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Blue House Is Passive Green (Seattle, USA)

Credits: ©2010 Joseph Hurley Architects

A Green Building That's Blue

By David Sokol, Green Source Magazine, December 2010 -

The Lehman Brothers collapse did well by Joseph Hurley, AIA, in his search for a new family home. A week after the 2008 debacle Hurley snatched up a 103-year-old house on 44th Street in Seattle with no competition to speak of; previously speculative developers had outbid all his full-price offers. Although Hurley was looking at a crumbling foundation and had only so much financial wherewithal, he rejected the notion that he could only shelter his brood sustainably at a premium. “Most people think a green home costs more, because media coverage of green homes has been cutting-edge and high-end. I had a seriously limited budget like most people, but also a core belief in sustainable construction,” Hurley says. His goal, then, was to create the most ecologically responsible replacement for the neglected property, largely by combining off-the-shelf materials and builder-grade construction with passive strategies and intelligent design in general.


Blue House Site Plan

Site plan for architect Joseph Hurley's Blue House in Seattle, Washington. ©2010 Joseph Hurley Architects

Hurley’s first task was to dispose of the existing 550 square feet. The architectural salvage company Second Use cherry-picked the old building’s fir floors, cabinets, fixtures, doors and hardware, cabinets, and several windows before the remainder was carted away. “I think it’s preferable to expend the time and energy saving those things with a higher potential for economical reuse,” says Hurley, who had, in the gut renovation he previously completed for his family, hand-applied all demolished material to the redesigned space.

Surrounded by early-20th-century bungalows, Hurley also sought to balance contemporary expression with respect for context. So for the new 2,500-square-foot house he retained the slightly elevated entry porch sported by neighboring residences. Yet, responding to a 10-foot grade change on site, “the porch enters at a mezzanine level and descends into a double-height kitchen/dining/living space,” Hurley explains. “This main space faces south at grade and opens to the backyard through a continuous bank of six French doors.” A sextet of windows is installed immediately above these doors, and the large expanse of glass lets in low winter sun and warms the concrete slab-on-grade floor. Exterior screening reduces solar thermal gain in summer. All parts fell within the bounds of traditional carpentry.

In that same vein, Hurley reduced material usage by exposing construction. Floor joists and beams are in plain view, wiring runs through galvanized conduit and plumbing in black ductile iron, the south-facing windows sport no trim other than glazing stops, stair treads are 2-by-12-inch LVLs partly covered in rubber, and the hydronic heating system’s manifolds sit within an open frame in the stairwell.

To prove that prosaic builder materials may be reconceived sustainably, Hurley offers this mini-manifesto: “Vinyl windows are ubiquitous because of their perfect storm of features: They are dead-cheap, easy to install, and energy-efficient. They are also ugly. But why? Usually, the reason is that they are used in a way that is meant to mimic wood windows, which doesn’t work chiefly because these nail-flange windows are applied to the sheathing; this puts the plane of the glass in the same plane as the siding rather than within the wall, and it looks tacky in a faux Craftsman house. What to do? How about more modern houses where a taut skin would be an asset rather than a liability?” In the case of the new 44th Street residence, Hurley took full advantage of the affordable double-glazed windows, which are low-e coated and argon-filled. Again he paid homage to neighborhood context by arranging the fenestration in a traditional pattern, and insetting the windows 2 inches into the framing—with the siding 2 inches offset from that—to evoke thicker, older walls.

And what about that striped siding? The Hardiplank cladding, whose variation was inspired by traditionally laid brick, certainly meets the durability requirements of a sustainable home. Hurley adds, “It is part of a larger effort on my part to use builder-grade materials in a way that reflects their true strengths, rather than trying to pass them off as more expensive materials.” The duotone strategy, in other words, is a more honest portrayal of the material, which should aesthetically convince the Hurleys’ successors to keep the siding for its full lifespan. More obviously sustainable: The Hardiplank skin is a rainscreen, as well as part of a super-insulated building envelope.

Following article from Wallyhood
(a publication from the Blue House neighborood of Wallingford in Seattle)

Walk into Joe’s house, and you can see through walls.

You may remember the spot the house stands on: right across from Mosaic Coffeehouse, between 1st and 2nd Ave NE, we covered back in early 2009 when they knocked down the tiny old house that stood on the property previously. We can’t find a link to our post from the time, but Google Maps remembers what it looks like, and if you want a piece of it, just head down to Second Use, the building salvage company. Their crew spent a day taking everything out of the old house they thought re-usable before it was demolished: fir floors, cabinets, a few windows, doors and hardware, etc.

This is what Joe built in its place. This past weekend, we got a tour.

Joe Hurley is an architect, a long-time Wallingford resident, Wallingford Neighborhood Office board president, and someone who loves to get his hands dirty trying new things out (his previous home and building project over on 41st and Ashworth won the AIA House of the Month Award). And when an architect designs his own home, you’re apt to get a wishlist of goodies.

In this case, the wishlist included substituting Lexan for drywall on many of the walls. Why? Joe explained:

My archetypal experience was two months framing an addition to a health club [when I was in design school]. The day we finished, it was a spectacular assembly of wood studs, steel connectors and engineered wood beams. Two months later, it was covered in sheetrock and synthetic stucco, another pile in the American middle landscape.

One of the ideas for this house was to allow the structure and systems of the house to remain exposed whenever possible. Floor joists and beams are exposed, wiring is in galvanized conduit and plumbing in black ductile iron. The large south-facing windows look like a commercial storefront assembly, but the system is comprised of engineered lumber, with no trim outside of the glazing stops. …

The stud walls that support and surround the stairs are clad in semi-transparent Lexan, showing their composition clearly. The manifolds that control the hydronic heating system are in an open frame in the stair hall; when the system is engaged, lights come on, dials move; the function is apparent.

As you come into the house and past the central stairway, you let onto a balcony that overlooks the large, open family room / kitchen. We’ve always had a sweet spot for the open floor plan approach, since it creates more conversation and communication between people as they go about their daily lives of cooking, eating, reading, etc., but what was interesting about this house was that the openness extended up to the second story.

The balcony that horseshoed around the common room below had at one end a small office and, tucked in at the other end, a cozy daybed piled high with pillows and comforter. Joe practically blushed with pride when we asked him about this spot:

“I’ve been very lucky in that we have a family of readers,” he said, gesturing first at the two-story, floor-to-ceiling, house-spanning bookcases, and then to the reading nook. “[My daughter] Alice can be up there, reading or hanging out with friends while we go about our business down here and she can have her own space, be on her own, but still be aware of us, part of what’s going on down here, and vice versa.”

And what would a modern house built by a Wallingford architect be without a healthy dose of green?

“The house is designed to be passive-solar,” Joe explained. “The main space has large south-facing windows and a concrete slab-on-grade floor. The low winter sun enters the space and warms the thermal mass in the room, while the high summer sun is kept out with exterior screening.”

Joe allowed how the approach was a bit of an experiment in Seattle’s climate, though. “If this were California, big window passive solar would be a slam dunk. But here in Seattle, well, we’ll be watching our fuel bills this winter and learning how it worked.”

And, course, it wouldn’t be green without a garden. The back yard is green grass, but the front tumbling and raw.

“The landscape design (which I think is fabulous!) is by another neighbor (4300 block of 2nd), Heather Hirschy of Felopoldi Design,” Joe told us. “I asked her for something sort of ‘wild’ to contrast with the house, and her concept was for an ‘edible meadow’. The main pieces are wild grasses, interspersed with some flowering stuff and tons of edibles: apples, blueberries, tulameen, raspberries, blackberries, figs, kiwi fruit, grape vines, strawberries, lingonberries. We are looking forward to next summer!”

As a family not abashed of picking a berry while strolling the neighborhood, so are we.


Second Use (Seattle, Washington, USA)

Joseph Hurley Architects (Washington, USA)