Just as Coates and Smallwood (who had never built green before, except incidentally) wanted to educate and involve their design-build team, the homeowners sought to build awareness of sustainable housing among their friends and neighbors.
Five times during construction, and again 18 months after occupancy, the empty-nester Ellis couple hosted open houses to inspire others to follow suit. Coates also is on the speaker circuit, and his clients often join him to relate their experience to a professional audience, as well. “It became obvious early on that they wanted to do more than build green and live that lifestyle,” Coates recalls.
Their new home’s enviable location, precise design, and high level of performance provide an inspirational model. Resting on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound, the site of an old cabin that was thoughtfully deconstructed, the home’s modern forms and warm, wood-centric interiors are both welcoming and comfortable.
The interior is flexible, too. Despite downsizing to a two-bedroom plan, the Ellis couple wanted living spaces that would easily accommodate different lifestyle needs, multiple entertainment options, and occasional guests without altering the footprint—a tenet of sustainable building design. “Every room in the house serves at least two functions, and usually four or five,” says Coates.
That includes the master bathroom, a local-award-winning space that Coates calls both functional and powerful. Precisely designed for the owners, from tailored mirror heights to a custom tub, the space also serves as a dressing area, private laundry, and closet. “It fits them exactly,” the architect says of his ergonomic and multifunctional methodology.
The home’s modern form also accommodates a 4-kW array of solar electric panels and solar thermal collectors positioned on a roof angled perfectly to optimize the sun’s heat and light. “It’s just integrated into the roof form,” Coates says. “In fact, the slanted roof gave rise to the rest of the home’s design.”
The PV panels alone offset up to 40% of the home’s electrical use and helped the home achieve a HERS score of 41, while the solar thermal system is almost too good, producing more hot water than the owners use. “Net-zero would be a challenge in this market [because it has too few total solar hours], but Seattle gets a bad rap for being rainy all the time,” Coates says. “Wherever there’s sun, you can make a big impact on the home’s energy use, especially as energy costs continue to rise.”
The modern design also helps reduce resource usage, if slightly so. “The way a modern house is [minimally] detailed and trimmed out is arguably more ‘green’ than a traditional house,” he says. “But within the whole scope, that’s a small sliver.”
For Smallwood and most of his subs and suppliers, however, the difference between traditional methods and a contemporary approach to home building has been profound. “We’re so much more aware of the practices and products that can be used to improve durability and value,” says Smallwood, who has been building and remodeling homes since the 1980s. “Now we can apply and offer that knowledge to other clients.”
Rich Binsacca is a contributing editor to EcoHome.