Sunday, March 23, 2008

Green Housing Collaborative

I figure to make this official a manifesto is warranted:

In response to the dearth of affordable, green, multi-family housing in Seattle, I have decided that we should band together and try to build some ourselves. My wife and I would love a small townhouse, maybe 2BR/1.5BA, close to all the amenities that we have grown accustomed to living in lower QA and Capitol Hill (grocery store, drug store, restaurants, video rental, coffee shop, etc), near a park, a short walk to transit, and so on. While this living arrangement is inherently green (both increased density and site selection if you're at all familiar with LEED), I would prefer to build residences with as many other green features as possible (continuous hot water circulation, low flow appliances, fluorescent lighting, recycled materials, reclaimed water for non-potable uses, etc).

Of course, money is an issue, as it always is. I'm hoping that by pooling our resources (money) and time (for those interested parties) we can cut out the developers that are only in to construction for the financial gains. I'm hoping that we can create a place where we want to live, that fits within a neighborhood rather than plowing over it. I believe that a co-op would be the best way to reach this goal.

What is a co-op, you ask? Well, it's similar to a nonprofit that owns a building and each member has the right to occupy a unit. An added advantage is that the co-op has to approve of new residents. I know that sounds discriminatory but it would keep the character of community intact (green, urban, accepting, etc.).

I've created this site as a place for interested parties to interact and share ideas. Maybe there are enough people to pursue a single project as I mentioned above or something completely different (smaller units, no kids, shared food or gardening, etc.). I'm a structural engineer and a LEED Accredited Professional; I know an architect that works with other progressive architects/developers and am acquainted with several developers that I may be able to solicit for advice. So please, post comments, exchange ideas, and let's try to see what we can accomplish.


Sorin said...

Sounds like an interesting idea. I've been looking for a green built townhouse for a reasonable price and modern design for a while now. Ballard is the neighborhood I prefer, but I'm open to Fremont, Capital Hill, Queen Anne, etc.

I think a supportive community creates itself in the right setting without any need for a coop, and often better off without. Design that encourages interaction among the owners while also not walling itself off from the larger neighborhood is going to attract like minded people drawn to that type of environment. (I've seen a few developments like this, regrettable priced too high.) I am interested in good neighbors who I can also call friends, and I would love to see a community that had the patio doors rather than the garage doors facing each other.

Keith said...

Thanks for posting, sorin.

I agree that design that encourages interaction is paramount to creating livable, vibrant communities. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any projects that manage to do it; I've seen community rooms with no community and on-site gyms empty except for an old piece of exercise equipment.

The main reason I'm leaning toward the co-op idea is because I feel like it may be easier to find people with similar interests than it is housing designed to spur interaction. I'd hope that with this common interest, the bond that would be formed through the design and construction process, and a design that promoted interaction, we'd end up with something that was true community.

I like your comment about garage doors. It reminds me of an article by Lawrence Cheek a few weeks ago where he criticizes the strange auto court that is ubiquitous in many new townhome developments...

Sorin said...
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Sorin said...

Take a wak by this development sometime (trouble posting URLs, but it's at 1411 E Fir St):

All of the units sold last year in the $500 range, but the interesting part of it is that all of the units have sliding glass walls from the living space that open out onto a common boardwalk and sitting area. Not a community room behind a door somewhere with no lights on, but a joining of individual living spaces for a while during the day, and designed in such a way that it can be done sporadically as people see each other. Just in the 40 minutes I was there during an open house back in December, I met two of the neighbors in part because of the open design. You just can't do that in standard townhomes or condos.

While it is certainly worth consideration and discussion, I have a bias against the idea of a coop because I know people who have had bad experiences with coops that started out with the best of intentions, but became exclusionary to anyone that didn't quite go along with the group. There is already an inherent social contract in any good neighborhood, I think that should be enough. Particularly with a group who come together to design their homes as a community. But, we all have different experiences in this.

Keith said...

I'll definitely check out that development; it sounds great (and overpriced for living in the Central District).

I can see a co-op being divisive at times but doesn't that seem to happen any time you get a group of people together to work toward any goal (even where to have dinner, in some cases)? I'm inclined to think a co-op would be more inclusive than a typical homeowners association where there isn't as much of a shared interest between the tenants. Total speculation though.

I'm planning on visiting some of the co-ops around Seattle; maybe some of the residents can shed some more light on this subhject.

Renee said...

The Pinehurst neighborhood has a sustainability focus and we are looking for residents and developers to build sustainable, affordable multifamily housing. We also have a lot of L2 and higher lots that are not built to zoning. We have good transit and will soon have the first green (hopefully LEED) Safeway in WA. There are also a number of parks and sustainable street design projects in the works. And, best of all, we are one of the most affordable neighborhoods in Seattle.

Wendy Hughes-Jelen said...

No one has mentioned High Point, and tho it is not downtown, it is certainly close. High Point is a redeveloped SHA community, now mixed-income with affordable rental housing and market rate for sale housing. The community has won numerous national and international design awards. It is a certified Built Green Community and all of the homes here are also Built Green Certified.

My husband and I have lived in West Seattle for over ten years and when I finally drove into High Point as a real estate agent just to get familiar with the inventory I discovered how amazing it was and decided I had to live there. We sold our 1/4 acre lot with 1929 farmhouse and moved there last summer.

I am a Built Green Certified Agent and publish a blog at I will be giving a communiity tour of High Point's environmental features and bio functions along with homes for sale on Sunday April 20th. You can see homes for sale by reading my post from last Friday.

Matt said...

I'd be happy to throw in general design comments. I'm a mechanical engineer (PE, LEED cert.) that's analyzed the energy use of dozens (maybe even hundreds?) of buildings. I don't do smaller residential, but know a bit about the technologies out there.

Tips right from the start:
1. "continuous hot water circulation" isn't a green technology. You're taking hot water that was happily sitting in a well insulated tank and spreading it all around your house in poorly insulated piping with a much higher surface area. Effectively you're heating your house (and the outside, if it runs in exterior walls) with domestic hot water - even in the summer. Yes, you save some water - but at the expense of quite a bit of energy.

2. #1 energy saver: lighting. This is a bit tough on the residential side, as linear flourescents aren't terribly attactive (or I'd suggest dimmable flourescents tied to daylight dimming controls).

3. #2 energy saver: insulation. It almost always has a quick payback in our climate - especially in wood framed structures. If you go with concrete or steel, then insulate on the outside of the structure.

4. Go for ground source heat pump heating. You get 3x the heat per watt you use, which makes electricity cheaper than heating with natural gas. You can also get a ground source heat pump hot water heaters with the same wonderful cost (and energy, and carbon) savings.

Matt said...
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Christian said...

Why not try adapting some of the existing green housing that is on the market right now?

Maybe the anxious developers trying to sell their existing stock would welcome even a leasing option to cover the mortgage and or loan interest for 2 years or so. This way you get to live in a green home and test out your interest in co-housing and you don't even have to buy. If you can find a way to agree on the all the details of a contract, it would be a win-win for everybody.

I have a development in mind if you want to email me.

Rich said...

Hmmm, keep me in the loop guys. I'm a construction consultant (construction administration, construction management, etc.) and recovering architect, and may be interested in being involved in some way.