A Beacon for the Future

A Beacon for the Future
"We hope the reinvention of our 100-year-old waterfront home as a model of green building will educate and inspire both the building industry and the general public.” - Homeowners Dave and Anna Porter (rendering by Craig Thorpe).

Thursday, August 28, 2008

So How Much More Does Building Green Cost?

Dear Readers:
I get asked this question (or some variation of it) frequently (and in fact was "misrepresented" in an interview with The Wall Street Journal where they shrunk what I said to imply that the cost is outrageous!) and I find answering it quite difficult.

Here's my response to a recent query about "how much the renovations cost.":

"So…your question was how much the “renovations” cost. This is a tough question. Because the cost of our project is impacted by many factors—not all of them “green.” First of all, this is a very custom home: we’re talking things like very custom millwork and a 10K custom hand-crafted glass mosaic breakfast bar and a cupola and custom-made metal stairs. Things like that. Also, we chose very nice features—not necessarily always just the affordable option. Secondly, this was a demonstration home which meant that it had to be built on a schedule and it had to be, well, perfect. It was going to be on show. We also paid for the services of a marketing manager, a website designer, marketing materials, educational materials, etc. Those things contributed to the cost. Thirdly our building project was, well, our building project. That is to say, we had our own special set of circumstances that impacted cost: size, location and accessibility of the lot; the fact that it was custom and required an architect; the fact that based on the location and the amount of glazing we wanted—and that little thing called a cupola--required the services of an engineering firm. We also went for 5 certifications which required the services of a green construction professional whose only job was to make sure we were meeting those requirements. That cost more money. We also had help from sponsors (no, we did not get our house for free or even close!) but that often meant that we ended up spending more $$ because we went with their products instead of really shopping around. A good example is Kohler. They were kind enough to sponsor us (which means they cut us a significant break) but demanded that they be the only plumbing supplier. And Kohler is not only expensive but installation of Kohler products is more expensive.

See what I mean? So when people ask me how much more our house cost because it is green that’s not such a straightforward question. Here’s an example: our no-VOC paint by American Pride retails for $39/gallon. We could have purchased: )a Benjamin Moore that wasn’t green for about the same price; or b) we could have purchased a much cheaper non-green option at Home Depot. So against which should I make the $$ comparison? Another example: We went with all hard-surface flooring partly due to our American Lung Association Health House requirement (and because we personally think carpet is gross!). Our bamboo, and cork, and FSC teak and Marmoleum could be considered more expensive compared to inexpensive carpet and vinyl but in terms of general quality I think they compare more to a pricier carpet option. So, again, against what are we making a comparison?

Could we have built our home cheaper by not paying attention to quality or greenness? Absolutely! But we wanted to build the house we wanted, we wanted it green and we wanted it to be good quality that would last—an important component of green building.

Sorry for the diatribe—and for not really answering your question (no, I was not a politician in a former life!) But hopefully this will help you understand the difficulty in answering your seemingly innocuous question."


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Open House Encore

Just in case you weren't able to visit the house last fall during our public tour days, you can join us this Sunday, June 4, 1:00-4:00 p.m. for an open house encore. The address is: 19126 Soundview Dr NW, Stanwood, WA. Please know that parking is limited and we appreciate you being respectful of our neighbors' driveways and yards! Thanks!

Almost Famous

Dear Readers:
Okay...we just have to take a moment to toot our horn! On June 5 at about 6:00 p.m. our beautiful Going Green home will be featured on a new program, Renovation Nation on the new Discovery Planet Green channel. This is very exciting and quite an honor for us. We, of course, look for every opportunity to spread the green word so getting onto TV will be a big boost for the project--and ultimately green building and living. Be sure to tell your friends and neighbors about our show and all the other ones coming up on this new channel. We look forward to your comments about the show...and anything else!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Slippery When Wet!

Okay...we promised to be honest in our reporting so here goes: we love our FSC-certified Tigerwood decking but must say that it can be downright dangerous when it gets wet! We've had a couple of falls ourselves and a few friends (and this was when sober!) who have slipped. We've had some discussions with others about the issue looking for a solution and so far nothing really satisfactory.

One idea was to put on a clear-coat (obviously earth-friendly) finish with some sand or other type of grit in it. The problem here is two-fold: 1) this eliminates the low-maintenance feature of letting the wood age naturally without refinishing; and 2) as the finish wears off--in the higher traffic areas--the grit will get carried into the house.

Another, even less desirable solution, was to attach adhesive tread strips to the steps and deck. Of course, besides the obvious downside--not very attractive!--these also have a tendency to come "unstuck" within a short time making them even less attractive and presenting a whole other tripping hazard!

We're still investigating this. Any suggestions from you, dear readers, would be most welcome!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What An Adventure!

Blog entry from Dave Porter April 2008

Design Elements: I have looked for design and space issues and frankly can’t find any. Every room is used and often. I don’t believe there is a room we feel is unneeded. We’ve had groups of 50 plus in the home and obviously there are “traffic” issues when you have that many visitors. but each room feels right.

Function of Components:

Chaffey did an amazing job of building this home. It's hard enough to build a custom home but building a custom green home--one of the greenest homes in the NW--and now you have a really big challenge! Then you add the fact that this house was built by committee and in a "fish bowl" making this demonstration home a feat to pull off! But we did it and it was exceptional. The last days before the public open started were crazy; we were working on getting the Certificate of Occupancy, staging the home, doing landscaping, setting up sponsor displays all at the same time. I counted 23 vehicles in front of the one at one point in the last days.

After occupying the home, we had several weeks of frustration when the geothermal system was not performing for us. Everyone kept after the problem and at one point I felt that perhaps the system was simply inadequate for the needs of the home. What EarthHeat discovered (to their credit) was the Hydron had too much refrigerant in the system which was not circulating as it needed to and therefore was locking out the system. Simply removing some of the refrigerant was the key and the system is now working perfectly.

Reporting Performance:

Perhaps our biggest disappointment is in regards to our overall electricity use. During the winter we have averaged $300 per month, although compared with other homes nearby–not built to these standards–our costs were lower. We had hoped with the advanced features that we’d save a ton but it seems not to be the case. Below is a breakdown of electricity charges. Keep in mind that we officially began living in the home on November 11. Also, part of our reality is that we have a hot tub (albeit with a high-energy efficiency cover). On the plus side, this is probably our only big electricity hog.

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We had believed we were putting in high efficiency 200 kWh solar panels but later were told they were only 165 kWh panels. Solar production will become more relevant as we enter the summer. The Outback inverter seems to be working fine. Here's how we're doing with generating power on our production meter:

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We're moving now! Hopefully as there are more daylight hours we'll continue to see these numbers rise.

Just because, we're also including our propane usage. Remember that we use propane for our: range, fireplaces, and tankless hot water heaters:

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Having said all this, it's pretty tough to gauge anything after only a couple of months. Also, we have little to compare to but we'll try to find some other homes to compare to.

Awareness Update:

The project received the Green Hammer Award on March 13th 2008. Cheri Westphal of Northwest Property Imaging advised us that over 12,000 unique visitors have been to the webpage. The home continues to be open to various groups. We have also conducted some Realtor Ongoing Education classes with more scheduled. And we've been written up in various magazines, online newsletters and newspapers.

General Comments:

We are finding new ways to live green and in future blogs we will share with you ways we are changing our behaviors and buying habits. Example: we no longer have his and her cars but rather we use the car that's best for the travel needs of that day. We are also incorporating more organic products into our home and diet. At work, I helped Countrywide Home Loans to launch an incentive of a lower interest rate (.125%) for buyers purchasing green homes. It’s a pilot program in 13 NW states but has big promise.

Now, we welcome your comments and questions!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Keeping The Green Faith

Okay, being a "green" champion I can't resist commenting on the disappointing event that took place on Monday of this week. Not only did the torching of 4 of the 5 "Built Green" Seattle Street of Dreams homes do nothing to further the cause for the environment (I dare say it seriously set the cause back quite a bit!) but the short-sighted domestic terrorists clearly do not care about the environment at all! If so, they would have thought first about the effects of their actions on the environment. I can't quote any statistics, but I think its safe to say that at least hundreds of pounds of not only CO2 were released into the already stressed air around our city but most likely lots of other not-so-nice chemicals that might have been in some of the not-so-green construction products and furnishings. The other "duh" moment that missed them is that its safe to say that the homes were insured and that those homes will undoubtedly be rebuilt therefore consuming two times the amount of raw materials that the original homes consumed! And perhaps, because the builders, now not so sure that building green is the prudent thing to do (since the terrorists don't seem to be interested in torching non-green buildings) might rebuild those previously "green" homes in a conventional manner, using materials and processes that do further harm to the environment. Kudos to the "eco"-terrorists! You win the "built-dumb" award for 2008!!!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Welcome to the Beach Blog

It's here! It's here! The long-awaited blog on how things are going at the beach! Sorry we've taken so long (we know you've been waiting with baited breath!) but it's been crazy times here.

So, as promised, this blog is going to be mostly about how systems and products are performing in this house now that we're living here. Keep in mind that having just moved in in mid-November 2007 we don't have a lot of time under our belts to report everything. But we can share with you what we've experienced so far. I will probably focus more on performance of products while David will want to share about system performance. We'll each post our own comments so you can get both perspectives.

First, of all, in answer to the perennial question: "We love the house and love living here!" Who wouldn't? It's a great house in a great location. And in answer to the other question: "We've thought about it seriously and we wouldn't change a thing!" We love every little square inch of our home.

Secondly, as you read our postings, please keep in mind that how our house performs for us has a lot to do with our family and lifestyle and doesn't necessarily translate directly to how these products might perform for you. There are 3 adults, a small dog, and a cat living here in this 2700 square foot house so we really can't say how things would work for a family with small children and a golden retriever. Understand my meaning?

Now, having said all that...down to the nitty gritty. The first thing I notice about living in this very green house with friendly indoor environment is that it gets dirty fast! Why is this? Because there's no carpet in the house to trap all the sand, dirt, dog and human hair, dust balls, etc.! So yes, it takes more work to keep the floors clean (although the built-in vacuum system and the built-in vac pan in the kitchen help a great deal) but that means the house is cleaner and healthier for all of us. If we had carpeting all those gross things I can now see would be hiding in the carpet. Did you know that statistics show that when old carpet is removed to be replaced it weighs anywhere from 2 to 4 times what it did when it was first installed?! Can you say "ewwwwwww?!"

Since we're on the subject of floors, you're probably wondering about the individual product performance. Keep in mind that we avoid wearing street shoes in the house though our guests frequently do. So here's a rundown:

  • Marmoleum Click: This is throughout most of the main floor. Easy to keep clean, fairly sturdy (especially when you consider how many people we've had through this house!). Does nick or scratch when it comes in contact with sharp implements but don't know of a hard surface flooring that wouldn't! Seems to hold up well to at least our small dog and the sand that we track in from the beach!
  • Ecotimber FSC Australian Chestnut: Doesn't get a lot of traffic (as it's in the office) but so far easy to clean and durable.
  • Toucan Teak: This is the hard wood that gets the most exposure as it is on the stairs and the whole second floor (minus the master bedroom). Easy to keep clean but as with any fine wood floor it does get nicked if you're not careful with it.
  • Teragren Bamboo: This is in the master bedroom. Easy to keep clean and durable as with the other hard floors. Again, keeping sharp objects away is important!
  • Island Stone pebble floors: This is in 3 bathrooms. It's holding up well, relatively easy to keep clean. The grout is more the issue but this is typical of any tile-type application.
  • Irongate Ceramic tile: In the main floor bath. Easy to clean and still looking great!
  • Acid Washed Concrete: in the basement. Concrete is porous so we do have to be careful not to spill things like paint or wine on it but the acid washing hides a lot! Just a vacuum and damp mop keep it looking spiffy!
  • Vida Cork: This is in the guest suite. Seems as sturdy as any of the other hard surface floors. Important note: This floor does not like painter's masking tape so be careful when masking it to paint the walls. The tape can pull off some of the finish! We were able to mitigate that by using a low-VOC stain over the tape marks.