October 25, 2007

An extreme engineering challenge in Kirkland

  • Core Design helps build a home in weeks for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
    Core Design


    A month ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you if it’s possible to take a 3,500-square-foot home from concept to completion in just a few weeks.

    Now, I know that with the right motivation, it’s very possible.

    When I was contacted by GMS Architectural Group and asked to contribute our engineering, landscape architecture and surveying services to the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” Kirkland project, I enthusiastically said “yes.”

    I’m a fan of the show and thought this would be a great chance to see how monumental projects are put together in such a short time. I also couldn’t pass up the chance to take on an extreme engineering challenge, the solution of which would help a deserving local family — Connie Chapin and her children. Plus, Doyle Custom Homes was committed to making this a highly rated green project.

    So, help a great family in need of some innovation in a very short time-frame within the highest standards of green development? That’s my kind of challenge.

    Photos courtesy of Core Design
    The new house includes drought-resistant plants instead of a grass lawn.

    When the project first started, we guessed we would be putting together a set of plans and submitting them as usual. The beauty of the Extreme Makeover project, however, was that the typically well-defined roles of each consultant and contractor are less clear cut. This meant you essentially were able to define your role to be the most effective.

    I was more than the project engineer designing grades on paper; I was out there moving the dirt myself. Our landscape architects did more than lay out the plantings on their computers; they were actually on site selecting, moving and placing the plants and other landscaping features.

    It was this teamwork and the willingness to go beyond the expected from all of the partners, contributors and the city of Kirkland that made this enormous project possible. There were hundreds of people who were all working towards the same goal and all were constrained by the same hyper-shortened time-frame. It was amazing to see every one of them step up to the plate as the site began to take shape, some working throughout the day and into the night with little or no sleep.

    Consultant Pam Worner looked on as Core Design’s Josh Beard and Rob Stevens replanted a preserved rhododendron.

    It was also amazing to see things happening on site that you wouldn’t normally see. How often do you get to see demolition and earthwork happening at the same time? Not very often, I’d guess.

    Because of the accelerated time frame, you lose the luxury of having months to make design changes. Revisions were ongoing throughout the process and drawings were updated every day. However, even with the compressed time schedule, we were allowed total creative license with the design. Since most of the materials were donated and the product is a showpiece fit for national television, no constraints were put on our use of high-end materials and design features.

    What makes this home green?
    The Chapin family’s new home meets the highest standards of green building by incorporating many products and systems that use less energy, create healthy indoor air quality, save water, minimize waste and have less impact on the environment.

    The home is expected to meet the requirements of several major certification programs. An independent verifier ensured the accuracy of the green measures.

    Energy savings
    The home is expected to use at least 30 percent less energy than a typical new home, thanks to features such as:
    • A 90 percent efficient gas furnace.
    • Mastic-sealed heating ducts that are leak tested (NOT duct tape — it leaks!).
    • High-efficiency windows.
    • A carefully insulated and air-sealed building envelope.
    • Energy Star-approved appliances and light fixtures.
    • Deciduous trees on the south side of the house to shield it from the summer sun.

    Healthy indoor air
    Indoor air quality is especially important to families with children, since toxins have been linked to health problems. Here are some of the measures that were taken to ensure the house will be healthy to live in:
    • Properly flashed windows and a moisture barrier wrapping the structure.
    • Formaldehyde-free insulation and building products.
    • Low VOC paints and finishes.
    • Nontoxic adhesives, caulks and sealants.
    • No carpet to traps dust, pollutants and moisture.
    • A detached garage to keep fumes out of the house.

    Water conservation
    The project was designed to conserve water with:
    • Dual-flush toilets.
    • Low-flow faucets and showerheads.
    • A front-loading clothes washer.
    • Drought-resistant landscape plants.
    • A drip-irrigation system.
    • Pervious pavers.
    • A rain garden.

    Waste reduction
    Special efforts made to reduce the amount of waste produced during this project included:
    • Salvaging decking, fencing and other reusable materials for future projects.
    • Hand-removing portions of the original house contaminated with lead paint so that the rest of the debris could be recycled.
    • Taking demolition debris and new construction waste to a facility that recycles 95 percent of its construction waste.
    • Framing most of the house off-site using a panelized system that results in virtually no wasted lumber.

    Helping the environment
    To lessen the impact on the environment, the project used:
    • Wood flooring from a sustainably managed forest certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
    • Natural linoleum flooring instead of vinyl.
    • Cabinetry made from fast-growing, renewable wood products.
    • Tile made with recycled content.
    • Trees and ornamental plants that were saved from the original site.
    • Topsoil from the original site that was amended with compost and used in the landscaping.

    The best examples of this creative freedom were the various low-impact development elements that were incorporated into the designs. Pervious pavers were added for the driveway and patio so stormwater will filter through the soil and be cleansed before entering the local waterways. Also, existing native vegetation was preserved off-site and replanted along with drought-resistant plantings instead of a grass lawn. These types of plants reduce the need for watering and energy consumption for yard care.

    The design also included a rain garden and rain barrel for the site. The rain garden is designed as a small-scale type of bio-retention system using a soil and plant mix to promote on site infiltration while providing temporary storage during major rainstorms. Stormwater from the roof is collected in the rain barrel and then is either used for irrigation or directed to the rain garden, where it is stored temporarily to allow time for the ground to absorb it. In addition, the design called for topsoil from the site to be removed, amended with compost material and then replaced. This amended soil allows for better storage of stormwater.

    Everyone jumped on the low-impact development bandwagon, aiming for the highest standards of green certification under the direction of local consultant Pam Worner of Green Dog Enterprises. The enthusiasm for the green elements at the Chapin home really underscored the current interest in low-impact development in the building community. This project will serve as a great example of how sustainable design can easily be incorporated into single-family homes and larger-scale site designs.

    It’s also a great example of how our industry can be motivated to take on an extreme challenge and quickly work out a solution for a great cause.

    Jim Olsen is a principal and senior project engineer at Core Design. He is currently involved in mixed-use projects with CamWest Development and Equity Residential.

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