John Capestany and Karen Kane had always dreamed of building the perfect home while using "green" building techniques. The couple spent years poring through Fine Homebuilding magazines and conducting countless property searches in preparation. With careful planning and meticulous attention to detail, their vision of environmental sustainability combined with exquisite design came to fruition in a beautiful new home.
With magazine photos in hand, earmarked Frank Lloyd Wright books, and a mile-long list of features, their designer, Steve Moe, started the creative process and presented a perfect manifestation of their wish list. Several months were spent perfecting the design and they anxiously awaited the County permit approval process.
ENVIRONMENTALLY SENSITIVE FROM THE BEGINNING
Prior to excavation of the building site, the couple collaborated with the Native Plant Society to organize a native plant salvage. Several teachers came out and removed trillium, native huckleberry, salal, Oregon grape, salmonberry and lots of big, beautiful sword ferns that would be used to create a native plant garden at their school. Other folks grabbed their shovels and joined in the fun, carefully transplanting native plants with intentions of establishing native garden sanctuaries in their own yards.
REDUCE, RE-USE, RECYCLE
Timberrrrrrrrrrrr!! Once the trees were logged from the building site, they were moved to the couple's existing property to await their transformation into lumber and the milled fir soffits, and fir trim used throughout the house. A portable mill operation came out and cut all the logs into various sizes of lumber. Then the lumber had to sit covered for months, drying, before all the fir was sent off to a local mill to be kiln-dried and cut into the various dimensions to be used for the trim and soffits. Plenty of lumber remained for use during the framing process.
Then the big rigs came in. Since the building site was at the top of a small knoll, a big hole was dug to accommodate the basement and foundation of the house. After the footings and stem walls were poured, recycled crushed glass was used as fill prior to pouring all the basement slabs. Let the framing begin! Various pieces of the milled fir lumber were used for blocking and drywall backing. It was a natural way to incorporate some of the native wood into the structural framing.
PLANNING FOR THE ELEMENTS
The house is positioned to take advantage of the natural sunlight for lighting and temperature control. Since the couple decided against an air-conditioning system, radiant-barrier plywood was used to sheet the roof to minimize heat penetration during the hot summer months. Keeping with the modern design, the couple selected a galvanized, colored metal roof, a durable and sustainable roofing material.
The aluminum-clad fir wood windows made a perfect match for the native fir interior trim, presenting a seamless transition from one to the other. Prior to installing the pre-finished (on all four sides), tongue-and-groove cedar siding, a 3/4-inch rain screen was installed, facilitating an air-gap between the back of the siding and the front of the wall sheeting. Rain screens provide moisture and heat control, a sound buffer, and wall durability. [A ¾ to 1-inch air gap is recommended for homes in Western Washington to increase the energy efficiency the home.]
INSULATION, INSULATION, INSULATION
A variety of insulation materials was used throughout the home to ensure energy efficiency. Walls were insulated with a recycled denim batting called UltratouchTM and also a blown-in non-toxic insulation material called Aircrete, rated with high energy-efficiency. After extensive research, John chose to use a sprayed-in Icynene® insulation in the small, difficult to access areas of the home. He also used it as a sub-insulation on the large concrete walls in the basement prior to framing in and insulating all the basement rooms. Aircrete was used in some of the large exterior walls for sound attenuation and energy efficiency, a synergistic choice with a properly installed rain screen.
Two layers of insulation were applied to the 9-foot concrete walls making up the daylight basement. The first layer was the Icynene® foam, providing superior moisture-barrier and air movement. This type of concrete wall insulation performs perfectly in conjunction with a properly installed drain mat and drainage on the exterior side of the concrete wall. The next layer set within the wall framing was the UltratouchTM, selected because it is non-toxic and does not off-gas harmful volatiles.
To help regulate and control heat-transfer within the in-floor radiant heating system, the UltratouchTMinsulation was also used in the interior floor systems between each of the three levels, another non-traditional building practice. The additional layers of insulation turned out to be a great choice, because with concrete floors homes tend to be louder and the UltratouchTM insulation in the floor system creates a natural sound barrier.
YOU CAN HAVE AIR QUALITY AND DESIGN QUALITY
Now, it was time for the fun part, selecting the "green" interior features without compromising on design. The concepts of energy efficiency and conservation also apply to the interior.
Since the couple has small children, indoor air quality was a top priority. To protect indoor air quality and to support the use of green products, formaldehyde-free plywood was used for cabinetry, a non-toxic and natural product hard-wax sealer was applied on all wood beams, interior (wheat-core) doors and wood finishes, and low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints were used on all wall surfaces. Additionally, the attached garage is well-ventilated with high-power electric fans set on timers to remove car exhaust and VOC's off-gassing from car tires.
Non-toxic and rapidly renewable wool padding and carpeting in the Master suite, cork flooring in the remaining bedrooms, and a milestone coating over gypcrete on the entire main floor allows the radiant floor heating system to operate with maximum efficiency. Energy Star rated appliances were selected in the kitchen and laundry room.
Each bathroom features use of recycled glass tiles and countertops were locally made from recycled concrete and glass by Tiger Mountain Innovations. Low-flow, dual-flush toilets were installed in each of the three bathrooms and have proved to be problem-free, despite the minimal amount of water used per flush.
Lots of windows on the south side of the house provide plenty of natural lighting, minimizing the use of interior lights (most of which use compact fluorescents light bulbs). In the winter, the house gains solar heat due to the low positioning of the sun shining directly into the house, keeping it a toasty temperature without even triggering the heating system on sunny days. In the summer the sun is high enough in the sky that it does not shine into the house, keeping it nice and cool. Fans are used in the vaulted ceiling of the Master bedroom for cooling purposes as well.
ENVIRONMENTALLY SENSITIVE TO THE END
John's and Karen's eco-friendly designs do not end with the house. Plans for the future include an elaborate rain catchment system that can be used for all irrigation purposes for organic food gardens and livestock animals such as goats and chickens. The couple also dreams of a large outbuilding or garden shed with a vegetated roof for plant cultivation and livestock rearing.
The key to building a quality green home is to focus on the functionality and sustainability of materials used, bearing in mind the long-term benefits gained. Products throughout the interior of this home were selected based on where they were made and how they were made, and then the price of the material came into consideration. The couple's philosophy is to seek out and explore alternative specialty products and use local resources whenever possible to support a sustainable legacy for our future generations.
John Capestany is the owner of First Choice Carpentry, a green builder in Issaquah WA. John can be reached at 425-890-3659.