On a scenic green hill in Portland, Ore., a new house represents the next generation of sustainability—and a new opportunity for architects working in the region. Called the Full Plane Passive House, the nearly 2,000-square-foot residence includes, among other sustainable features, an airtight envelope that allows the house to be heated through passive solar gain and limited reliance on an active heating source. The house also contains a significant percentage of sustainably managed wood products, sourced through a subsidiary of the nonprofit organization Sustainable Northwest.
Based in Portland, Sustainable Northwest works with policymakers, builders, designers, residents, and other organizations to foster improved land management and sustainable development throughout the rural West. The organization has been active in several environmental arenas, particularly with regard to fostering collaborations across the urban-rural divide. Sustainable Northwest was actively involved, for instance, in the long and complex effort that resulted in an agreement to remove four dams from the Klamath River on the Oregon-California border.
Sustainable Northwest Wood is the organization’s for-profit subsidiary, which operates as a wholesale lumberyard connecting local mills with green-building opportunities. The company fills a niche in a region that has long been at the forefront of sustainability, but faces ongoing challenges with regard to sustainable wood. Large lumber companies have asserted that limited marketplace demand for sustainably harvested wood has kept costs too high to justify third-party certification through such entities as the Forest Stewardship Council. And reports have confirmed that sustainable and locally grown certified wood products can cost up to 25 percent more than standard lumber.
By increasing awareness and demand, and by promoting small eco-minded landowners and wood providers, Sustainable Northwest and its subsidiary are hoping to make the supply chain more efficient and cost-effective. To do this, the organization has been reaching out to area architects through tours, talks, and other events to help them learn how locally harvested and third-party certified wood can be incorporated into their designs.
“The challenge for so many architects with FSC wood is sourcing high-quality wood that is timely and affordable at both the commercial and residential scales,” says Clark Brockman, AIA, principal for sustainability at Portland’s SERA Architects. “Without Sustainable Northwest, we had small architectural firms spending many, many hours on the phone searching for these products. Through Sustainable Northwest’s centralizing role, the industry is seeing improved quality and reduced sourcing time.” Last year, Brockman participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by Sustainable Northwest Wood on sourcing and using certified wood products.
Recently, Sustainable Northwest worked closely with Portland-based Departure: Architecture Planning Interiors and JRA Green Building, the architect and general contractor, respectively, on the Full Plane Passive House (named for a sailing term). “By collaborating with the architect and the general contractor during the design phase, we were able to help them understand the wood selection process and design the home for the maximum cost and resource efficiency, reducing materials costs while increasing the project’s green credibility,” says K.C. Eisenberg, director of sales for Sustainable Northwest Wood. “All of the wood in this home, from the framing and plywood to the flooring, trim, cabinetry, and doors, was sourced from sustainably managed local forests.”
Eisenberg says that the organization wants to work with architects to broaden their knowledge of sustainably harvested wood products and building materials. Available products include pressure-treated lumber, plywood, architectural hardwood panels, and pre-primed trim, among others. “Restorative products include juniper that is harvested through grassland restoration efforts, as well as fir, cedar, and pine that are harvested during forest thinning projects like those facilitated by Sustainable Northwest,” Eisenberg says.
Departure: Architecture Planning Interiors worked with Sustainable Northwest Wood’s availability. “We wanted to use their dimensional lumber, which was limited to 2x14 for roof framing, so we worked with our engineer to arrive at a straightforward design that worked to that lumber’s capacity,” says Departure principal Michelle Jeresek, who managed this project. “For finished wood, we would visit Sustainable Northwest with our client to review the available species and learn more, like where the wood was sourced. ... We have so many terrific local species to choose from, there’s no need to source from elsewhere. Using locally sourced wood also complements the design, adding to its ‘sense of place.’”
Specifying locally sourced wood also promotes the economy, of which architects are direct beneficiaries, proponents say. “Instead of the profit being shipped out of town into the larders of a large corporation with typically questionable environmental practices,” says Eisenberg, “it stays within the community, strengthens the local economy, and ultimately comes right back to the architect.”