Here is Mark talking about the project in his own words:
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Archive for November, 2008
Think about just about any industry – telecommunications, computers, aerospace, heck, even automotive – and the list of innovation and progress over the last 100 years is long. Think about where all those industries were 100 years ago – the state of the art for those industries were:
- -crank telephones through a community switchboard
- -mechanical adding machine
- -the very earliest airplanes (Wright Bros. flight was in 1903)
- -Ford Model T (prototype 1908)
How many of those pieces of technology are actually in use today, without massive improvements?
Then consider housing. The history of innovation in housing over the last century and a half is short, and a lot of it happened a LONG time ago:
- 1833 Stick framing invented
- 1920s Beginnings of widespread home electrification
- 1930s Forced air furnaces introduced
- 1940s Basic insulation mandated by code
- 1970s Double paned windows become standard
The house we live in was built in 1925. Its tiny garage is sized to fit a Model T (or, a Smart Car!). When I look at our house and compare it to a new one, it’s not all that different – the rooms are smaller, there was no insulation in the walls until five years ago, at some point along the way the coal burning stove was replaced with forced air, and it has single paned windows. But really, that’s it.
I don’t think that an “innovation is a priori good” stance is a reasonable, don’t get me wrong. Thinking about Christopher Alexander’s A Timeless Way of Building, I think there’s a strong case to be made that the materials and methods that stand the test of time are a good way to go. Heck, even in zHome we are making the case – particularly in the world of materials – where we are even harkening back thousands of years and finishing some walls in clay.
For me the core issue is that we think about what we’re doing. To me the home is the lowest hanging fruit of potential environmental innovation. Homes are so core to who we are, and their share of our environmental footprint is so big, that a concerted reevaluation of what home is seems in order. Through that process, I think we’re likely to find that some of the answers lie far in the past, and others in the untapped future.
KOMO AM 1000 also covered the zHome groundbreaking. They did five different pieces, this is one of them: KOMO 1000 interview
KIRO 710 covered the project back on September 30 – here is the piece. KIRO Interview
Today I was at a design charrette (an interactive design collaboration with all key stakeholders) for the Eastside affiliate for Habitat for Humanity. The charrette was led by Vicki Colgin, Department of Ecology green building lead. Habitat is building a 10 unit duplex project in the Issaquah Highlands, making it zHome’s cousin! It was exciting to hear about the project and start sharing some of the things we’ve learned with zHome. We are looking forward to continuing to work with Habitat and others to spread the zHome gospel!
Last week we brought parts of the design and permitting teams together to work through the final details of the rainwater catchment system. It is one of the very last details to be resolved prior to approval of the building permits. I thought the discussion was an interesting example of process and evolution in the design process. Participating were Dennis Rominger, Howland Homes project manager; Mark Weirenga, project architect from David Vandervort Architects; John Minato, City of Issaquah Building Official; Sylvia des Rochers, City of Issaquah plans examiner; Doug Schlepp, City review engineer; Mark Buehrer, system design engineer with 2020 Engineering; and myself.
The design team proposed a very simple, elegant system for rainwater recycling. Water from the roofs flows into a gutter and downspout and then directly into a cistern (one for each home). Rainwater is then pumped into the homes, where it is placed in a pressure tank, where it then is used in toilets and clotheswashers (I am skipping over many details which will be covered in a later post). In the event that the tanks run dry (unlikely, but possible during a very dry summer) they could be manually refilled by the residents with a hose.
The permit review team’s comments focused mainly on health and maximizing water conservation. To maximize the safety of the system, the design team proposed plumbing the potable and rainwater systems completely separately, so that non-potable water would not be cross contaminated with non-potable water. But to be completely belt and suspenders in terms of safety, the permit team suggested a number of additional measures. First was a backflow prevention device on each unit’s individual water line, so that in the unlikely event that someone at a future date replumbed the homes and mistakenly connected the potable and non-potable systems, that contamination could never enter into the public system. Second, routing of the lines will be done carefully so that potable and non-potable lines are not adjacent. Furthermore, non-potable lines will be clearly labelled at frequent intervals that it is non-potable water.
A lot of attention was given to the refill process for the cistern. The permitting team was concerned that during drought refill, that the hose might be tossed into the cistern, and that however unlikely, a backflow might occur, pulling non-potable water from the cistern into the hose and into the potable system (of course, a very rare occurance). There was also concern that residents might leave the hose running longer than necessary and fill the entire cistern with potable water, rather than a small amount needed to tie the resident over to the next rainfall. Initially the permitting team suggested an automated refill system that would add potable water into the system when it ran low. An air gap would be provided on the refill, to ensure non-potable water couldn’t be syphoned into the potable system.
However, the design team didn’t like the potential of that system breaking down, and also didn’t like the hands off feeling of the automated system – they wanted the residents to be in touch with their system, at least to some degree. So both teams synergistically developed a new idea – a timed manual refill from within the homes, plumbed with an air gap into the downspout system. Physically, it will be impossible for non potable water to be syphoned into the potable system. And the timer will ensure that refilling is limited to that needed for a couple of laundry loads. It is nearly a simple as the original design, keeps the residents connected to their water supply, is more convenient, and addresses some potential health risks (albeit, very low likelihood ones).
I am quickly finding I really enjoy doing these zHomepeople posts, because I learn a lot about people that I’ve been working with for a long time. Such is the case with this post.
Mayor Ava Frisinger has a long standing commitment and orientation to the environment, in her words “the relationship of people and ecology”. She was raised in rural Michigan, where the local farming community, and its rootedness to the Earth, helped form her thinking about human/environmental connections. The Michigan wildlands – seen via canoe, hikes, and birding outings – also formed an early environmental ethic. A major in English literature and an equal emphasis on biological sciences reflected these connections, and served to articulate and strengthen them.
In 1967, Mayor Frisinger moved to Issaquah. The City then had 4,000 residents, compared to the current 27,000. The Mayor found Washington “unspoiled”, and felt even then a strong commitment to protecting that heritage. In 1982, she was appointed to the Planning Commission, and sat on the City Council from 1986 to 1994, and also in 1996 and 1997. In 1998, she was elected Mayor, a role she has served in to this day.
Mayor Frisinger is known regionally as an innovator in sustainability and the environment. She was an early advocate of the Issaquah Highlands and Talus urban villages, which were a new regional paradigm for contained, livable, walkable communities as an alternative to suburban sprawl. Work with the Planning Accreditation Board and the Global Action Plan Eco Team program in the mid 90s gave her an exposure to sustainability that resonated with her already established values. A sustainability symposium in Canada further heightened her interest, leading to establishment of the City’s Resource Conservation Office.
zHome is lucky to count the Mayor as one of its strong supporters. She has made the project a high priority, and has helped move it forward during its long and winding path. But it will be just one part of the larger legacy she will leave the City.
When I walked into Aaron’s office today to work on a grant application to the Department of Ecology, I noticed a framed chart showing his personality type – RED. I wasn’t sure if this was a warning, or simply informational, but it is right on. (If I remember right, red means assertive, Promethean, volatile, and generative).
Aaron is the Executive Director of Built Green. He was part of the core group that came together in early 2006 to shape and launch the project (that initial group included David Fujimoto and I from the City of Issaquah, Aaron and Koben Calhoun from Built Green, and Patti Southard and Katie Spataro from King County). From the start Aaron has been filled with a passion for what the project can be and mean in advancing ultra sustainable housing, but at the same time his passion is balanced with pragmatism and realism. He is quick on his feet, and is a very direct communicator (a couple of days ago, after Aaron shared some thoughts with Doug Howland, I asked Doug if those thoughts were consistent with what I had said, and Doug said yes, except that I had taken five minutes longer to say the same thing).
When he is not helping us move our project along, Aaron is focused on running the Built Green program. Built Green of King/Snohomish Counties is one of the largest and most successful green building programs in the country. Aaron manages the Executive Committee, certifies thousands of units a year, runs a major regional conference, and acts as one of the leading spokespeople for green building in the region. He manages this with a steadiness and verve that are the envy of many. We are lucky to have Aaron as part of our core team moving this project forward.