounds in carbon-dioxide emissions.

"Standby power is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving a zero-energy home," Meier said.
In Issaquah, staff members say they're undeterred by the challenges. The City Council recently approved $50,000 to study the project. Over the next two years, the city plans to collaborate with a builder and develop the project's design and energy-efficient standards. It will run an educational program for homebuilders and homeowners once the project is built.

The town homes would sit on a half-acre on Northeast High Street in the Issaquah Highlands. The proposed site was donated by Port Blakely Communities, developer of the Highlands, to use as a demonstration tool for future homebuilding, said Judd Kirk, president of Port Blakely.

According to preliminary plans, the homes will range from 500 to 1,700 square feet. The project would:

  • • Reduce water use by 50 percent over the average household by installing low-flush toilets that use stormwater collected from rooftops and filtered in a nearby tank. This reclaimed water would not be used for drinking or showering.
    • Produce no stormwater discharge through green roofs and permeable pavement.
    • Use a "very high percentage" of locally sourced or recycled materials.
    • Use highly durable materials, such as metal roofing instead of asphalt shingles and hardwood floors instead of carpeting.

Issaquah is ahead of most cities when it comes to building "green," environmental advocates say. In 2004, for instance, the city hosted tours and seminars on the Built Green Idea Home — a model home in the Highlands — to inspire people about eco-friendly choices.

"We're trying to be responsive to climate change," said David Fujimoto, manager of Issaquah's resource-conservation office. "Our goal is to really push the envelope and encourage new construction to achieve the highest level of environmental performance possible."

Recycled materials play a big role in zero-energy homes. Lumber planks made from wood and plastic bottles are used for decks, doors or window frames. And fibers taken from recycled newspapers are turned into insulation.

Using the latest technology, zero-energy homes are fitted with rooftop solar panels that convert the sun's rays into electricity.

During the Northwest's long summer days, the homes would send extra kilowatts back to the local utility grid. In the dark winter months, the homes would draw on that power. At the end of the year, the home's net energy use should, theoretically, equal zero.

Most zero-energy homes also come with tankless water heaters, energy-efficient appliances, heavy insulation and improved air-conditioning and heating systems.

The intricate systems help keep indoor temperatures stable, said Chuck Murray, energy specialist for Washington State University and a consultant for Issaquah's project.
If homeowners produce more electricity than they use, utility companies are required to credit them for it under Washington's net-metering law. And, under a state law that took effect last year, those who generate solar energy for the power grid could earn up to $2,000 a year in cash reimbursements through —.

Zero-energy homebuilders say they're seeing more demand as fuel prices rise.
"When we started doing this four years ago, gas was $1.50 a gallon. Energy efficiency was not in the top five things homeowners were looking for," said John Ralston, vice president of sales and marketing for Premier Homes in Roseville, Calif., near Sacramento.

But sales have taken off so well that an all-solar development is under way in Yuba City, Ralston said. State-of-the-art-efficiency doesn't come cheap.

The features could tack about $100,000 on to the Issaquah units, Liljequist said. Rebates and tax credits would help offset that, he said. And strides in technology have made solar panels cheaper and easier to work with than in years past.

But most of all, he said, shrinking square footage will keep costs in line.
"Rather than having that extra-large bonus room, we want to put that money towards living more lightly on the earth," he said.

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

Quinns Crossing Steet of Dreams

Tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. in the County Council chambers will be the final plat hearing for Quinn's Crossing Street of Dreams development.
see my letter in the Herald.

The county planners are allowing the drainfields to be put in the buffers around the sole source aquifer that supplies these rural folks their drinking water. It is against the county code, but for some reason, they feel it is okay because the "spirit of avoidance" has occurred! If the council approves this, it will set a precedent for other developments that may want to put drainfields into the buffers for our wetlands and streams.

Please email the county council and the clerk of the council tonight or by early tomorrow and request they deny this final plat approval until this is fixed. Also email Aaron Reardon and Craig Ladiser as well. Emails below. Thanks!!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Low Impact Development in the Highway Runoff Manual

Washington State Department of Transportation

Workers install Eco-Stone® permeable pavers
Select photo to view in larger scale
Workers install Eco-Stone® permeable pavers at a municipal park and ride in Marysville. The Washington State Department of Transportation is considering using permeable pavement, such as Eco-Stone®, at its park and rides and on pedestrian paths.

Eco-Stone® permeable pavers
Select photo to view in larger scale
Eco-stone detail

The Washington State Department of Transportation is currently revising its 1995 Highway Runoff Manual. As part of this revision, the department will develop and reference three low impact development elements in the revised manual:

1. Permeable paving at park and rides, pedestrian paths, and lower speed roadways.

2. Bioretention along roadways.

3. Constructed wetlands for stormwater treatment.

The LID portion of the revised manual should be available for use by the end of September 2003 and will include plans, specifications, methodology for estimating costs, and a hydraulic design process.

Rick Johnson

Washington State Department of Transportation
(260) 440-4642

Larry Schaffner
Washington State Department of Transportation
(360) 570-6657
Follow the links to:

>Engineering Publications
>On-Line Technical Manual Library
>Highway Runoff Manua

Going Green At the Beach

In March of 2004, Dave and Anna Porter made a decision to reduce the impact their lifestyle was having on the planet. Among other changes, they sold their “McMansion” in Woodinville, with the enormous yard and Dave even made what many would consider the ultimate sacrifice: he gave up his Jaguar for a Toyota Prius.

In 2006, the Porters decided to go even further. They vowed to transform their ramshackle 100-year-old beachfront house into an energy-efficient, environmentally responsible home that would meet the strictest green home guidelines while providing a beautiful, comfortable living space that would meet their family’s current and future needs. To help others benefit from their experience, they committed to making the project a demonstration home for green design, systems, and materials, and to document their options, choices, and decisions as well as the performance of the home.

The result is “Going Green at the Beach,” a unique exploration of the possibilities open to all of us to make meaningful changes in how we live. Through this website, tours, presentations, and other education, the Porters will share much more than just the look of their “deep green” home when construction is complete in September of 2007. You’ll learn the opportunities and obstacles they faced, understand why they made the choices they did, see first-hand how a green home is built, and even hear tips on green living from the Porters’ “recycled” dog, Skipper.

We hope you enjoy "Going Green at the Beach"! Click here for a summary of the project!

Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI)

The Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) serves as a catalyst for the design and implementation of breakthrough strategies for achieving a sustainable future.

We fulfill our mission by offering innovative programs that:
  • Utilize BFI's Information Clearinghouse on the pioneering legacy of R. Buckminster Fuller.
  • Provide a global perspective on the most pressing issues facing humanity.
  • Engage leading thinkers and designers who are demonstrating whole systems solutions to complex problems.
  • Provide the opportunity to design and test those solutions in the real world.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Built Green Site Tour Snohomish County

Wednesday, March 14, 2007 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Built Green Site Tour of Cottage Werks 10th Street Short Plat in Snohomish County.

This tour will focus on the Low Impact Development strategies incorporated in to the community as well as a detailed walk through of one of the homes built by Cottage Werks and certified Built Green.

Tour presenters will include Chris Chase of Cottage Werks, as well as consultants Dan Wildenhaus of Atmosphere and Alistair Jackson of O’Brien & Company.

The cost for the tour is $50/person, with lunch and transportation to the sites provided. The tour is limited to 75 attendees so sign up today! To register download the conference registration form and mail or fax 425-646-5985.