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Cover Story - October 2007


Shamrock Heights

What is clear is that developers have to be willing to make tradeoffs between using open space for additional units, or for sustainable features.

Photo by Triad Associates

Developers like Eric Campbell of CamWest Development Inc., Bellevue, Wash., opted for open space at projects such as Shamrock Heights, and Daniellson Grove, built with The Cottage Company, Seattle.

Both take space that could be used for extra housing units and convert it into open space.

The homes themselves are sustainable, based on the to the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties Built GreenTM checklist.

Shamrock Heights, located in Renton, Wash. started with a lush rain garden, amended soils, and a wetland mitigation project.  The site naturally slopes, but was graded to allow water to flow though a perforated curb.  From there, it runs down a grass-lined swale in front of the community park into a rain garden, then a wetland.

“CamWest could have easily used this open space to fit in more houses, but decided that adding community space could be just as profitable,” says Cox. “Sometimes if you pull out two lots and use them for open space, you increase the value of all the lots.”

The homes also meet the qualifications of the Energy Star Homes Northwest program, and feature high efficiency dishwashers, hot water heaters and furnaces. No polyvinylchloride (PVC) was used in the plumbing of the homes, and low toxic paints, mortars and grouts were used in the interiors.

Going Green at the Beach: Combines Green Standards with Beachfront Living

When Dave and Anna Porter decided to reinvent their 100-year-old cabin on Warm Beach in Stanwood, Wash., as a “deep green” home, they set the bar high. They aimed to certify with more green building programs than any previous project in the state: Northwest ENERGY STAR® Homes, American Lung Association Health House, Environments for Living, NAHB’s National Green Building Standard, Built Green™ of King and Snohomish Counties, and LEED for Homes.

The Porters’ project team was equally committed to making it happen, from builder Chaffey Homes and architect Patrick McBride to several of the region’s leading green building consultants: Diane Glenn of The Construction Consultants, Dan Wildenhaus of Atmosphere, and Alistair Jackson of O’Brien and Company. To make the project even more challenging, the Porters resolved to make the entire process public.


Deconstructing the old and constructing the new

Work on “Going Green at the Beach” began in December, 2006, with the deconstruction of the original structure under the direction of Dave Bennink of Re-Use Consulting. Over 80% of the material was diverted from the landfill and found new homes, including a shower stall bought by a fishing lodge in Alaska, shingles earmarked for a child’s playhouse in Seattle, and cedar decking transformed into wine racks for the new house.

Photo courtesy of Green Dog Enterprises

After deconstruction, work began on the new structure, incorporating advanced framing engineered by DCI Engineers, Icynene spray-foam insulation, and a Custom Bilt metal roof. a A lighthouse-like cupola that adds natural light and air circulation, presented special challenges both in framing and installation. A custom staircase from George’s Spiral Stairs unites the home’s three floors.  The 2,700-sq-ft house’s primary heat source is a Hydron heat pump using a 200-foot geothermal well drilled by Boart Longyear. A 1.2 KW photovoltaic system on the garage roof with an Outback inverter provides additional power.

Triad Associates designed two vegetated roof sections for the project, which will reduce heat loads and help manage stormwater runoff. The plants have been growing off-site since early this year to make the green roof effective immediately upon installation. Landscaping of the environmentally sensitive, 30-foot-wide site has been designed by Otak in conjunction with Frog on a Log Parks and incorporates pervious concrete and pavers, drought-tolerant plants, and plants designed to attract beneficial insects.

Developer and Contractor Work Share Social Goal

Victoria, B.C.  - Joe Van Belleghem is best known for being the co-developer of Dockside Green and a huge green buildings proponent. However, he easily hands the accolades back to Farmer Construction at every presentation he does across North America and makes it clear  Farmer deserves high praise for the way the company embraced green technologies and the LEED requirements on-site.

Van Belleghem points out something else Farmer Construction should be proud of – their stance on social responsibility. “They really believe in the triple bottom line approach,” he says. Farmer Construction started a First Nations training program to bring more First Nations youth into the trades. It took some false starts before it got its feet but now the program is a success. “They believed in it and stuck with it to really bring something back to the community,” says Van Belleghem.

“I’ve done a lot of projects across the country in the last nine years and Farmer Construction has, by far, shown the most progressive leadership,” he says, “and on top of that, their on-site documentation is second to none.”

Farmer president Bill Johnson is quick to give credit for excellent documentation to Stefan Alexander, Dockside Green’s project manager. Alexander has worked on numerous construction projects, and says with a smile, “I was born with hammer in my hand.”

“I really believe in green buildings. It’s a passion for me. But the key to success is helping everyone on staff and the trades understand what LEED is trying to accomplish.” Alexander has been with Farmer Construction since May 2006 and in that time he’s developed a new system for tracking information related to each LEED credit he’s responsible for.

“I’ve developed a template for each credit, that includes a summary, and that information can be double-checked against the running spreadsheet totals we record.” Alexander points out much of the tracking for things like waste management can be done by the site assistants who match the waste disposal slips against the totals reported. Once Alexander is satisfied the numbers make sense, he’ll submit them every few months as the project progresses.

When asked if there have been any difficulties keeping trades, service or suppliers on track with LEED principles, Alexander says, “We’re aiming for LEED platinum on this project. We know it’s no easy task and we appreciate the assistance of everyone on-site in making it happen. We also like to remind everyone at our “toolbox talks” that if we don’t make LEED platinum, there’s a two million dollar penalty payable to the city at stake. Our people know we’re serious about doing this right and they’re very supportive.”

In turn, Alexander does his best to support the trades. He provides handbooks and workshops and his door is always open for anyone with questions. “I also take a look at what materials are going to be used and advise the trades on what is acceptable and what isn’t. Talking about LEED right from the start saves headaches later on.”

Farmer Construction’s dedication to green building technology is well-rooted. As Alexander put it, “When you’re looking at a project and applying green technologies and thought to it, you realize you’ll be building something that looks like the design but, due to your attention to detail, you’ll be building it even better, and that’s something to be proud of.”

How to Adapt Small Scale Sustainable Features to Big Scale Projects

Q. How do you take elements from suburban residential projects and adapt them to urban areas?

Photo by Triad Associates

A. You have to understand the concept behind the features you’re creating.
If you do, you can transfer it. For a rain garden the idea is to allow the water to be in contact with the soil for as long as possible, to allow for evaporation and infiltration. For instance, there’s a rain garden in downtown Portland that allows the water to make a circuitous route through different plant materials and metal grates so it fits the setting. At the Olympic Sculpture Park, they’re using rainwater harvesting to irrigate their cedar nurse log exhibit.

Q. How does the landscape architect transfer concepts from suburban to urban settings?

 A. You have to keep everything in context and ask the question, “How do these techniques and strategies fit into this unique community.”

 Q. Why should people be worried about regaining a natural environment in an urban setting when it’s minimal anyway?

 A. There’s always value in recapturing it. It’s incumbent on us to develop in a sustainable fashion. We won’t get back to a natural environment all at once. We altered these systems slowly, and we need to rebuild them slowly. Look at the Green Bridge project in South Seattle. It’s located in a very urban and densely populated area. They’re rebuilding it with bio-retention systems that incorporate trails for connecting the area’s parks.

 Q. What are the pitfalls of trying to create this type of development?

 A. We run into lots of jurisdictions that love the elements of low impact development and mandate that people do it. But that approach doesn’t always work. Instead developers should be encouraged to use sustainable techniques when the site allows it and be able to work with jurisdictions to find creative ways to implement it.

 Q. Why are some projects successful and others not?

A. It takes a cooperative effort from everyone, where people come from all sides of the project to make it work – the developer, jurisdictions, consultants, and the community.

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