Transforming the venerable Craftsman

Pamela Burton and Jeremy Smithson wanted a home that could be a "net zero" in energy consumption, using cutting-edge solar technology and the best green-building techniques.

And they wanted it in a house built nearly a century ago.

Their successful remodeling and the work of other Seattle residents offer insights about how even the city's beloved Craftsman bungalows can be made eco-friendly.

Ironically, the Craftsman's popularity traces its roots to Greene if not green. California architects Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene popularized the Arts and Crafts-style bungalow with their Gamble House in Pasadena, Calif.

The style, a turn back to nature from Victorian architecture, was widely used in the first decades of the 20th century.

That was long before concerns arose about sustainability, sprawl or the energy and construction waste from conventional construction.

Many of the bungalows have a history of toxic lead paint, and their priceless single-pane windows can be energy wasters.

Still, green-building specialists say, builders, owners and remodelers can do much to make their Craftsman's greener, while new houses in that style can meet the highest standards of sustainable construction.

"We're constantly reminding folks that there's no specific look to what green is. They can remodel a Craftsman and make it green,"said Aaron Adelstein, executive director of Built Green of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

In Seattle, when Bob Scheulen and Kim Wells wanted to build a sustainable house, they were drawn to the Craftsman style. The result, called the Sensible House, is in the Hawthrone Hills area.

Built in 2004, the house features photovoltaics to produce solar power, rainwater catchment with a 7,000-gallon tank that provides water for outdoor irrigation and toilet flushing, super insulation and a host of other green-building techniques.

The previous house on the site was deconstructed to recycle materials.

"For older Craftsman houses, the main idea for greenness applies to houses that are not in great shape on the outside," Scheulen said. Windows and siding can be replaced for greater energy efficiency. Although relatively expensive, the added insulation saves energy over the long run.

Scheulen cautioned, however, that what was once seen as a gold standard for insulation now may not be nearly enough. Describing himself as a "radical," he said he would aim for an R-33 rating for walls and R-48 for ceilings. "That might be the lower end of what is good enough, but you can only make walls so thick."

"R value" measures the ability of insulation to resist heat flow; the higher the number the better.

Owners of older Craftsman homes have certain factors working in their favor. As built, most bungalows boast easy air flow through their many windows. In addition, older houses sit within existing urban areas and often near transit, so they're not adding to sprawl.

Ben Kaufman, owner of Greenworks Realty, used his company's green checklist to assess his 1928 brick bungalow. The result: He removed the hot water heater, furnace and ductwork, while adding an on-demand gas-fired boiler and insulation.

"Before it felt like we were living on the front porch all year `round,' " he said. "When the wind would gust, my hair would stand up." Adding insulation and eliminating the equivalent of a 3-foot hole in the ceiling from small gaps make the house much more energy efficient.

Burton and Smithson have been working on their 1908 Phinney Ridge home for five years. Their goal was a house that conserves and produces energy to be a "net zero" in consumption, while restoring it to its original architectural splendor. Oh, and they wanted to increase the living space, too.

The top tips for remodelers? "Insulate, insulate, insulate," said Burton. "Super insulation, south-facing windows," Smithson added.

Insulation and window upgrades using salvaged, double-paned vinyl windows to reduce costs cut heat loss in the house by 67 percent. A solar hot-water system lowered the heating bill enough to pay off the cost of the solar heater in 18 months.

Next, they installed a used Thermomax hot-water collector and Sanyo 190-watt solar panels for greater efficiency. The electricity produced by solar is 6,200 kilowatt hours a year.

By 2006, the total annual home-energy use was 14 percent of where it stood before the remodel. Their work goes on, but it shows how one of Seattle's favorite housing types can be indeed dark green.


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