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April 20, 2012

Habitat and volunteer team design sustainable house for Seattle Center

Journal Staff Reporter

Rendering courtesy of The Miller Hull Partnership [enlarge]
The two-story, 1,400-square-foot house will have elements that Habitat intends to use in future projects such as prefab “wet cores” for the kitchen and bathrooms. They will be manufactured by Method Homes and shipped to the site.

When the 1962 World's Fair opened at Seattle Center, there were “houses of the future” and other exhibits on display that envisioned a world with unlimited resources.

This Sunday, 50 years later, the Seattle-South King County affiliate of Habitat for Humanity will break ground on a house that reflects a world with limited resources, where not everyone has the money or desire to live large.

Habitat and a crew of volunteers will spend several months building what they call the House of the Immediate Future. The two-story, 1,400-square-foot sustainable house will have elements that Habitat intends to use in future projects.

Firms on the project team are all donating their time: The Miller Hull Partnership, Evergreen Certified, Z-Home, Sellen, Method Homes, Northwest Mechanical, SvR Design Co. and Magnusson Klemencic Associates.

The project is part of the Next Fifty, a six-month celebration of the 50th anniversary of the World's Fair.

The house reflects a sustainable future, which is one of the fair's themes.

“Many people think of sustainability and green building as out of their reach, but one of our hopes with this project is to show it is the immediate future and is affordable and doable for folks,” said Tracy Robinson, executive director of the Seattle Center Foundation.

The House of the Immediate Future will be built in the Next Fifty plaza, north of the monorail.

It was designed by Miller Hull to adapt as families grow or life circumstances change, said Ron Rochon, a partner with the firm.

The house can accommodate a family of four. It will have a galley kitchen; space saving, movable furniture; some moveable walls to reconfigure space; a nook for a home office or study area; ground-floor bathroom and kitchen so someone could live on just that floor; and lots of storage because Habitat does not provide garages or basements.

The structure will have two prefabricated, stacked “wet cores” housing the kitchen, bathrooms, mechanical room, and associated wiring and plumbing. They will be manufactured by Method Homes and shipped to the site.

“What we've done is take all the stuff that's most complex to build about a house and put that in a central location,” said Rochon. “It reduces construction waste and it reduces construction time.”

Green elements include solar-driven mechanical systems, an air-to-water heat pump for radiant floor heating and hot water, a rainwater harvesting system for potable water, double-stud panelized walls that allow extra insulation, and highly insulated roofing and floors.

A photovoltaic array will be installed on the Seattle Center house, and future homes Habitat builds with this design will be ready for solar installation.

The home is smaller than many market-rate houses and will be built with donated labor and materials, which holds down the cost, Rochon said.

Habitat estimates that the house will sell for less than $215,000.

When the Next Fifty celebration ends, the house will be deconstructed and moved to Seattle Housing Authority's Rainier Vista community in the Rainier Valley and sold. It will be part of a small subdivision being developed by Dwell Development near the light rail station.

Dwell had intended to put one of its houses on the lot, but is letting Habitat buy the land from SHA.

At Seattle Center, the house will show Next Fifty visitors what sustainable affordable housing may look like in urban areas, said Marty Kooistra, CEO of Habitat Seattle-South King County.

As a nonprofit, the organization wants to be a leader in sustainable design and build in transit oriented areas, he said.

Habitat builds mostly townhouses or rehabs housing with the help of volunteers. It provides no-interest mortgages to qualified buyers who can't get conventional mortgages. The buyers help build their own and other Habitat homes and take home ownership classes, Kooistra said.

Kooistra said the affiliate intends to use elements from the Immediate Future design in its homes including prefabricated panelized walls, the modular wet core, movable walls and net zero solar readiness. It would also like to use Miller Hull's entire design (which can be applied to multifamily) if it can find sites in Seattle where it would mesh with existing homes, Kooistra said.

Adjacent to the House of the Immediate Future at Seattle Center, Habitat will build something called the World House to demonstrate the type of construction it does in developing countries. Those houses are much smaller and cost $4,000 to $5,000 to build.

Rochon said the Immediate Future house is challenging the notion that houses have to be large to be livable.

The house will incorporate best practices that are available today, but not widely used.

“For people who are very interested in saving energy and saving water and living with slightly less but in a great way, these things are all available ... but for most of America it's not mainstream,” said Rochon.


Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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