Green Home pictorial tour

The other day I chatted with Kathleen O’Brien, the author of  Green Home Primer.   The book sits on my night stand, and I referred to it religiously while contemplating a green build.  Kathleen was writing an article on my house for the Daily Journal of Commerce Green Building blog to promote green home tours. (   Kathleen promised to autograph my book when we meet!

As my house is near completion I can’t help but reflect on the many people I have met on this journey.  Their passion about green building and energy efficiency humbles and inspires me.   I hope my project will do the same for those who come to visit during the  NW EcoBuilding Guild’s Green Home Tour on April 27 .   It seems not long ago I was touring and admiring the “green” houses.  Now my house is one of the stops –N12!   Here’s a preview.


Deck posts were milled from the cedar tree on the property.


Cole sanding old floor joist (left) into…


Vertical stair posts were once door headers.

...and window sill.

Floor joist turned into beautiful wall cap.

and wall cap!!!

Ted is quite happy on how the live edge counter top turned out. Me too!
Custom made maple plywood cabinet sits on top of Marmoleum floor

Custom maple plywood cabinet sits on top of marmoleum

Triple glazed sliding glass doors blend indoor/outdoor living.

Triple glazed sliding glass doors blend indoor/outdoor living.

Pebbled bath.

Pebbled bath.

6.72 KW solar array by A & R Solar, a Seattle company

A & R Solar, an employee owned Seattle company, designed and installed this slick 6.72 kW solar module, comprised of 28 Solar World 240 panels.

Power-One Aurora 6000 inverter

Power-One Aurora 6000 inverter with an old production meter in the center of the photo. It was exciting to see it run backwards until it was replaced by a digital meter.

Trellis for vertical gardening and to deflect the southern sun.

Trellis for vertical gardening and to deflect the southern sun.

Feels like home...

Let there be light…LED lights, powered by the solar panels.


From this … this.

…to this.

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Journey’s end…almost

My friend Mark, who just retired from the construction business, sent me the Funk Chart which described my emotions throughout this project with complete accuracy.   Another good friend Dr. Lyly Fisher, one of the top dentists in the Seattle metropolitan area, is making me a new night guard.  Because of stress I have chewed the old one to pieces.  By the time the house is done, so is the new night guard.  I look forward to wearing it in my new home.


I look forward to wearing my new night guard in my new house!

I look forward to wearing my new night guard in my new home

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Green Journey – House disappearing and appearing acts

The last couple months have been crazy busy.  Ted and the crew worked so fast I was happy they only worked three days a week, leaving me the rest of the week  with the house all to myself to absorb the progress. It is evident from the postings on this blog the crew’s building skill is much better than my writing skill.  Perhaps it is time to pictorially show the green journey of Blue View.

House disappearing act - only the north wall was left standing.

House disappearing act – only the north wall was left standing.


The house rises again – half of the front..

South side of the house.

South side of the house – preparing for a blue view.

West side - the back with the big cutout for sliding glass doors.

West side – the back with the big cutout for sliding glass doors.

Putting on the roof...

Putting on the roof…

House reappears and glows from within...

House reappears and glows from within…

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I truly enjoy being able to recycle most of the building materials, whether selling or giving away the stuff to a good home.   Craigslist is quite user friendly but can be time consuming.

My first giveaway was the laminate flooring from the kitchen. Free stuff gets a lot of attention.  Immediately after the ad was posted I got more than 20 replies.  I quickly deleted the ad to avoid inundated with emails.  Having established an account I could easily re-post the ad should there be a need.  Just because its free there is no guarantee your stuff suits others needs.  It took me several weeks to get rid of two shower stalls because the faucet was on the “wrong” side.   I felt bad for this elderly gentleman who drove from Spanaway to pick up the showers but decided they were too small.

Some people responded with why they needed the stuff.   Some asked a hundred questions.  My rule was first come first served, especially coupled with a good reason.  I gave the laminate flooring to Jack who was helping a student fixed up her trailer;  she needed a decent place to study, so he said.  He seemed honest when he showed up to pick up the material.  Laminate be-gone!

Kathy who came for the free toilet decided it was the the wrong color.  She wanted white, not the almond color ones I had.  I didn’t even realize they were not white until she pointed them out.  However, she exclaimed in glee when she spotted the still-attached window box in what was once the kitchen.  She said she had been looking all over for exactly that.  I promised her when it was down she had first dip.


Happy Kathy with her $20 window box.

All the giveaways on Craigslist were without incident, except one.

With custom made Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) for the roof the house no longer needed the trusses. I posted an ad to give them away.  As expected, the response was tremendous.  Debra, using the email address Sunnysidemanor @ Comcast, sounded sincere in her email:

I’m wondering whether they are still waiting to be claimed?
What a wonderful gift!  We have an equipment hauling trailer and help to load, would rent the crane.
Are they 4/12 pitch?
Thank you,
425 742 2700

When I asked her how she was using the trusses she responded:

We could cover the bridge into our barn’s second floor, build a shelter for animals, etc.  Lots of things!
I see your ad is gone now, are they still available?

Sounded like great reasons.  I was happy she had the equipment to haul the trusses and put them in good use.

On the day she was to pick up the trusses, Debra called me and asked me if I were at the job site.  No.  I did not tell her I was on my way.  She said she would call me back.  And as I was approaching the job site, she called again but claimed there was a lot of noise she could not hear me; she would call me back.  I parked the car and walked up to the house.  Ted was on the phone.  When he finished he said he was just talking to Debra, who told him Second Use was picking up the trusses.  Hmmmm…I called Second Use and spoke to Seth about the pick up.  Seth was familiar with my address since I had donated stuff before.  He thought it was odd a Debra Connelly was getting store credit on my trusses.  (One can get store credit or a donation receipt for the materials.)  I called Debra and confronted her.  She gave me some story and said she was bankrupt .  I pointed out that she had told me that she had a rental house in my neighborhood.  In fact, she wanted Ted to do some work on that house.  As a retired FBI agent, I did not enjoy being deceived.  The trusses went to Habitat For Humanity via Second Use.  Yes, I got the tax receipt for the donation.

FYI, Debra Connelly is a real estate broker in the Everett office of Preview Properties, Inc.


Trusses donated to Habitat via Second Use.

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Re, re, re-cycle…

Ted and his crew began work in November.  Historically, November has been the wettest month for Seattle. True to the NW climate, it rained heavily for days. The side yard turned into mud.  Watching your house being torn apart in the pounding rain, on a dark grey day is not for the faint of heart.   I could barely watch…Ted and his crew took apart the blue and pink sidings and the decorative fish scale.  They carefully saved all the lumber from the interior framing.  What can’t be saved went into the Hungry Buzzard Recovery bin on site. The company, based in Millcreek, will pick up co-mingled loads of construction material for recycling, for a cost of course.  Recycling does have its price.

When all the interior walls were removed I was pleasantly surprised to find how spacious the house became.Ted and Parie had decided that removing three walls and using Structural Insulated panels (SIPs) would save money and time.  The panels have a core of rigid foam insulation sandwiched between two oriented strand boards (OSB).

Spaciousness exposed after the interior walls came down.

Spaciousness exposed after the interior walls came down.

SIPs sandwich.

Supposedly it is one of the most environmentally responsible building systems available that also provides a super strong and tight envelope. The envelope is the key in an energy efficient home.  It doesn’t make sense to have a high price, highly efficient heating system if the home leaks.  An energy audit will access where the leaks are and where to best spend your money to upgrade your efficiency.  Puget Sound Energy offers $350 off the price of an audit, and
Seattle City Light has one for just $95.  Bob Thoreson of HomeRX did mine via a program with Community Power Works, which offers various rebates for home energy upgrade.  Yes, the envelope please.

As Ted and crew continued to deconstruct my house, I continued to give away, sell or recycle.   All the stuff Second Use or Habitat would not take, Craigslist assisted. The 2012 King County/Seattle Construction Recycling Directory also came in handy.  In it I found Pacific Urethane Recycling in Kent, where I dropped off seven large bags of foam carpet padding.  These will be given another life as new carpet padding.  I was particularly proud of that since I was told by many that no one wants old foam!


Foam home!

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Construction begins with destruction…I mean deconstruction.

One day after our meeting, Parie noticed that I was unusually quiet. I told her I was tired and stressed. Stressed that I was tearing apart a perfectly good house… The house was solidly built by the former owner in 1983. He built two houses side by side, providing me the blue view. I believe he and his wife raised a family there until he passed away. Then it became a rental. With one thousand square feet of living space the house had two bedrooms, two baths but barely a dining area. The kitchen was small and dark, filled with oak cabinets and covered in orange-red plastic-laminate counter-top.

The 80's kitchen begging for an update.

The 80’s kitchen begging for an update.

The garage/basement was filled with sturdy shelves…

The house sat on top of another thousand square feet of garage space, enough to park a 6-pack Mini Coopers… maybe eight Smart cars.  There was no interior access to the garage.  Anyways, Parie told me that one of her  architecture professors had commented, “Construction begins with destruction.” I kept that in mind as my friend Bruce helped me in the destruction process. Really, it was more deconstruction since I wanted to re-use and recycle as much as possible. Bruce, a retired Boeing engineer,  spent hours meticulously taking apart the heavy shelves in the basement.   He was well worth the  minimum wage I paid him because the shelves were practically bomb proofed.  They were fastened to the concrete wall with ten times more nails and screws than necessary. There were a lot of nails,  lumber, and more lumber.   Down also the kitchen cabinets, out came the laminate floor, carpets and appliances.

There were two stack-able washer/dryers. The small set in the kitchen closet I gave to Tyson, Bruce’s son.  The other set  in the garage I kept.  Tyson, a bar-tending artist and his wife Aynsley, a dancing nurse, are newlyweds who rented a spacious Belltown loft, on the 4th floor of the Barnes Building.  The historic Barnes Building was designed and built by Seattle architect Elmer Fisher after the 1889 fire that destroyed much of downtown.  Historic meant NO elevator.

Four flights of historic stairs.

Four flights of historic stairs.

20121212-221641.jpgI don’t know how they carried the machines up the stairs. I do know they enjoy not having to carry the laundry down four flights and then to the laundromat.

Second Use, a for-profit salvage company that also consigns for the Habitat For Humanity store, came and picked up all the cabinets, blinds, closet shelving, sinks, light fixtures, and microwave. They won’t take appliances more than seven years old since they are less energy efficient. Second Use is one of my favorite stores to browse for common or unique, used and new materials for the home. You never know what you might find or who you might meet.

One day while I was in Second Use, I overheard a woman asking a clerk if the store had a white electric stove. No.  The woman and her companion headed to the door disappointed.  I quickly ran over to her and told her I had one for sale.   She came over to the house the next day and bought the stove for $150. While she was loading the stove, I asked if she needed a refrigerator. I sold her that for $98, mostly in coins from her car, because she only brought enough cash for the stove. She said she was using the stove in a rental apartment and the refrigerator in her own house.

I met quite a few other people through the selling and giving away the stuff in the house.  The guy who came to get the carpet was using it to make cat furniture to sell.  It was exactly the pile height and neutral color he needed.  The shower pans and toilets took a while to disappeared although I posted them on Craigslist for free; they were almond color not the more popular white.   Joey, a solar panel installer from California,  was one of the firsts to come for the insulation giveaway.  His mom lives in Seattle, and he wanted to insulate her attic. He ended up buying the Lopi cast iron wood-burning stove I had for her. Lopi is made by Travis Industries, a privately-owned company based in Mukilteo, WA, just up the road from Seattle.  That thing was well made and weigh at least 500 lbs!  I was glad it was going to a good home.

Not everybody I met on Craigslist had good intentions…

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The Right Size House

After many meetings, Parie came up with a modern design that fits my lifestyle, taste and budget. I didn’t want to build a monstrous three-story home. I really like the idea in Sarah Susanka’s book The Not So Big House , which my friend Bruce gave me. Susanka began with “So many houses, so big with so little soul” to emphasize that it is the quality of the space, not quantity that defines comfort. Susanka also advocates having rooms serving double duties. How many of us have been to houses where there are formal rooms that are not used at all? Having grown up in a 200 square feet government flat in Hong Kong I understand the theory behind The Not So Big House. My father built in our flat a U-shape sitting area that had four storage compartments. It was an entertainment area where we listened to the radio or watched TV. With a portable table top and a pedestal we converted it into a dining area where ate meals and did homework. At night, planks with beddings fitted across the seats and it became my brother’s bed. I know most Americans cannot relate because we have the means to have more and live better…but is it better to have more?

In 1950 US the average size of a singe family home is 983 square feet. It was the norm to have one bathroom and children share rooms. The houses nowadays have more than double or triple in size. My friend Maggie’s house in Atlanta had seven-bedrooms which she shared with her daughter and sister. Maggie’s bedroom alone was the size of a small apartment in Manhattan, complete with TV, a large sofa-chair, walk-in closet and a spa-like bathroom. NO, there was no kitchen. At night she enjoyed sitting in her room, relaxed in her chair and watched TV. Her sister did the same…in her own room.

When I first arrived in Seattle in 2005, after living overseas for four years, I had a list of must have’s on my house-hunting list. The list dwindled because it was the height of the market and because I had too much stuff. I had things in storage in DC where I last lived in the states. I had a container full of goods being shipped from Hong Kong where I last worked. The realtor showed me places I liked but I could not commit because what I could afford would not hold everything I owned. I was trapped with all the stuff! I am hoping the new house, besides being energy efficient, will inspire me to live efficiently, not be surrounded with so many things that has no meaning in my life.

Rendering of the house.

Final drawing of the house!

Parie’s design is an open floor plan with rooms I would use daily. I wanted solar panels on the roof so she increased the height on the south side to allow more sun exposure. The final drawing is a non-intersecting shed roof with clerestory windows. A modern design that is light filled and airy; a house that has the same foot print as the existing house but reconfigured; a house that is just the right size.

Ted and his crew began work on November 12. Historically, November has been the wettest month for Seattle. True to the NW climate, it rained heavily for days. When all the interior walls were removed I was pleasantly surprised to find how spacious the house became.

Spaciousness exposed after the interior walls came down.

Spaciousness exposed after the interior walls came down.

Ted and Parie had decided that removing three walls and using Structural Insulated panels (SIPs) would save money and time.

The panels have a core of rigid foam insulation sandwiched between two oriented strand boards (OSB).

SIPs with 4-inch foam core sandwiched between OSBs.

SIPs with 4-inch foam core sandwiched between OSBs.

Supposedly it is one of the most environmentally responsible building systems available that also provides a super strong and tight envelope. The envelope is the key in an energy efficient home.

Ted gave me “homeoworks” each night to get rid of stuff – carpet, stove, windows, showers. All the stuff Second Use or Habitat would not take. Craigslist became a nightly ritual. I learned the joy of giving away things to people who truly needed them. I also learned that there are professional Craigslisters…

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The Dream Team

I was bitten by the green bug on the Green Home Tour.  During the tour, I met many architects and builders who were very passionate in their work, including George Ostrow of  Velocipede Architects, Jason Legat of Model Remodel, Martha Rose of  Rose Constructions, et al. They were generous in sharing their knowledge and inspirational to a newbie in green-ness.

Parie is overjoy with the possibilities of my house, architecturally speaking...

Parie is overjoy with the possibilities of my house, architecturally speaking…

I found Parie (rhymes with “Marie”)  Hines of LD Arch Design while strolling through the Green Home Tour website. Parie had designed an addition for her house, complete with a  green-roofed chicken coop.  It was on the tour.  On her site Parie said she “pursued a career in architecture as a tool for environmental change, combining creative and analytical skills with a strong desire to work towards a sustainable future.”   It caught my attention.    As one of four Frederick P. Rose Architectural fellows selected nationally, Parie partnered with Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association on community projects for a 3-year fellowship.  I wanted to meet her to see if we would connect.   Parie coincidentally graduated from North Carolina State University where I also went to school.  The southern connection didn’t hurt but Parie’s philosophy and personality won me over.  I was comfortable with her and felt she could visualize and embrace my many crazy ideas.  And there were many.

I met my builder Ted Clifton, Jr. while attending a Sustainable Ballard workshop at Eric Thomas and Alex Salmon’s net-zero-energy house.  It was the first of its kind in Seattle, and Ted built it based on a design by his father, Ted Clifton, Sr.  The house won the 2012 National Green Building Award for Concept & Research.

The only thing Ted Jr. loves more than building houses is being with his family. Ted Jr. brought with him to many meetings one or both of his kids, while his wife Rachel was at work as a nurse.  In fact, he decided on a 3-day work week because of Rachel’s work schedule.  It allows Ted to care for his children and be with his family for four days.  (He actually does his paper work on those two days.) People whom I met always commented on Ted’s honesty and work ethics.

Ted and his tool belt are inseparable.

Ted and his tool belt are inseparable.

Being budget conscious, Ted is always thinking of ways to save me money without sacrificing the quality of the work. I like Ted’s unpretentious ways. He is happiest when swinging a hammer alongside his crew.

Ted, Parie and I met several times individually and together.  I needed to ensure that I was comfortable working with them; and they were comfortable working with each other.  With the team assembled and permit obtained it was time to build.

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It’s in my blood.

Recycling has been in vogue elsewhere before Portlandia. Growing up in Hong Kong I remember shopkeepers wrapping their products with newspapers in neat packages tied with seagrass.  The expertly tied seagrass loops act as carrying handles.  One can carry quite a few these packages on a single shopping trip. My family used newspapers as a “table cloth” for the dining table, especially when eating crabs.  We ate dinner and kept up with current events at the same time.  As a child, I couldn’t wait for my father to finish his Tsingtao beer so I could return the tall, green glass bottles to shops for deposits. Grey water collection was a must.  One learned quickly the value of water after waiting in line for hours to fill the two buckets per family.  Water(Chinese: 水; pinyin: shuǐ)  in Cantonese slang means money.  No one ever brushed their teeth with “money” flowing freely down the drain. I mean no one.

Seattle was my first taste of west coast living, after having lived up and down the east coast in small towns and big cities.  Never have I been so excited about my throwaways; I get 3 bins to sort things out!

The three amigos!

The three amigos!


A pregnant rain barrel on a wintry day…

And I love those orange or grey barrels swollen underneath the downspouts, making a statement for the homeowners.   Shopping at Value Village gained a new meaning when one of my landscape design instructors showed off to the whole class the jeans she got at the store.  Recycled clothes are very fashionable.  And green.

The longer I live in Seattle, the less comfortable I feel when I travel elsewhere to visit friends and family.  I miss my recycling bin and compost piles.  I cringe when others throw away perfectly good egg shells, orange peels, and coffee grounds in their garbage!  I am proud to be a Master Composter from the Seattle Tilth.

Two years ago I went on the Green Home Tour sponsored by NW Eco Building Guild.  I visited homes built with recycled or reclaimed materials to reduce waste, some with green roofs and living walls to slow storm water runoff and filter pollutants.   I marveled at homes with systems to collect grey water to flush toilets or cisterns to collect rainwater, which is potable once filtered.  And I was very impressed with homes that were extremely energy efficient.   Inspired by the tour I joined the guild afterwards so I can learn more.  Along the way, I met Ted Clifton, Jr. of TC Legend Homes who built in Ballard the first net-zero-energy house in Seattle.  The Ballard house is owned by Eric Thomas and Alexandra Salmon and was on the 2012 Green Home Tour.  I also met George Ostrow of Velocipede Architects, who holds Green Fridays in his office, during which he shares his knowledge and consults on green building for free.  On one of those Fridays I told George that I wanted to have a super energy efficient home with cisterns to catch rain water, a grey water collection system, solar arrays couple with solar hot water, radiant heat and blah, blah, blah…Sure.

This April, just before the 2012 Green Home tour, I bought a house in the Hillman District of Green Lake.  A small house on a small lot within walking distance to things I love, especially Whole Foods on Roosevelt and the new PCC Natural Market that will open October 2013!  I was on my way to having a green home.


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