Category Archives: King County

Crunch the numbers and preservation wins

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

New is not always better.

I have to confess that I’ve been a little put off by local historic preservationists self-righteously declaring that “preservation” equals sustainability and leaving it at that. Yes, yes, I understand that recycling buildings intuitively makes sense, but since sustainability sometimes asks us to think counter-intuitively, I needed more. At a recent Sustainable Cities Roundtable conducted by King County’s Green Tools Program, I got what I needed.

Photo courtesy of McKinstry

The previous owner used stacks of wooden pallets to keep the ceiling from falling in on this 104-year-old railroad building in Spokane, but McKinstry bought it and spent $20 million to create high-tech office space for its 150 Inland Northwest employees.

Robert Young, PE, LEED AP, is professor of architecture and director of the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Utah, and author of the new Island Press release, “Stewardship of the Built Environment.” He was guest speaker at the Roundtable. Young provided some very satisfying arguments for promoting preservation and building reuse as a sustainability strategy. In making his arguments, he gives equal weight to what he terms SEE (or what some of us have called the “three E’s”): social, economic, and environmental factors, and defines stewardship of the built environment as “balancing the needs of contemporary society and its impact on the built environment with the ultimate effects on the natural environment.”

The Historic Preservationists have been at their best when justifying conservation due to social factors, and Young does speak to this. What I appreciated is that he also addresses environmental and economic factors in an analytical but highly accessible manner. One of the areas he touched on in his talk was the idea of calculating energy recovery as part of understanding the energy performance of preservation vs. new construction. As Young notes in his book, “the argument for measuring embodied energy to justify the retention of a building is (still) met with skepticism.” He claims this is largely because embodied energy is considered a “sunk cost” and therefore not part of decisions about future expenses. I think he would also say it’s because of our societal preference for the glitter of “new” vs. the practicality of “existing,” which may not be part of the accounting equation, but certainly humming in the background.

In his talk, Young used his own home to compare the energy recovery periods required to simply perform an energy upgrade to his home, to abandon the home and build a new one in the suburbs, or to demolish and rebuild in place. When he accounted for the embodied energy in the new buildings (whether in place or in the suburbs), the energy to demolish the existing building, and operating energy required for the remodeled or new building, it became clear that the remodel was the best choice when considering true energy performance. In scenarios provided in his book, energy recovery calculations result in recovery periods that exceed “the expected useful lives of many buildings being constructed today.” And this is without calculating in the transportation energy expenses that are likely to accrue when the new building is built in a greenfield out in the suburbs.

In the economic realm, Young compared the job creation resulting from highway, new, and rehab construction. In jobs per million dollars spent, rehab wins again. Although a small part of the construction activity (Young estimated 5%), rehab creates roughly 5 more jobs per million dollars spent than highway construction, and 2 more jobs per million dollars spent on new construction. If I am interpreting Young’s figures correctly, just by turning our economic recovery lens on rehab and away from highways and new construction we could potentially create between 6-12% more jobs per million dollars spent on construction. (And we might actually reduce the environmental, social, and economic negative impacts of sprawl — even if it’s “green”)!

Young’s talk introduced some great food for thought, but I’m so glad to be reading his book. In his concluding chapter, “Putting it All Together,” he provides a list of “challenges” for stewards of the built environment, ranging from advocating outcome-based codes (since prescriptive codes are based primarily on new construction practices) to presenting project lessons learned (both positive and negative) to “decision makers and policy shapers who mediate building preservation and reuse policies.” Lots to work on.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O’Brien & Co., the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.

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Dan Bertolet looks at success, cost efficiency of Issaquah’s zHome

This is a guest post by Dan Bertolet, founder of Citytank and an urban planner with Via Architecture.

Over the past few decades designers and policymakers have been working to increase the energy efficiency of buildings, and solid progress has been made. Still, today in the United States buildings account for 49 percent of energy use and 46 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Successfully tackling the dual challenges of rising energy costs and climate change is going to take massive reductions of building energy use.

A conceptual holy grail for energy-efficient building design is a building that generates as much energy as it consumes, a.k.a. a zero net energy building. And that’s the goal of a recently completed 10-unit townhome development in Issaquah, WA, known as zHome, touted as the “first multifamily, production, zero-energy, carbon-neutral community in the United States.”

Image courtesy Dan Bertolet

Spearheaded by the City of Issaquah, the zHome project was awarded to David Vandervort Architects in Fall 2007, but subsequently the real estate bust forced the original builder to back out. Howland Homes took over in Summer 2008, and the project broke ground that September. Faced with financing challenges and delays, Howland then partnered with Ichijo, a large Japanese builder known for energy-efficient production homes, and the project finished in September 2011.

zHome was designed to achieve zero net energy use through efficiency measures that reduce consumption by about two-thirds, and photovoltaics (PV) that generate enough electricity to cover the remaining third—approximately 5,000 kWh per year. That requires a hefty amount of PV, and indeed, the south-facing panels that cover the roofs are a prominent feature. During the sunny summer months the PV produce more energy than the buildings need, and the excess is fed back to the grid. If the building operates as expected, that “banked” energy will offset the energy consumed during the dark winter months when PV output is low, the result being zero net energy use on an annual basis.

Energy-efficiency measures incorporated in zHome include ground source heat pumps that provide space heating and domestic hot water, heat recovery ventilation, a tightly sealed and highly insulated envelope (R38 wall, R63 roof, U-0.33 double pane windows), efficient appliances, LED lighting, switched outlets to reduce phantom loads, and a real-time energy monitoring system. (The project is also designed to reduce water consumption by 70 percent.)

So how much did all that extra stuff increase the cost? Asking prices for the units are relatively high for Issaquah: $385k for 799 s.f. 1-bedroom; $530k for 1350 s.f. 2 bedroom; and $625k for 1694 s.f. 3-bedroom. Apparently the free land and significant logistical support provided by the City weren’t enough to negate the cost premium. Eventually the upfront investment in efficiency would be offset by savings in the energy (and water) bills, but given current energy prices payback periods are relatively long. Of course, if all the externalized costs of our energy were included it would be a different story, but unfortunately a carbon tax is not happening any time soon.

It remains to be seen if zHome will achieve zero net energy performance in the real world, and success will likely depend to some extent on the energy use habits of the occupants—one thing designers don’t have much control over. In any case, whether or not a building can produce enough energy on site to hit net-zero isn’t necessarily the be all and end all for sustainable design. Arguably, what’s more important is the practice of “efficiency first”—that is, first figure out how to fully minimize the building’s energy use, and then worry about how to supply the remaining energy demand.

Image courtesy Dan Bertolet

For example, the Bullitt Foundation’s Living Building is targeting zero net energy and incorporates cutting-edge energy-efficient design. But analysis suggests that it could have been even more efficient if it had been built to the European Passive House standard, in which case it would have required less PV, potentially reducing both cost and physical design constraints.

Furthermore, when you look beyond the single building and consider larger systems of buildings and energy production, in some cases powering a building from an offsite energy source may make more sense than struggling to max out on-site generation. And for buildings taller than about six or seven stories, there simply won’t be enough solar energy impinging on the site to meet demand, even for a hyper-efficient building.

In conclusion, while the concept of zero net energy buildings may have its limitations, projects like zHome and the Bullitt Foundation building remain hugely important for making progress on energy-efficient design. That’s because they challenge designers to (1) work within a highly constrained energy budget, and (2) explore the limits of on-site energy production. And then there’s also the potential for the big win as the designs move into the mainstream. Indeed, Ichijo has ambitions to ramp up the zHome concept to high-volume production. It won’t be a moment too soon.

Dan Bertolet is an Urban Planner with VIA Architecture. VIA thanks City of Issaquah Program Manager Brad Liljequist for generously providing a tour of zHome. All photos by the author.

P.S. The DJC’s Green Building Blog has written extensively about this project. To read more, and follow its progress, type ‘zhome’ in our search bar.

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Got extra paint? Give it to “the green man” this week for free

Painting is a fun, easy to do project. But once the job is done, excess paint often sits in the basement, dying a slow, slow death as the years pass by.

So today I was delighted to hear about “the green man,” via a press release. The green man is an


Image courtesy

effort by Wallingford’s Reed Painting Co. to gather all your old paint and recycle it. Each year, it says, at least 695,000 gallons of paint is wasted in Washington State.

Currently, King County suggests residents dry out latex paint, strain it and put it in the garbage with the lid off. But Cole Palea of Reed Painting said that wastes a good product, while taking up valuable landfill space. Instead, his organization is collecting paint, straining it, categorizing it by color and giving it away as recycled paint.

“The need is there,” he said. “But there is no real solution out there. We’re hopefully getting this conversation started around the community.”

This is the second year Reed has held a paint drive. Last year, it collected almost 200 gallons just from Wallingford, Queen Anne and Capitol Hill. The drive is currently in its second week. Palea said Reed has already doubled the amount of paint it collected last year and plans to pick up an additional 200 gallons of paint this weekend, for a total of at least 600 gallons that would otherwise be in the landfill.

People can either drop off old paint at the Reed shop in Wallingford or call to schedule a $20 pickup this weekend.

Palea said he and business owner Randy Reed grew up in Hawaii where they were acutely aware of natural resource use. Palea is a certified sustainable building advisor and this effort is one way for Reed Painting to become a better steward of the environment. “We’re not trying to greenwash and tell everyone we’re 100 per cent green by no means, because we’re not. But we’re definitely taking steps further,” he said.

Portland has successfully turned paint recycling into a business. To read more about that city’s efforts, check out this excellent story from 2009.

Reed is a painting contractor that works on homes and commercial projects. It paints the interior of the Seattle Art Museum between exhibits.

To drop off your paint, visit the shop this Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is at 3668 Albion Place North, on the backside of the block. The front of the shop is along Woodland Park Avenue North and 38th. There are three garage doors painted red. Reed is behind the first garage door. For more information, visit or call (206) 965-0504.

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Visit Seattle’s first (likely) living building

Recently, the Restorative Design Collective completed what will likely be the first living building in Washington State at the Bertschi School. Of course, we won’t know whether it meets living building certification until it has operated for a year. But the project is designed to provide all its own energy, treat its own water and lay light on the land. It is called the science wing and will be a scientific learning area for students.

This is the first living building project to target the 2.0 version of the challenge (a tougher standard than the original), and the first project to be built in an urban area. The project was built largely through volunteer work, organized by a group called The Restorative Design Collective. The project cost about $1 million but members of the collective donated about $500,000 in pro bono time in addition to that.

Stacy Smedley, of KMD Architects and co-founder of the collective, said it is important to have a living building in the region where the challenge was born. Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Chapter, published the challenge at the end of 2006. Chris Hellstern, the other co-founder of the collective, is also at KMD.

The DJC story on the finished product is here, a story written last June details the founding of the collective and design plans here. If you don’t have a DJC subsciption, this story is unlocked (meaning anyone can read it). It’s a really interesting personal look at problem solving issues on the project. We also covered the installation of the building’s SIPS panels on the Green Building Blog here.

For instance, the team focused heavily on water and has a system in place that would treat collected water to potable standards. But before it can do that, it must wait for state and local rules to change. A runnel, cut in the ground, will allow children to see flowing rainwater.

Bertschi will offer tours of the building, though it will usually be a science wing for students’ education so tours must be pre-arranged. For more information, call Bertschi at 206-324-5476.

If you’re interested in learning more about living buildings, check out the fifth annual Living Future (Un)Conference. This year it is in Vancouver, B.C. from April 27-29. As someone who has attended each of these conferences so far, I can say it is an incredible time.

Here are some pictures of the finished product. More pictures on my Facebook page here.

The exterior of the science wing, Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff

The living wall and area where children will do plan and animal experiments, image courtesy Katie Zemtseff
Closeup of the living wall. Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff.
A runnel where students will be able to watch rain water flow, like a river. Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff.
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King County develops new, green ‘EcoCribz’ video series

Yesterday, King County launched a video series called ‘EcoCribz.’ The series follows one family as they green-remodel their house and aims to teach viewers – you and I – valuable lessons while aiming us towards other green remodeling resources.

The first video, available here, profiles the Bangs family and their Issaquah home. It’s a fun tour that

Image courtesy King County
documents the family’s goal to create a more energy efficient home with better air quality.

Patti Southard, project manager for King County’s GreenTools Program and host of the series, said King County wanted to show people that green home remodeling creates healthy, comfortable spaces that can save money, increase home value and help protect the environment. The county also created helpful remodel tips for renters who are looking at paint and interior options like area rugs and eco-friendly bedding.

The series also illustrates how homeowners can use the county’s Eco-Cool Remodel Tool, another useful resource. Basically, it’s trying to get you to think about your choices before you remodel or build to create a greener space.

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