The tall, narrow Ballard house is filled with green features such as solar panels, automated bathroom faucets, and recycled-content insulation, countertops, drywall, and doorknobs.
Just before purchasing this steep, narrow lot in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, with its treetop view of Salmon Bay, builder Martha Rose had finished 13 townhomes at Rainier Vista, a Seattle Housing Authority urban renewal project. It was Seattle’s first spec project to achieve a 5-star Built Green Seattle rating, a level Martha Rose Construction now commits to for all of its homes, and the experience confirmed Rose’s belief that sustainable features are enthusiastically welcomed at every socioeconomic level.
At the opposite end of the price spectrum is Rose’s Ballard house, a 2,700-square-foot home that recently sold for $1.175 million and contains a smart sampling of green measures from bargain to big-ticket. But even for this seasoned green builder, getting there wasn’t easy, as Rose, who recently received Built Green Seattle’s Green Pioneer Award, had to put her ingenuity to work to tackle the narrow lot size and a number of other challenges.
Rose’s emphasis isn’t on the showy aspects of sustainability like rooftop solar collectors, although this house has a few of them, but on building an energy-efficient envelope. Several years ago she devised an insulated wall assembly that achieves an R-26 value, a significant bump up from the Washington energy standard for gas heat of R-19. It starts with 2x6 studs and hollow headers, followed by a fiberglass mesh spread over the wall cavities (after plumbing and electrical is installed) and blown-in formaldehyde-free white fiberglass insulation. “The blown-in fiberglass is more effective than batts because it goes in at a higher density and fills every nook and cranny,” Rose says. Enclosing the exterior is a layer of ½-inch-thick closed-cell foam, covered with ½-inch plywood.
Inside, the house contains a range of energy-saving details, from something as simple as light-colored finishes that reduce lighting loads, to zoned heating, electric radiators, triple-pane windows, and heating equipment completely contained within the thermal envelope.
Rose applied the same rigor to the selection of exterior materials. The locally made, kiln-dried cedar siding is pre-primed on four sides, making it more durable. The plum-colored paint is meant to hide the slow buildup of diesel exhaust that spews from trains running along the nearby waterfront. “I thought the dark color would age more gracefully in that setting,” she explains. “I took a walk and picked a bunch of leaves off the plum trees and matched it to paint chips.”
One of the bigger challenges of this project was the driveway, which consists of hollow pervious pavers. They’re more environmentally friendly, but it was a month-long concrete-workers’ strike, at the time the driveway was to be poured, that prompted their use. The crew laid them over a compacted gravel and sand base, and Rose planted out the squares in Irish and Scotch moss.
Rose splurged on a rainwater harvesting system that, assembled and installed, cost almost $10,000. She shelled out $6,000 for the 3,000-gallon cedar tank and potable water–rated liner, and hired subs to assemble it, put in the liner, and hook up the pipes. (Since then, Rose has found a more cost-effective solution in $3,500 polyethylene rain barrels. To tone down their industrial look, she paints them the color of the house and hides them with a planted trellis.)
One of the home’s costliest green features, of course, are the $16,000 solar arrays, which heat the hot water and shoulder about a third of the electrical load. But in addition to benefiting from reduced utility costs, Seattle homeowners can earn continuing revenues by selling the electricity they generate back to the utilities for 15 cents per kilowatt hour. “Our electricity costs about 8 cents a kilowatt hour now,” Rose says. “The panels last 50 years, and as energy costs rise they increase the value of the home.”
In the final analysis, the project was profitable, despite a $25,000 reduction on the asking price. Rose points out that the steep sales price reflected several things: its great views and neighborhood, the inclusion of an elevator, and its green features. The buyer appreciated all of the environmental upgrades and understood their value. “I believe the reason we were able to get the price we got had 100% to do with the five-star rating,” Rose says. “There wasn’t any one thing that sold the house; it was the whole package.”
Cheryl Weber is a freelance writer in Lancaster, Pa.
Six 200-watt Sanyo PV modules were installed on the east face of the roof. Roughly 10% of their efficiency is lost because they don’t face south, and the system is expected to produce 1,200 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. In addition, the west-facing roof holds 16 Sunda solar hot water tubes. Sanyo: 619.661.4137. www.us.sanyo.com. Circle 375. Sunda: 818.240.4500 (West); 570.422.1292 (East) www.sundasolar.com.
CertainTeed Landmark Series Premium shingles are warrantied for 50 years. Their longevity makes them a reasonably priced green solution by reducing maintenance costs and material waste. 800.233.8990. www.certainteed.com.
Rose Construction installed Tirex, 12-inch-by-12-inch glue-down squares made from recycled tires, on the front passageway. “You can have it out in the weather and it wears like iron,” Rose says. “It cleans up nicely,” and individual squares can be replaced as needed. www.tirex.com.
Rose Construction got green points for the use of TurfStone driveway pavers, which are 40% open, allowing rainwater to percolate through the hollow modules. The pavers doubled the price of what a poured concrete driveway would have cost, before planting. “I would use them again, especially on a small area,” Rose says. “It is a softer look and is better for the environment.” 800.477.3008. www.mutualmaterials.com.
Washington-made Atrium triple-pane vinyl windows provide a U-value of 0.25. They cost roughly 25% more than standard double-pane windows with a U-value of 0.44 or 0.60. 800.421.6292. www.atrium.com.
Richlite is a natural-fiber composite made out of paper and resin. The paper comes from pulp harvested from trees in certified managed North American forests, and the material is manufactured in an environmentally benign way that eliminates VOCs, off-gassing, and hazardous waste, according to the company. 888.383.5533. www.richlite.com.
Perhaps the easiest green spec for a home’s interior is the choice of paint. Rose used low-VOC paints by Parker Paint and Sherwin-Williams in light colors that minimize the need for artificial light. Parker Paint: 253.473.1122. www.parkerpaint.com. Circle 382. Sherwin-Williams: 800.524.5979. www.sherwin
Rapidly renewable bamboo was used to make the custom kitchen cabinets, flooring, and fence. 800.783.0557.
This 3,000-gallon rain barrel is made from FSC-certified cedar from Forest Lumber & Cooperage, and has a liner rated for potable water. It fills from gutters and a pipe carrying rainwater runoff from the roof. The homeowner, an engineer, plans to add a pump to irrigate plants on the rear up-slope as needed. 250.642.4899. www.forestlumber.com.
The outdoor balcony decking is made of a Life Deck system called ALX by Westcoat, a multilayer, self-draining system that’s designed to be super-durable and waterproof. 800.541.3310. www.lifedeck.com.