Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Carpet Conundrum

A great article from about recycling carpet: "Green Up Your Carpet Life-Cycle."

Because recycling options are not immediately available, about 2.5 million tons of carpet end up in landfills, according to Peter Yost and Amy Hook.

Yost and Hook state that  "In 2002, the carpet industry, key government agencies, and non-profit environmental organizations, created the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE). CARE has always had ambitious goals for carpet diversion, starting with 40% by 2012. CARE’s latest report shows a total diversion rate in 2009 of around 25%. There are currently 72 CARE reclamation partners in the US." See the interactive CARE map to find a reclamation partner. (Recovery 1 Resource Recovery, Recycling Center and Research Facility is located in Tacoma, WA)

Yost and Hook give great suggestions for lessening your carpet impact. One is using carpet tiles, which can be easily replaced. Or, they could easily be traded out (i.e., bought/sold on Craigslist) because tiles are a standard size and not custom cut to fit a room). FLOR offers natural wool carpet squares. 

Wool Carpet Squares: FLOR's Lamb Chord in Gotland Gray

I discussed Auburn University's Rural Studio's Lucy/Carpet House in a past blog post on salvage.The house contains 72,000 stacked tiles. They were new, so they had to be placed in storage for 7 years to off-gas. Used carpet could be utilized in this way without the off-gassing issue. I love the book covering their early projects, "Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and the Architecture of Decency" by Andrea Oppenheimer Dean and Timothy Hursley. If you like creative solutions to affordable housing, this book will make you long to live a place without building codes. 

 Lucy/Carpet House, Mason's Bend, AL. Photo credit here

Monday, July 26, 2010

D+A home plans: 3 Plans Under 1,000 Square Feet

D+A Studio has a stock home plan collection, featuring plans ready for permit and construction. All of the plans can be viewed on our website, as well as pricing information.

Many of our homes are perfect for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU's), backyard cottages, or alley flats. Most plans come with both modern and traditional options. Below are some examples of home plans below 1,000 square feet. 

Fox Cottage: 381 Square Feet

An efficient, simple structure that can serve as a private space for guests, adult children or aging parents, this cottage can also be a primary residence with all of the essentials for living. Included in this studio are built-in storage, a compact kitchen, a stacked washer/dryer, and a full bathroom. Also available as a carriage house.


Smith Cottage: 694 Square Feet

All the amenities of a larger house in an efficient one bedroom cottage. This plan includes built-in storage and eating area, a large utility room, an accessible attic, and ample living space. Large sliding glass doors flanked by picture windows connect the living and bedrooms to the outdoors. Also available as a carriage house.

Blakely Cottage: 961 Square Feet

A welcoming, cozy plan. A generous covered porch leads to the open main area of the house, which flows to another rear porch. A large eat-in kitchen leads to a second bedroom or flex space. The flex space can be opened up to the kitchen or divided into a bedroom with an office. Plan A features an attic for storage. Plan B expands the cottage, featuring a ladder that leads to a 478 square foot loft space, which opens to the main area of the house under a cathedral ceiling.

Friday, July 23, 2010

ADU 101

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU's) have become more popular and acceptable in the past few years. The City of Seattle began allowing for ADU's in all residential zones (it had previously been only some south Seattle neighborhoods) in 2009. San Juan County allows for a limited number of permits for ADU's each year.

An ADU can be attached, as in a basement apartment, or detached, as in a backyard cottage, carriage house, or alley flat. The implementation of ADU's can fulfill many goals of sustainable development, including density, affordable housing, and smaller house sizes. As our urban fabric is "re-knit", neighborhoods can become more dense, creating more demand for services, therefore creating more opportunities for walkable neighborhoods and less dependence on a car.

Truly sustainable development also includes social goals, many of which are also met by integrating ADU's: a way for homeowners to have a separate income stream, a mix of income and ages; the ability to stay in one neighborhood through varying phases of life, therefore creating lasting community: kids can live in a backyard cottage as they start on their career path, elderly parents or relatives can live in smaller spaces that require less upkeep and be close to their children and grandchildren. The term "mixed income" may be worrisome, but from a social standpoint, renting out an ADU can more successful than an absentee landlord renting a house, in that owners are close to the rental unit, tenants are close to their landlord, so each keeps an eye on each other. The Kentlands Development in Maryland (designed by New Urbanism pioneers DPZ)  is a neighborhood that has successfully integrated market rate, large suburban housing with backyard rental units. An often cited example is of a woman who lived in her ADU and rented out her large house in order to save money and pay off her mortgage.

Anna spoke to BUILDERnews magazine about the benefits of building an ADU or guest apartment. See the article, including photos of two of our projects that include these structures here.

Hare House in Friday Harbor, Second Floor Plan: an apartment over an office and garage can be used for family, or rented out for extra income.

Summaries of Seattle and King County's rules for Accessory Dwelling Units are below. In the coming weeks we will have summaries of the rules of other cities and counties.
Rules for Seattle ADU

View the Backyard Cottage Overview from the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development here

From the overview:
Among those aware of a backyard cottage in their neighborhood:
• 71% said that the backyard cottage in their neighborhood fit in with the surrounding homes.
• 84% noticed no impacts on parking or traffic directly related to the backyard cottage.
• 83% were supportive or strongly supportive of backyard cottage policy.

Highlights from the Client Assistance Memo 116A, "Establishing an Attached Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)."
  • Backyard cottages, also known as detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs) are allowed citywide effective Dec. 4, 2009
  • Seattle Defines an ADU as: a room or set of rooms in a single family home that has been designed or configured to be used as a separate dwelling unit.
  • A single family lot my have one ADU or Backyard Cottage.
  • An ADU is limited to an area of 1,000 square feet in the single family structure. A unit in a single-family
    home may exceed the maximum size if the structure was in existence prior to June 1, 1999, and if the
    entire accessory unit is located on the same level.
  • A parking space for the ADU is required unless it is located in a designated urban center or village, or if the topography of the site or structure location makes it "unduly burdensome."
Rules for King County ADU's
View a summary from the county with links to the code document (summarized below) here.  
  • Accessory dwelling units are allowed in all zones in unincorporated King County except Mineral (M) and Industrial (I), provided that certain conditions are met.
  • No separate ADU's are allowed on urban lots less than 5,000 square feet, a non-conforming rural lot, or a lot containing more than one
  • Either the primary dwelling or the ADU have to be owner-occupied 
  • Only one entrance can be located on the street side

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Introducing urban|design.banter

A new part of our blog will be urban design banter: infill, re-knitting our urban fabric, cohousing, and keeping small towns from becoming suburbs

Our firm's motto of smart growth :: green design means we are dedicated to creating spaces that are not only great to live in but also worthy of visiting. Why shouldn't where you live be somewhere you would want to visit? So many people settle for drab, sprawling, monotonous suburbs, and then save up vacation money and time to walk around cities they find appealing. 

According to Duany, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck in "Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream," the majority of time spent at Disney World is not on rides or at shows, but most of the time is spent "enjoying the precise commodity that people so sorely lack in their suburban hometowns: pleasant, pedestrian-friendly, public space and the sociability it engenders." 

In the coming weeks we will be discussing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU's): where they are acceptable, why they are a good idea, and how they can be implemented. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Friday Harbor Permanent Farmers Market-Update

Anna participated in another charrette last Saturday for the Friday Harbor Permanent Farmers Market at the Brickworks site. The current charrette team includes architects, designers, landscape designers,  San Juan Agricultural Guild members, neighbors, and other property owners.

This charrette was focused on the site. Richard Hobbs, FAIA, laid out the vision for the meeting, which include defining "event facility" and "farmers market", how the space can work as both and be connected to the greater community. Participants were asked not just to show how the site should look and how it will work, but the experience that one should have while in the space.

For more information on the project, see our previous blog post.

We have been blogging more recently about farming, with Anna's involvement in the Farmer's Market visioning and my neighborhood's development of a shared garden site on a commercial property in our First Hill neighborhood. Below are a few of my favorite books about food politics:

Sandor Ellix Katz: The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements

Monday, July 19, 2010

Book Review: Living Green: Communities that Sustain

"Living Green: Communities that Sustain," by Jennifer Fosket and Laura Mamo

The "Living Green" authors visiting many intentional communities around the country, interviewed residents, and spent time getting to know what makes each place tick. These communities ranged from a commune that has been around for decades that in order to be a part of you must give up all outside assets so that all are equal, to cohousing communities and eco-villages. The book focused much more on the social aspect of these communities than the built environment, but there was enough discussion of the physical makeup to merit a discussion here.

In the commune mentioned above, the focus of the community was a social sustainability: everyone is made equal by the fact that there is no outside income and everyone contributes somehow for the common good. In an eco-village, incomes are separate and the emphasis is on environmentally sustainably living.

The authors visited the Los Angeles Eco-Village (LAEV), located in the Koreatown neighborhood west of downtown LA. Their mottoes are "Demonstrating higher quality living patterns at a lower environmental impact" and "Reinventing how we live in cities." It is sponsored by the Cooperative Resources and Services Project, which is a nonprofit community development organization for "small ecological cooperative communities."

This community is what the Cohousing Association of the United States would call a form of "retro-fit" cohousing, that is, people live together in community, but they live in a building and spaces purchased by the LAEV, as opposed to the traditional definition of cohousing, where residents collectively design a community from scratch. Retro-fit cohousing like the LAEV is a much more accessible and attainable way to live in community. However, it is not without sacrifice. Their rules and regulations dictate the minimum and maximum amount of residents in each unit, for instance. But living here comes with many advantages of community, including "traffic calming" potlucks in the street, gardens, and a supportive bike culture. About half of the residents do not own cars, and those that do not receive a $20 discount on their rent each month. The eco-village is located close to transit and bus stops. The 48 units, owned by the Cooperative Resources and Services Project, are currently rented to residence, but in the future LAEV hopes to create permanently affordable co-ops.
Click here for more information on EcoVillages.

Fosket and Mamo list the 10 C's of Sustainability that they found in the communities they visited: Culture, Context, Citizenship, Commitment, Collaboration, Connectedness, Care, Contact (with nature), Commons, Continuity. 

I particularly like "Citizenship" as key to sustainability. So often the people have a will for living sustainably but what needs to be done is literally against the law (this subject could be dozens of other blog posts, but just for example, zoning laws that separate commercial and residential uses that discourage walking, limits on ADU's and granny flats which discourage density and affordable housing, and municipal covenants that limit the number of unrelated people living in a single family dwelling). The authors encourage people to take power over their circumstances and strive to change local ordinances that are outdated that limit sustainability .

Friday, July 16, 2010

WaterSense Certification for homes

WaterSense is a US EPA Partnership Program that promotes water efficiency through home certification and product labeling. 

New homes can now obtain a WaterSense label. According to their website, "WaterSense labeled new homes help families save an average of 10,000 gallons of water and at least $100 on utility costs each year by including WaterSense labeled plumbing fixtures, an efficient hot water delivery system, water-efficient landscape design, and other water- and energy-efficient features." These homes will include efficient hot water systems, WaterSense labeled features (which can save up to 5,000 gallons of water a year compared to a standard new bathroom), Energy Star appliances, and native landscaping. 

Bathroom in the first WaterSense certified home in Chapel Hill, NC, built by Vanguard Homes. 

Currently, builders can apply for a WaterSense certification, or homeowners can have their home inspected by a WaterSense Partner. Click here to find a WaterSense Partner in your area. A new home must be built by a WaterSense builder partner and meet all of the identified criteria to become a WaterSense labeled new home. Criteria include:

1. Indoor water use, including plumbing, plumbing fixtures and fittings, appliances, and other water-using equipment. This includes evaluating leaks, measuring static service pressure, maximums on the amount of hot water stored at a time, maximums on evaporative cooling systems, and guidelines for drinking water treatment systems.
2. Outdoor water use, including landscape design and guidelines for Irrigation systems, pools/spas, water features, slopes, and temporary landscapes.
3. Homeowner education. Homeowners must be provided with a comprehensive operating manual, including illustrative drawings and schedules of irrigation systems.

In order for a product to obtain a WaterSense label, they must use 20% less water and perform as well or better than standard models. Click here to find WaterSense labeled products.

Look for the WaterSense label when choosing products.

The variety of certification programs available can be dizzying. As always, feel free to contact us anytime if you have any questions about environmental certifications.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Public Hearing on Code Changes for Urban Agriculture in Seattle

There will be a public hearing on code changes for urban agriculture in 
Seattle next Wednesday, July 21 at 5:30pm.
Regional Development and Sustainability Committee 
Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Avenue
Council Chambers, 2nd Floor
Seattle, WA
View the agenda and more information here.
The Department of Planning and Development's description of 
Urban Agriculture 
(source: City of Seattle):
Urban agriculture is a type of infill development that fits into growth strategy for Seattle and the region, by adding a missing element of livable communities and stimulating small-scale economic development.  There is a tremendous opportunity to develop local sources of healthy food by turning existing lawn and garden space into productive agricultural plots.  Small-scale urban agriculture can help create livable, walkable and sustainable communities, and implement City goals of sustainability and economic development. 

Specifically, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is proposing the following code changes to support and encourage urban agriculture:
  1. Add and/or clarify definitions for the following key terms: horticulture, aquaculture, animal husbandry, community gardens (including P-Patch community gardens), and urban farms.   These refined definitions have additional recommendations (below) for regulation by zone.   
  2. Allow community gardens as permitted uses in all zones, with some limitations in industrial zones.
  3. Allow urban farms in all zones as follows:

    Commercial:   Allow urban farms as a principal or accessory use.  Horticulture uses are currently limited to 10,000 sq. ft. in NC1 zones and 25,000 sq. ft. in NC2 zones; there are no size of use restrictions in NC3 or C zones. 

    Industrial: Allow urban farms as an accessory or principal use on land outside of designated MICs, and on tops and sides of buildings in all industrial zones.  Currently, horticulture uses are not allowed in industrial zones, and DPD proposes no change to this provision as based on the new definition of a horticulture use.

    Residential: Allow urban farms as an accessory use without a permit up to 4,000 sq. ft. of planting area. Urban Farms with more than 4,000 sq. ft. of planting area would be subject to an administrative conditional use permit process.  Currently, agriculture uses are not allowed in residential zones.
  4. Allow rooftop greenhouses a 15 foot exception to height limits as a rooftop feature, if the greenhouse is dedicated to food production in MF/C/I/SM/Downtown zones.  
  5. Add farmers markets to the definition of multipurpose uses. 
  6. Increase the number of chickens allowed on residential property from three to eight. DPD also proposes to add that roosters are not allowed in any zone.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Color Banter: Kitchens and Bathrooms

Our blog series on color continues with kitchens and bathrooms. There are so many decisions to be made when remodeling or building or house, and the choices can seem overwhelming. You not only have to consider materials, you have to consider the texture, quality, and color. When choosing color you need to look not only at the aesthetics, but also the practicality: how will it work with how you really live?

Counter tops make a big statement, and granite is of course a favorite, for home owners and house hunters. When choosing a granite color, consider how the color will fare in the most mundane situations. Black looks great when it is shiny and clean, but consider that it will show every crumb, water mark, piece of dust and toothpaste splatter. Lighter granite with pattern is better for the not so meticulous housekeeper.
Some granite patterns can be trendy and date a house, like golden jade from the late nineties. Choose what makes you happy, but beware if you have seen one particular pattern in every model home.

Black Galaxy Granite can show dust and crumbs. However, it is a very popular pattern and can be found for very low prices, especially if you are working with standard sizes. 

 I love this Quartzite Bianca  Granite Slab from Pental. I think it's neutral enough to stand the test of time in terms of trendiness, it will go with warm and cool colors and a variety of undertones in cabinets, and the pattern is forgiving for a few crumbs or splatters.

Porcelain and ceramic tile are durable and easy to clean, but take care in choosing the grout color. Keeping grout clean takes more effort than keeping the tile clean. If you are going for matching tile and grout, keep in mind that it will be more difficult to keep light grout looking fresh. In my opinion, light grout is easier to clean in the shower, where you can really suds up a solution of water and dish washing soap.

Stainless steel appliances go hand in hand with granite: it seems like everyone wants them. They do look great, when they are clean. Keep in mind that you will have not only wipe them down but also polish them with a polish to keep them looking new (I recommend a restaurant grade satin shine spray). Black appliances are much more budget-friendly and have a modern look. Cabinet faced dishwashers and refrigerators are also a low-maintenance alternative to standard white.

GE Profile Panel Ready refrigerators can blend in with your cabinets for a streamlined kitchen, though they do cost a few hundred more dollars than stainless steel, and will need to be customized with your chosen cabinet fronts.

A glossy finish paint is much easier to clean in these areas, especially if you use a light color. A bright color can add pizazz if you cannot afford to run a back splash all the way to the bottom of the cabinets. Using the same granite as the counter top for a full height back splash can be overkill. The back splash is a great opportunity to choose a fun, more bold or more expensive tile, metal, or bamboo.

The latest color or material trend may be enticing, but is it practical for you in what are the most heavily used and messiest areas in the house? Considering you level of commitment to keeping them looking like new before you buy can save a lot of headahces later. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Builder+Architect Magazine: "Materials: Less is More"

Our latest article for the "Green View" section of Seattle/Puget Sound Builder+Architect Magazine, July 2010: "Materials: Less is More."

View the digital version here.

Less is More

"As it applies to current day practice, less excess or embellishment allows for more care, time, quality. In terms of green building, using materials that require less-finishing, maintenance, dressing up-can be more: healthier, easier to maintain, longer lasting and beautiful." Click on the images or view the online version to read more. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Easy, affordable ways to go green this summer

Green home certifications, low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) finishes, the latest local, organic, free-trade product....attempting to go green can add up. It seems counter-intuitive that going back to nature should be more expensive. We envision a future where solar panels will be as standard as a furnace and all finishes are safe enough to eat (though we wouldn't recommend that). In the meantime, here are some quick, low-tech tips to try today to lessen your "green guilt:"
  • Open a window for fresh air and reduce exposure to VOC's
  • Use a house plant to help clean the air in your house and remove VOC's, like English Ivy. has some great tips and a list of plants.
  • For those of us with no AC, or to save money if you do have AC: on hot days, shut all the windows and blinds in the morning before the sun starts to heat things up, and keep them shut all day. If you need breeze, place a bowl of ice in front of a box fan. Open things up when the sun starts to go down, and place a box fan in the window directing air out of the house.
  • To keep cool sleeping, I love this trick: place your sheets and pillowcase in the freezer for a few minutes before going to bed.
  • The more I read about the possible negative health risks of Compact Fluorescent Lights, the more I revert back to my old incandescent bulbs. (See my recent blog post on the subject: Are CFL's a better choice?) Yes, incandescents use more electricity, so you just need to be careful with their use. Also, the wasted energy of incandescents comes from the heat they emit, so they can be a little too toasty for summer reading in bed. I keep the night stand light off and read with a clip-on, battery operated reading light that attaches to the book, like this GE 17205 LED Book Light. Bonus if you can use rechargeable batteries.
  • Skip natural expensive cleaners and opt for good old soap, water, and some elbow grease. I use a shampoo I accidentally bought to shine the sink and scrub the toilet (this idea courtesy of Marla Cilley-AKA the FlyLady), dish soap with a sponge for the kitchen sink, vinegar for mopping and glass, and plain water for dusting. An old sock makes a great dust rag. I mark them with an "R" with a permanent marker so I'm not desperately looking for a match when it comes out of the dryer. Newspaper works as well as many brands of paper towels for leaving windows and mirrors streak free. I think about what types of cleaning supplies that I use in terms of where they are going to end up. That toxic toilet cleaner has to go somewhere: if not EVERY chemical compound is cleaned out at the water treatment facility, these end up in the fish we eat and the water we may eventually drink. Even when they are cleaned out of the water, they end up in sludge, which in turn goes back into the soil. 
  • Don't yet have one of the new dual-flush toilets? No problem. You can still save water by placing something in your toilet tank, like a full water bottle, so it will fill with less water. Make sure the object you place in your renegade "low flow" toilet is not interfering with any of the moving parts in the tank.
  • Go low tech and avoid a possible link to some cancers and other diseases (see link to blog post above): save money by skipping an expensive Blue tooth and go with a cell phone that has a corded headset, and a good old fashioned wired phone for the land line. 
  • Even if you can't afford the latest Energy Star certified freezer, you can make yours more efficient. Unload all the groceries first and separate into freezer and fridge piles so you only have to open each once. A stocked freezer is more efficient than an empty one, so I keep mine stocked with frozen fruits. (Of course, to keep things frugal, I stock up with my monthly 10% off coupon at Central Co-op's Madison Market). Then I use frozen fruit instead of ice in club soda or water with lime and lemon juice for a fun summer treat. If you don't have that fancy new freezer, chances are you don't have an ice maker. Having ice always ready is as easy as taking a larger Tupperware bowl that has lost its lid, and once every few days re-boot your ice cube trays. 
I am all for the latest advancement in green technology and natural or recycled products, but only if it's financially feasible. Also, jumping on the latest green trend and dumping your old technology is not always the most sustainable option. Our old appliances and fixtures end up in the landfill, and most waste comes from producing all those new products. Only about 10% of the waste stream is through throwing away the old freezer (see Chris Jordan's incredible photos depicting consumer waste, also my related blog post). The majority of the waste comes from producing the new one, so we have to balance the potential energy savings of the new product compared with the manufacture, transportation and packaging (not to mention the cost of buying a new one). It's "greener" and more frugal (and can be more fun!) to do what we can to make what we already have more efficient. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Color Banter: Choosing flooring for how you really live

There are so many decisions to be made when remodeling or building or house, and the choices can seem overwhelming. You not only have to consider materials, you have to consider the texture, quality, and color. When choosing color you need to look not only at the aesthetics, but also the practicality: how will it work with how you really live?

Wood Floors are the most popular choice for new homes and are sought after by house hunters. Although it might seem counter intuitive at first, dark wood floors will reflect light, so they will not darken a small space. The major drawback to dark wood floors is that although they look stunning and sophisticated when they are clean, every spec of dirt or pet hair will show, so you must be willing and able to clean them often. With dark floors, dark wood furniture goes best, and a light area rug can help to ground the furniture and keep the dark brown from becoming overwhelming. Also, birch or maple colored furniture with any orange tones may clash with the floors, so they are not as neutral as classic oak. 

Lighter wood floors, such as a yellow bamboo, look clean and contemporary, but are a very specific taste.

 Yes, these Midnight Black Bamboo Floors from Teragren are beautiful, but be prepared to spend a lot of time cleaning them, especially if you have pets.

 Lighter bamboo floors are a bold style choice, but will make any area look fresh and modern. Teragren Long Plank Bamboo Flooring in Vertical Grain Natural.

Slate tile with a few colors almost never looks dirty, but it is not exactly neutral. If you plan to go with slate, consider how your furniture and other schemes will work with it. Pay attention to whether it has a gray or brown undertone.

White tile porcelain or ceramic floors do show dirt and spots, but at least they can be easily cleaned with a low concentration of cleaner or vinegar and water, and shine up very nicely. However, I would not wish white or light colored vinyl floors with a smooth finish on my worst enemy. These are impossible to clean, and, who are we kidding, they will never look like real tile. If budget dictates that you must go with vinyl, choose darker colors, or if you want a light color, make sure it is textured. Great Floors flooring shown below.

Just say no to smooth white vinyl-unless you want to spend a lot of time on your hands and knees scrubbing.

If budget dictates that you must have vinyl (and as a professional designer, I am duty bound to recommend against this) go with a textured finish with many colors.

The color of your floors can be as important as the actual material, or even more so considering how the color can dictate the amount of time you spend cleaning and maintaining. Something may look fantastic in a magazine, but making the right choice for how you really live will be the best decision in the long run.