DJC Green Building Blog Covering green building issues in Seattle and around the Pacific Northwest

Housing Summit 2014: how to get more housing on less land

Posted on October 1, 2014

The following post is by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties:

Housing affordability and the impact of the Puget Sound region’s dwindling supply of buildable land was the focus of the recent Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties' (MBA) 2014 Housing Summit in Bellevue.

“Accommodating Housing Needs with Less Land” included presentations by top national and regional housing experts and a panel discussion with state legislators and homebuilders.

Are we running out of room to build new houses here?

“There is an explicit link between the availability of buildable lands and housing affordability,” said MBA Executive Director Shannon Affholter. “The Summit served as a starting point in a frank discussion about what’s working, and what’s not, in meeting the Growth Management Act housing targets and the region’s growing needs.”

A presentation by Todd Britsch, regional director for Metrostudy Inc., a leading provider of research and analysis to the housing industry, underscored the immediate challenge to the buildable land supply: based on projected population growth, King County has 3.87 years of supply remaining of assumed total inventory, and only 3.29 years of supply in Snohomish County.

“We’re seeing lot prices absolutely skyrocket, and the numbers are staggering. It’s a long-term issue and we have to address it sooner rather than later,” he said. “And if we don’t, the Puget Sound region is going to become the next San Francisco Bay Area, where only the ‘elite of the elite’ can afford to own a home.”

Nancy Bainbridge Rogers, land use attorney at Cairncross & Hempelmann, noted that GMA-mandated Buildable Lands Reports generated periodically by counties don’t provide a full and accurate picture of future trends.

“The reports compare housing targets to the actual growth. The reports must determine whether sufficient land exists to accommodate population projections.  Unfortunately, the reports are not required to include a feasibility component or an assessment of affordability.”

A lively panel discussion focusing on legislative solutions included Senator Joe Fain (R) 47th District, from Auburn; Senator Marko Liias (D) 21st District, from Mukilteo; Representative Jay Rodne (R), 5th District, from Snoqualmie; and Representative Larry Springer (D), 45th District, from Kirkland. Other participants included homebuilders Mark Kaushagen of the Pulte Group and Lynn Eshleman from Pacific Ridge Homes.

Individual panel members cited specific action items that could advance the goals of housing availability and affordability, including:

  • couple housing demand with affordability in future planning
  • passage of a transportation package and infrastructure financing bill
  • comprehensive review of the Urban Growth Boundary and its possible expansion
  • require cities in King and Snohomish counties to do a planned action on remaining undeveloped lands to assess infill housing opportunities
  • eliminate redundancies in the review and permitting process, and establish a meaningful time limit in which permits can be outstanding.


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Oso mudslide: Were the risks ignored?

Posted on April 3, 2014

The following post is by DJC staff:

Disaster-resiliency expert Stephen Flynn has posted a piece about the Oso mudslide on Northeastern University Seattle’s Re: Connect blog.
Flynn is a professor of political science and director of Northeastern’s Center for Resilience Studies in Burlington, Mass.

Oso mudslide

He spoke with the DJC in February about lessons from Hurricane Sandy and the need to better prepare for natural and manmade disasters.
In his post he says we tend to ignore the risk of disasters until they happen and says builders, developers and planners have a role to play in changing that.

He writes:

It is purposeful denial, bordering on negligence, which allows residential property development in dangerous areas. That negligence is fed by a self-destructive cycle that begins when builders and developers with short-term interests are granted local permits to build new homes on low-lying barrier islands, flood plains, or near steep hills in the wilderness. These homes then require investments in new public infrastructure, which in turn require additional tax revenues to build and sustain. In order to expand the tax base, towns end up approving new property development adding new fuel to growth. When the foreseeable disaster inevitably strikes, individual property owners are often wiped out and the American taxpayer ends up picking up most of the tab.

Read the whole thing here and tell us what you think.

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Tours galore including net zero energy zHome, Brightwater, Seattle Design Festival

Posted on September 20, 2011

September and October are always busy months in Seattle's green/sustainable scene. This fall, however, there seems to be a wealth of tours of really interesting projects.

  • zHome

One of the most interesting opportunities is the chance to tour Issaquah's zHome project. Issaquah says zHome is the country's first net zero energy multifamily

An aerial view of the zHome project. Image courtesy zHome.
complex. The 10-unit townhouse development in the Issaquah Highlands has truly been a labor of love. Originally set to be complete in the fall of 2009, the project has just opened after surviving three contractors and a devastating recession. Brad Liljequist, Issaquah's dedicated project manager, said each unit has been designed to use 5,000 kilowatt hours of energy a year compared to the 14,000 hours of energy a townhouse normally uses. The team began with tight design, and will produce needed energy from a 65,000-kilowatt-per-year solar array.

Free tours will be held on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. until October 30.


  • Home Builders Association of Kitsap County Headquarters

Across the water in Bremerton, the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County has improved their headquarters in an effort to create a live demonstration of energy efficiency upgrades for builders and homeowners. The project used six strategies including better air sealing, adding more insulation and adding new efficient lighting to upgrade the space. Tours feature first-hand techniques on saving energy and lowering utility bills. Tours will be held hourly on Sunday, October 23 and Saturday, October 29 from 12 to 4 p.m. Tours are at 5251 Auto Center Way, Bremerton.

  • Seattle Design Festival

If you can't wait and want to see something now, I suggest you head on over to the Seattle Design Festival's website here. Though some tours have passed, a

number are still to come including a tour Friday on art and architecture called "Let the Streets be Your Museum!" and tours Saturday and Sunday of Ravenna bungalows.

However the one not to miss is Saturday's grand opening of the Brightwater Center. It looks like the official Seattle Design Festival tour is sold out! However, the grand opening celebration is free, open to the public and features plant tours so you can still see the space if you're interested. More info here.

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With Finn Hill Junior High, team learned from past mistakes

Posted on December 23, 2010

In this week's DJC, I've got a story on the replacement of a school in Kirkland called Finn Hill Junior High that has a number of interesting elements to it.

First, the project will have a 400-kilowatt photovoltaic system that will produce almost half of the school's energy. Second, the school is "net zero energy ready," meaning it could produce all its own

Image courtesy Mahlum. Finn Hill from the air.
energy if the Lake Washington School District chooses to blanket the rest of its roof with solar panels. Third, and perhaps most interestingly, the school benefited from mistakes made at another school. Mistakes that might not have been discovered or identified without post occupancy surveys.

Oftentimes when little things go wrong on a project, nobody notices. The benefit of a post occupant study is that it looks at how a building performs once it is actually in use, allowing the team to go back and fix any problems that may have come up. Unfortunately, post occupancy studies are not always (or often in some cases) required on projects. Meaning something tiny - the wrong setting or a switch that was never flipped - can waste energy for years.  It can also be unclear who pays for post occupancy studies, though many firms in the Seattle area are using them more and more.

But most firms won't tell you when something's gone wrong. However Mahlum has spoken publicly about failures a previous project - Benjamin Franklin Elementary - had meeting its energy goals.  The failures were fixed but the really cool thing is that the firm is willing to talk about what it did wrong

The Finn Hill Junior High School entry, courtesy Mahlum
and then talk about what it has changed and is now doing right. Pretty much no one will tell you these things on the record. Anne Schopf, design partner at the firm, has advocated for more sharing of such information to let firms learn from other's mistakes.

Anjali Grant, project manager with Mahlum, said the school lost a lot of heat at Ben Franklin through its ventilation system. At Finn Hill, heat recovery units will capture heat in the ventilation system. There will be a mixed-mode system, allowing it to be naturally cooled when it is warm out and mechanically ventilated when it is cold to preserve heat.

It will do a post occupancy study of Finn Hill about a year after it has been occupied. “I think its really important to go back and check out the numbers after a project is done and occupied, otherwise you don't really know anything. It's really a good value for everybody,” Grant said.

For the new year, I wish other firms would tell you, easily and simply, what they've done wrong and what they've done right. A tough wish I know but like Grant says, it's a good value for everybody. Feel free to email me at or comment here if want to share your Seattle area experiences.

Happy holidays.

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New home on Whidbey Island made of cargo containers

Posted on December 14, 2010

Just got a press release on a new home built of cargo containers that is being craned into place today. The home, called "cargotecture c680," is on Whidbey Island.

The 680-square-foot project is made of four cargo containers and is multi-stories. It is expected to be complete and holding tours in February. It will have a living space, large view deck, green roof,

Rendering courtesy HyBrid Architecture
workshop and guest area. It was fabricated in a Seattle shop by HyBrid Architecture.

This is the second house in a month the firm has been involved in that's been craned into place. The other, a home for Rob Humble of Hybrid, was developed by GreenFab and craned into place last week. However that project was built of modules, not cargo containers. To read that story, click here.

The press release says that the house is located on a beach that looks over container ships passing throuhg. "The containers HyBrid used for the project were almost certainly on those ships at some point in the past decade," the release says. Isn't that poetic?

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King County develops new, green ‘EcoCribz’ video series

Posted on October 21, 2010

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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2009 was green consultant’s “best year ever”

Posted on February 5, 2010

The other day, I was talking with Pam Worner, top dog at Green Dog Enterprises (yes, that's her official title) about a new green house project. When Pam just about shocked me out of my chair with the following sentence: "We had the best year ever last year but not without a lot of anxiety." That's right; 2009 was her company's best year ever.

First, some history. Green Dog Enterprises is a consulting firm that has been around for four years. It "promotes

Pam Worner
green construction practices and helps businesses succeed in the green building market." It has three employees, including Worner, the business' founder.

She has worked on a number of cool projects, many of which are listed here.

To survive this past year, Green Dog did a number of key things. First, it didn't turn down any job and expanded the kind of work it did. It did consulting, marketing, verification and worked in niches that weren't being filled. Second, it spread out geographically to areas that green building consultants don't always concentrate on. Areas like Pierce, Thurston, San Juan and Jefferson counties. Third, it cut overhead and moved into an office in Worner's house.

In other words, Green Dog worked with 50 different clients in 2009. That's up 50 percent from the year before, Worner said.

Worner said a lot of her growth came from areas outside of King County. In King County, she said, "you probably can't swing a cat without hitting some sort of green building expert." But those experts don't always go to neighboring areas where demand for green systems and projects are also growing exponentially.

Still, there was a lot of anxiety about surviving. But for every one thing that disappeared, another two things reappeared, Worner said.

Worner only works with green projects and attributes her success in the past year to that work. She said she knows of several builders who say that it is the green focus that has kept them competitive during the downturn.

Moving forward, Worner is confident she can continue her momentum. "This will be an even better year."

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Party with Martha Rose tomorrow and Saturday!

Posted on January 28, 2010

Tomorrow and Saturday, Martha Rose (the "queen of green") will be hosting wine and cheese parties at her

Martha Rose at the development site
newest development, Fish Singer Place. The event features a behind the walls tour. It runs from 2-4 p.m. on Friday and from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. To attend, meet up at 15715 Dayton Ave. N., Shoreline Wa. 98133.

To watch a video about the project (with a really catchy song), click here. To learn more about the project, visit the project Web site here or click the tab 'green developers' below to learn more about this project.

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Does Gerding Edlen’s Bellevue Towers make Bellevue any greener?

Posted on January 30, 2009

This week, I wrote an article in the DJC on Bellevue Towers, its developer, Gerding Edlen, and what the project represents for Bellevue.

Bellevue Towers is a two-tower luxury condo project with 539 units. According to

Bellevue Towers
Mike Brennan, director of Bellevue's Development Services Department, it is the most prominent green building in Bellevue and the first multifamily high-rise that has gone for LEED certification in the city. It is targeting LEED gold and is supposedly the largest LEED-certified residential project in the Northwest, according to press materials. It is also the first project Gerding Edlen has done in the Puget Sound region.

That's a lot of firsts. I'm wondering what this means for Bellevue.

Bellevue tends to have a mixed reputation when it comes to green buildings. In my wanderings, I've heard about city codes that make it difficult for projects to do low impact development, and green techniques that relate to stormwater. I've also heard disappointed reactions that the city wasn't more receptive to green building earlier.  (For a reaction on how Bellevue has been MIA, see the comments to a previous post regarding Kirkland here.)

But I wonder if that is changing.

Bellevue is the first city in the Puget Sound region to have a Gerding Edlen development. Gerding Edlen, Portland's premier green developer, is known internationally for its work. I'm sure Seattle and other cities would have appreciated one of its projects.

Phil Beyl, principal in charge of Bellevue Towers with architect GBD, said the city welcomed aggressive sustainable techniques "with open arms." Working on this project was exciting for him, precisely because he felt like he was bringing something new to the city: "We've been able to bring to Bellevue an elevated level of sustainability that now I think has raised the bar quite a bit higher... and that's very exciting."

Brennan said Bellevue is hoping this building will serve as an example and bring other green development to the city (though he also was unsure whether it actually would or not).

Incidentally, there are only two LEED certified buildings in Bellevue, according to the USGBC's registry. But there are 24 that are registered. Then again, some of the projects that are awaiting certification like the Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center (wrote about it a year ago here in the DJC) are pretty darn interesting. 

Then there's my own experience with people that read this blog.

I like to track where blog readers come from, and believe me, there's been a dramatic shift. Last summer, I was surprised by how little readers I had from Bellevue (one here and there but virtually none). I even e-mailed certain city representatives to get them to read, but readers from Bellevue remained flat.

In the last two months, something changed. Now, Bellevue is consistently the third rated city, in cities that read this blog. (Behind Seattle, and then either Portland or New York, depending on the day.)

What the heck is going on?

Did something shift or did a whole lot of people from Bellevue start reading this blog for no reason? Was it the economy? Was it the change in presidents? I'm stumped.

What do you think? Is Bellevue getting - or going to be getting greener? Has anything changed or is this really just one LEED project? Comment below or answer my poll at right.

For more on Gerding Edlen, click the tab 'Gerding Edlen' below. Or check out SkyscraperCity and look under Bellevue Development or Bellevue Towers.

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What does it feel like inside a LEED building?

Posted on December 8, 2008

This is from a series of guest posts by representatives of the Northwest Building Efficiency Center. This post was written by Vicki Zarrell. 

I recently had a chance to tour the Washington Public Utility Districts Association (WPUDA) building in downtown Olympia, the first building in Washington to be certified LEED Platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council. The WPUDA moved into the new building late in 2007, occupying the second floor.

The first thing I noticed when walking up the steps from the sidewalk was an

Courtesy Matt Todd photography
engineered rocky stream bed with the pleasant sound of flowing water – and I wondered if it was “water efficient.” Later I went to the underground parking garage to see the huge water tank where rainwater is collected from the roof. The collection system serves the water feature, which is allowed to naturally dry up during the summer, as well as irrigation of exterior plant material.

For those times when there is TOO MUCH water from the roof or hardscape, a natural-looking swale along the east side of the building filters the runoff and recharges the groundwater. This entire system is a win-win for the City of Olympia and the WPUDA since it eliminates run-off to the city’s stormwater system and no municipal water is needed for landscaping or the water feature.

Another obvious exterior feature of the building is the large array of photovoltaic solar panels on the roof. According to the WPUDA, solar will supply about 40% of the building’s energy needs and surplus power produced by the panels will be sold to Puget Sound Energy through net metering.

Inside the building the individual carpet squares caught my eye, which are easy to replace if damaged and are part of the building’s emphasis on materials and paints with low toxicity. I also noticed exceptional views of the capitol campus and surrounding neighborhood. With generous use of windows and skylights—and with work spaces primarily arranged around the perimeter of the building and bay-type windows jutting out from the structure—90% of work spaces in the building receive natural light. Yet there seemed to be no glare from windows or light fixtures. The windows are super energy efficient and designed not to reduce visibility the way tinted glass does.

Other elements contributing to LEED certification were the fact that most of the construction materials came from 500 miles or less, that the lumber was FSC certified, and that 75 percent of all construction waste was recycled. The area of the roof without solar panels is a light colored “cool roof” that reflects the sun’s infrared rays, reducing the building’s “heat island” effect and air conditioning costs.

This is a building that made me think, “I’d like to work here.” Besides its pleasing atmosphere, knowing that the building is efficient and well designed contributes to its desirability as a workplace. For a video describing the building, visit

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