To read the rest of Kathleen's
case study, and many others
in the Cascadia Region, get
your copy of The Northwest
Green Home Primer!
What People are Saying about the Primer...
"I really like your organization of the material. Now it's time to start the work on the second edition!"
Earth Advantage, Inc.
An abbreviated excerpt of the O'Brien-Cunningham Case Study, written
by author Kathleen O'Brien about her home building experience on
Bainbridge Island, WA.
It started with the bathtub. After five years of trying to squeeze
his 6'2" frame into the small tub in our condo bathroom, my
husband John and I spent several frustrating months trying to figure
out how to get a bigger bathtub into the bathroom. Then there was
the carpet - 1,200 square feet of wall-to-wall carpeting, making
a marvelous home for dirt, dust mites, and other irritants. More
problematic was the lack of natural light. I was constantly trying
to turn lights on, only to realize the lights were on.
Then there was the fact that I spent my time away from my home
training and consulting others on the benefits of naturally lit,
well-designed, good-for-the-planet homes. While our condo was green
in some very important ways, such as its prime location which limited
our need to rely on a car as primary transportation, we could not
ignore the fact that although our home might be good-for-the-planet,
it just wasn't working for us.
Even so, we couldn't build a green home and ignore the fact that
we were increasing our impact by building a new stand-alone structure.
So before we found our lot, the two most important decisions we
made were to build small, and to build in a location that wouldn't
require us to drive a car to get a quart of milk
In the end, we did even better. Our real estate agent, who knew
of our desire to build small, found a lot where small was all that
could work. Two thirds of the infill lot we chose was a Class III
wetland, leaving just the remaining one third buildable - and the
wetland designation deemed that only an especially environmentally
sensitive home could be built on the buffer portion of the lot
Building small (and doing it well) was just the beginning. The
remaining green choices had to do with what went into building the
structure itself, and selecting actions and materials that provided
multiple benefits. For example, the wood polymer decking on the
front porch uses material that would normally be landfilled. It
also doesn't need to be stained or painted and is highly durable.
We set our sights on exceeding Washington's already fairly rigorous
residential energy code. Some of our strategies included installing
low-E windows and ensuring an energy-efficient envelope by using
a hydronic heating system that uses our water heater for a heat
source. This eliminated the need for a separate boiler or furnace,
and as well as ducts, which are notorious for losing heat as it
is transported through the system. As a result, we insulated ourselves
somewhat from rising energy prices
.We also reduced our water
consumption by roughly 40% by employing Energy Star washers (clothes
and dishes), and landscaping with drought tolerant plantings
have maintenance friendly landscaping despite the droughts we've
been experiencing in recent years. Most importantly for us, we can
feel good about the materials we used
We built our home in 1998, at which time the green premium
for construction of our house, cost a little under $115 per occupied
sq. ft. - roughly 1-2% more what it would have cost to build our
home more conventionally at the time. We also attributed most of
the premium to two high-ticket items -- the metal roof and the hydronic
heating system. Bottom line, though, our energy and water savings
are working to offset our initial investments, while flexibility
in the overall design and space offers more value for the money
we spent. And we've learned so much.
While we learned along the way, most importantly, we met our overall
> To provide a healthy, comfortable, and highly functional
> To build in a way that reflects our environmental ethic to
"build less and build light"
> To provide a model of cost-effective, practical green building
> To promote participation in voluntary green building programs.
To read the rest of Kathleen's Case Study, and many others in
the Cascadia Region, get your copy of The
Northwest Green Home Primer!