If you really want to know what to take away from the elegant Ellis Residence on Bainbridge Island, Wash., you have to look past its green roof, rooftop PV array and solar thermal collectors, geothermal heat pump, thermal mass spine, indoor and outdoor water efficiency, and anything else that might be on the LEED for Homes scorecard that earned the 2,725-square-foot home a Platinum rating.
What’s truly new and noteworthy, and the best lesson for builders amid a wealth of integrated and innovative design ideas and products, is the project team’s approach to achieving the highest levels of performance and sustainability.
“This is a new way of building that requires a new process,” says architect Matthew Coates. “You can’t look at building a green home like you do a conventional home and just slap all this green stuff on it.”
The Ellis project shelved the linear approach to building that compartmentalizes and segregates each stage of design and construction in favor of an integrated web of partners formed from the start, made aware of each other, and pointed in the same direction.
It also abandoned the three-bid rule for subcontractors, replacing it with a consideration of their skill and willingness to learn new things and pay attention to the trades on either side of their respective slots in the schedule.
That’s crazy talk to conventional builders, but for those striving to provide homes that reach a higher level of energy efficiency, resource conservation, durability, and comfort, it’s becoming the new normal.
“We sought input from the whole team to get everyone on the same page,” says builder Rob Smallwood, who selected and then gathered his entire team, including materials suppliers, prior to groundbreaking in order to value-engineer and optimize the building process. “It was very gratifying to see them respond and achieve what we did.”
Coates was there, too, along with the homeowners and members of the landscape, interior design, and engineering teams. Those pre-construction meetings set the tone for the project, Coates says, and more important, for how the team would smooth out bumps along the way. “We anticipated that getting everything and everyone to fit, work together, and how and where they’d overlap would be a challenge, so the preconstruction meetings were essential.”