Monday, November 29, 2010

New Guidance on Cradle to Cradle

There is now a booklet to follow up the popular book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle: Criteria for the Built Environment is available as a booklet and an eBook.

Cradle to Cradle is a process developed by the authors, an architect and a chemist, in the 1990's. It is, of course, a twist on the 'Cradle to Grave' status quo. If you haven't read the book, published in 2002, I would definitely recommend it. I read a lot of "pop ecology" books, and this one is different in that it presents a positive, can-do outlook for the future, and spends more time presenting solutions to a problem than complaining about the problem. You will leave this book believing that our innovative thinking can get us out of our environmental crisis, just like it got us into it. Even the book itself is an experience and a testament. The pages are printing on waterproof, recyclable plastic resin and organic fillers, which are smooth to the touch. The booklet is a follow up providing more specific detail in how to achieve Cradle to Cradle. The original book, though inspiring, does not include many specific how-to's.

Here is William McDonough speaking about Cradle to Cradle:

EcoHome magazine article.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

10 Surprising Ways a Small Home Saves You Money

This article has some great insight into "the surprising ways a small house saves you money". I think its quite helpful for anyone looking to design a new home, trade in their large home for a smaller one or looking to simplify. From energy savings, cleaning costs and medical bills, the following link provides a new perspective for building smaller.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Top-10 Green Products

Building Green has announced its annual top 10 list of Green Products.
I am describing the 3 products that caught my eye, but please follow the links for more information and the complete listing of all 10 products.

1. First on the list is Nylodeck: a moisture, mold and termite proof decking material that is made from 100% recycled carpet fibers with a 30 year warranty. I have not personally used this material but am very interested in how it prices out compared to traditional wood decking. I will keep you informed.

2. Foamglas Closed Cell Board Insulation eliminates the concept of swelling and moisture problems typical of building insulation. It is non-combusible, impervious to water vapor, no warping or buckling of the insulation boards and it is easy to cut and shape.

3. Bensonwood OB Plus Wall System: This 12-3/4" thick superinsulated wall system allows your house to achieve near net zero performance. They are marketed at a "fraction of the cost of a conventionally built home" and I am anxious for more specific pricing information. They sell standard wall systems as well as custom wall panels for any home design. I don't know the system details such as the air barrier system and construction integration, but I will post more as I learn.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Some things we are thankful for....

A few things we are thankful for here at D+A Studio
  • Great clients. Period.
  • The fact that our already great clients are interested in things that really excite us, like ruthlessly seeking the most sustainable solution. These include shopping for salvaged mill work at Second Use and working with us to balance natural materials with energy efficiency and indoor air quality.
  • Stores like Second Use, the REstore, and of course Craigslist for satisfying the bargain hunter in all of us, while helping do our little part to create less waste.
  • That the interior finishes are coming together on the Hare House in Friday Harbor, which we designed and are building.
  • Great partners in the building industry: consultants like PAO Structural, contractors like KDL Builders and On-Site Builders, green building partners like Green Dog Enterprises, and suppliers like Island Glass Services in Friday Harbor.
  • That our subcontractors (Guard Electric, Gordon Elliot, KDL Builders and MEM Enterprise) still show up in 20 degree weather with snow on the ground.
  • That Dan Brown hooked up the in-floor heat in the Hare House a week before the freezing weather.
  • The fact that though Dr. Hacker (yes, that's really what he calls himself) may have temporarily crippled our website, we can still design.banter. Thank you to our readers!
  • And, last but certainly not least, that each of our teams are in the top 25 this year, at least until our big Thanksgiving holiday games.
Happy Thanksgiving from D+A Studio!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Green Building of The Week 11.24.2010

Truro Residence by Zero Energy Design and Silvia and Silvia Builders

[photo credits: Eric Roth]

This residence, located in Massachusetts, bears the same mindset and desire of many of our San Juan Island projects: an urban dwelling, professional couple with grown children that wants to create a comfortable, inviting atmosphere for the entire family to gather during extended holidays. This programmatic need brings many environmental challenges to the table, such as energy efficiency while vacant, flexible use of space and low maintenance materials. The waterfront location also brings an environmentally sensitive site to the forefront of the design process.

The programmatic needs combined with the desire for sustainability created two wings for the structure; a main living wing with the dining, living and master suite and a sleeping wing for visitors which can be shut down for most of the year and limit the house’s energy consumption. The open, light-filled house was built from two narrow wings allowing for shorter joists/rafters thus keeping the lumber sizes to a minimum. I continually admire well designed, narrow buildings that achieve grand spaces where ventilation is better, light fully penetrates the house, heating is easier, spans are shorter and wasted space as hallways disappear completely.

The Truro residence is by no means a small house, at nearly 6400 square feet, it misses the simplest method of green design: less square feet. However, given the neighboring mansions of Cape Cod, the designers created a well zoned, energy efficient and flexible vacation home that pays back the energy usage it consumes.

Green Techniques:

  • Durable Materials. Metal Roofing, Concrete Slab Floors, Slate Floors, Solid cabinetry, hardwood decking and a structural system built to withstand hurricane force winds .
  • Natural Light and Ventilation. High clerestory windows allow soft natural light in the bathrooms and bedrooms lessening the need for artificial lights.
  • Zoning of Spaces. Isolation of limited use guest rooms from high functioning living spaces minimizes wasteful heating and energy usage.
  • HVAC. A Geothermal system (six 300 ft. deep wells) coupled with in-floor hydronic heat reduces energy use by up to 50% and improves indoor air quality by eliminating ductwork that attracts dust.
  • Alternative Energy. 11.7 KW photovoltaic system placed on the roof to offset energy consumption and create net metering. The panels are connected to a gas generator to keep the house functioning in the event of a power outage.
  • No Carpet. Minimizes the settling of dust thus improving the indoor air quality. Flooring was limited to slate, bamboo and polished concrete eliminated the use of toxic finishes.
  • Super Insulation. Icynene open cell insulation was sprayed into the wall and roof cavities. It is supplemented with rigid and closed cell insulation to create a “super insulated” building.
  • Certifications. Energy Star Certified.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Save the Windows

The virtues of replacement windows are reinforced all around us--in the building codes, in commercials, by the IRS and the federal tax credit. But if you live in a pre-war house, the saying really is true: "They just don't make them like they used to." Save the Windows, brought to you by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, wants to get the word out that making some upgrades to your existing windows can also be energy efficient. 

By keeping and maintaining original windows, you are preserving a time when building was not just about efficiency. The greenest house is an existing house, and although new replacement windows may keep your house warm, most of these are vinyl, which are extremely toxic to manufacture and are not recyclable (unfortunately, most storm windows are also vinyl). My husband has argued with me many times that most people don't notice the materials of windows, and that I am just being an architecture snob. But I challenge anyone not to appreciate original wood windows in a historic house, especially when compared with vinyl windows.

Historic wood windows with true divided lites. Photo credit.

Here are some tips from Save the Windows:
  • Learn how to fix your windows yourself! With just a little guidance and a few small tools, you can make repairs and retrofit your windows on your own. Look through our list of workshops nationwide and our online training videos.
  • Improve the performance of your existing windows,
    • Caulk around window openings on the exterior to stop air from coming in.
    • Caulk around the window trim on the inside to block drafts.
    • Add weather stripping to the window sash. There are many types of weather stripping to suit various window types, budgets, and needs, from simple "rope" caulk to bronze.
    • Use a storm window or thermal panel. These can be placed on the interior or exterior and are available in a variety of styles. They may also qualify for a tax credit.
    • Install insulated shades or blinds—some of these qualify for tax credits.
    • Use insulated curtains or drapes to block cold air and to keep the hot sun out.
    • For more information, visit our windows page on PreservationNation.
  • Find the right contractor to fix your windows for you. We'll help you find a dependable and qualified contractor in your local community. Check out our contractor guide today.
Storm windows can be added each winter. Operable storm windows, like double hung, can be permanently installed and can be opened to not interfere with operations of the original window.
More References:

Friday, November 19, 2010

urban | design.banter :: Respecting Historical Guidelines Means Designing for the Pedestrian

The Historic Friday Harbor website ( is currently being updated to show more of the recent new construction in downtown that follows the
Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) Guidelines. This recent construction includes our Churchill Corner Building, completed in 2008.

 View of Churchill Corner from the approaching ferry.

Our Churchill Corner Project, perched atop the ferry parking lot in downtown Friday Harbor, was completed two years ago. Though not required for its exact location, the owner chose to be mandated by the HPRB Guidelines, in order to gain certain siting advantages, like fewer parking spaces. This is a personal bone of contention with me--cities talk about wanting to be more pedestrian friendly, they want businesses to flourish, they want their downtown centers to be alive and vibrant--but then they require insane amounts of parking, which either destroys the downtown village feel they are trying to create if it's on the surface, or is prohibitively expensive.

In the case of Churchill Corner, we did provide an underground parking garage with spaces for the homeowners which is essential, in addition to spots for each commercial space. But less spaces were required because of the historic district. To me, this makes sense for the remaining eight commercial spaces, since two hour free parking abounds, and time-limit-free free parking is also in abundance in the adjacent residential neighborhoods.

A goal of fitting into any historic guidelines is to do justice to the historic character of a town without looking too themed, like Main Street in Disneyland. One of the ways this can be accomplished is to look at the design intent, not just copy the look of a facade. Turn of the century buildings were designed for the pedestrian experience, not the car (window shopping as opposed to the biggest signs competing for the driver's attention, while a large parking lot separates said building from the street).

One of the most important design and historic preservation aspects of the Churchill Corner Building is the deference to the pedestrian, demonstrated in the interior pedestrian street, providing access to commercial spaces from two levels, the zero lot lines, and the unobtrusive underground parking.

The importance of keeping a human scale is also demonstrated in the variable massing of the 26,000 square foot building. The facade is broken up into manageable lengths, with recessed entries, varied materials, and abundant storefront windows, so that a passerby may feel like they are experiencing different buildings.

 Pedestrians may feel like they are passing multiple buildings as they stroll past the various storefronts. Signage for the commercial spaces also has to meet HPRB guidelines.

The gabled roofs and yellow siding of the residences at the top pay tribute to the original Churchill House, which was preserved and relocated to another site in town. Roof deck and flat roof areas feature a distinct, continuous cornice. The five residences on top of the two floors of commercial spaces reflect the historic tradition of apartments above storefronts in downtown areas.

 The gable roof lines and yellow siding pay tribute to the Churchill House, relocated to another site intact.

The Preservation Guidelines has great illustrations, maps, and references for new construction.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Green Building of The Week

Completed in 1999, this house was what most would say, ahead of its time through its use of green design techniques. However, the passive solar design, rain water collection and material re-use are age-old historic practices of vernacular design. Once again, America is returning to the correct and historic design methods of optimum site orientation to make use of the sun for heat and wind for cooling. Rather than simply adding a large and commonly oversized HVAC system, designers and homeowners are rethinking where to spend the money. In this home, the home owners splurged on high operable windows to allow the collected heat to naturally exhaust the house rather than beefing up the air conditioning system and energy cost. 10 years later, they are still happy with this decision.

Along with natural ventilation, the floor of the house was treated as a large thermal mass to collect heat throughout the day which releases during the cool night. Structural Insulated Panels replaced typical wood framing techniques and improve the air sealing of the house tremendously. SIPS panels can reduce energy consumption up to 50%, according to Energy Star.



 [photo credits]

Green Techniques:

  • Durable Materials. Fiber Cement Siding (30 yr warranty)
  • Less and Better Wood Use. The use of SIPS panels reduce the amount of lumber and increase the area of insulation. Framing lumber was sustainably harvested by the FSC.
  • Natural Light and Ventilation. Hlgh Operable windows allow captured heat, in the vaulted ceiling, to escape the house naturally.
  • Zoning of Spaces. Mechanical rooms, Utility, Bath and Service rooms were gathered to the street side of the house, allowing bedrooms and common areas to capture the warmth and daylight of the South Sun.
  • Water Collection. Roof water is collected for irrigation.
  • Recycled Materials. Reclaimed Decking.
  • Indoor Air Quality. No VOC Paint used throughout the interior of the residence to reduce off-gassing.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Temporary Portfolio on Facebook

We are working to repair our website after we were hacked this weekend. To view our portfolio and learn more about us, please visit our Facebook Page.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our Website was Hacked

We apologize for any confusion. Our website,, has been hacked. We are working to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.

Friday, November 12, 2010

urban | design.banter :: Lessons in Density: Silver Lake, LA, CA

Each Friday we bring you   
urban | design.banter 
:: infill | re-knitting our urban fabric | cohousing | keeping small towns from becoming suburbs :: why shouldn't where you live be somewhere you would want to visit?

My favorite tourist activity in any city is exploring neighborhoods. I have been to LA a hand full of times, but had only explored the more glamorous neighborhoods. Not that Silver Lake isn't glamorous (ask your Realtor), but I'm not sure how well known it is outside of the Dwell Magazine crowd, compared to say, Beverly Hills. It's a very hip neighborhood between downtown and Hollywood, snaking up in to the hills, known for its modern architecture (see Barbara Bestor's Bohemian Modern: Living in Silver Lake).

Silver Lake's residential areas have everything that I find interesting in neighborhoods: density, controlled chaos, nooks and crannies, diversity in housing types, abundant and varied landscaping. Silver Lake was designed for the house and the person, not the fire truck. I'm not trying to dismiss the importance of the fire department, I just think the fire truck should be designed for the neighborhood (i.e., smaller trucks), not the other way around, which is typical and one of the reasons for many of our freeway-width suburban streets.


Outdoor space is programmed. No space is wasted or taken for granted. There is no room for rarely if ever used lawn-and because of the area, drought tolerant native plants must be used. 

Driveway, yard, entry, fence--all in less space than the average great room

Privacy is created not by shear space but by creative landscaping, fencing, focusing on views, and placing living areas on upper floors.

The zero lot lines, Feng Shui appropriate tucked entries, and creative jumble of small houses reminded me of homes in Tokyo, though it is relatively flat there.

Cars can park on the street. The world will not end if a car has to wait 10 seconds for a car coming the opposite way to pass. This is also common in many dense Seattle neighborhoods: short blocks punctuated by roundabouts, two-way streets with cars parked on both sides leaving room for only one car to pass through.

Refreshing: treating cars as second class citizens, almost an afterthought to the design of the house and neighborhood.

The road can be the driveway and the alley. We even saw someone with all of their wood working tools set out in their barely 100 square foot driveway, less than a foot from the road.  

All of this is a cause and a result of cars driving slower. The zero lot lines and street enclosure that is therefore formed, thin streets, and cars parked on the streets create an atmosphere where motorists slow down and are very aware of their texting while driving here. The non-gridded streets add to this: streets twist and turn with the natural topography. 

We should not fear density, though so many do.  On paper, the stats of Silver Lake might be scary to those who see density as a four letter word: no driveways? No lawns? Thin, old streets? Houses practically stacked on top of each other? But the most dense neighborhoods in this country are consistently the most desirable. One look at housing pricing in the area show that we need more neighborhoods like this.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In the City or Off the Grid: Which is Greener?

This is a great debate on, available on the website or a podcast. Lloyd Alter and Nick Rosen debate which is greener: living in a dense city, or living off of the grid. 

We probably won't ever solve this debate, if only because there will always be people who want/need to live in the city or the country. Even if one was found to be infinitely more environmentally friendly, people would most likely stay put, because of personal preference, where their family is, not to mention the fact that there will always be economic opportunities that are unique to both. 

 Depressing but interesting: how we stack up. From Treehugger.

Of course, the way to make living off the grid the most green is to not drive (or have deliveries made), and not have any infrastructure running to your house, which may be nearly impossible and not appealing to most people. I touched on this subject earlier this year in my review of David Owen's Green Metropolis, which is mentioned in the article.

For me, the takeaway from this debate comes from this statement from Nick: 
"To say that it's more ecological to live in the city is telling urban dwellers what they want to hear, which is that it's okay. They can feel good about living in the city if they just compost a little bit and walk a little bit. In fact, by living in the city, you're subscribing to the great consumer society. The idea that you can somehow subscribe to part of it and not all of it and not be blamed for the vast, embodied energy and the huge transport system and the vast number of roads is trying to make yourself feel good, and no more than that."

The statement "if they just compost a little bit and walk a little bit" can be applied widely over every lifestyle. Just because we are doing one thing well does not mean we should not be going all things well. We may not ever, but we can strive towards it. On positive note, which I think is always needed in debates like these, I am so inspired by how we have taken green living into our own hands--because it makes sense, because it is the right thing to do, and in spite of the infrastructure that has set us up to fail--not because of a mandate, the lack of which the US has received plenty of heat for internationally.

Nick's Website:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Understanding the Passivhaus Standard

GreenBuildingAdvisor.Com recently posted an interview with Passivhaus founder Dr. Wolfgang Feist. In Musings of an Energy Nerd, writer Martin Holladay conducts a long, in-depth interview.

The 2010 Passive House Conference starts today in Portland and runs through the 7th.

Dr. Feist said that there are five basic elements of Passivhaus, including:
● High levels of insulation
● Reduction of thermal bridges
● Attention to airtightness
● The use of “energy-gain” windows
● Heat-recovery ventilation 

There has been debate about whether or not the standard can become standard in North America, due to our climate. There are great examples of passive solar houses in places like Colorado, but there is no doubt that these are passive solar homes, as the form definitely follows function. There is a beauty in this, but the large bank of sloped southern windows, lack of windows on other sides, stone floor and solar mass walls may not be a very pleasing aesthetic to all. There are variations, though this is probably the most efficient way to build a passive solar house. The owners aesthetic might dictate that some of the elements be left out--this would just mean that they may need to depend on back-up heat more. is packed with photos and information about passive solar. Here is a typical passive solar home under construction.

To build a Passivhaus, you first must purchase the software for $225. A trial version can be viewed here.  In the software you calculate u-values, shading, energy demand, ground characteristics, etc. It's similar to the Washington State Energy Code sheets we are currently using, but much more in depth. It's a very scientific way to design a home, literally designing around the climate and elements of the site, so the design of the house grows from inside out (which is very exciting for us design nerds). 

This may result in more front-end costs for the homeowner, but the environmental benefits help us all. Usually a spec home has absolutely no context to the site or the climate, and styles are borrowed from another vernacular that make no sense in a different place. For instance, charming steep-pitched roofs in the south. The purpose of a steep pitched roof is to shed snow, and the extra heat gain from the surface area makes sense in a cooler climate. They may look great, but in a warm climate the cost (environmentally and on a utility bill) of reducing the heat gain in all those cubic feet of attic under dark shingles is ridiculous.

Not everyone can build their very own custom Passivhaus. But even small tweaks to a design to respond the climate and direction can make a big difference for the environment and your utility bill. For example, spec home developers could have different plans for different street orientations.

Last week we discussed the Living Building Challenge, a very different type of certification.

Monday, November 1, 2010

We are now listed on the Universal Design Resources Website, which exists to promote and support Universal Design in the U.S. Universal Design simply means designing for all ages, sizes, and abilities.

The website is run by advocate and author Konrad Kaletsch. Click here to view articles by Konrad on Universal Design. 

We try to bring attention to aging in place and universal design issues at the beginning stage of each project. We provide clients with the Universal Design Checklist, and we also have a comprehensive client questionnaire which addresses aging in place issues, health problems, and special considerations.

Many of our projects are retirement homes and considerations have included main floor master bedrooms, flat thresholds, pocket doors, attached garages, off the floor toilets, roll-in showers, central vacuum, and an elevator; and for a few of the houses on hillsides, accessible entries to both floors.

We hope to keep incorporating more of these principals into our projects, in hopes that they will become ubiquitous, as trends in custom homes tend to filter down to speculative developments, so that all homes will be ready at completion or resale for all people, or for an unexpected injury or disability of the current homeowner.

Past blogs on Universal Design:  

Lesson's Learned, Part 1: Universal Design is actually Universal

Universal Design for the Rest of Us

Universal Design Checklist