The Sensible House


Location: Seattle
Square footage: 1,800 + 650 (ADU)
Year of completion: 2004
Architect: Ted Granger

Green Features

  • Advanced framing
  • Extensive use of salvaged materials
  • Full-line jobsite recycling
  • Heat recovery ventilator (HRV)
  • 7,000-gallon cistern
  • Extensive education program for subcontractors and public
  • Annual water savings of approximately 115,340 gallons
  • 9” thick double-framed 2x4 walls insulated with cellulose to R-33
  • R-48 SIPs roof 12" thick
  • Blower door test at .14 ACH at natural pressure
  • Vacuum tube solar water collector
  • Fly ash concrete mix


Built Green's First 5-Star Project

For this project we de-constructed an existing home and built a new energy-efficient and healthy home. This home was Built Green's first 5-Star project. The Sensible House project was about building a home that is affordable, attractive, comfortable, functional, healthy, and environmentally friendly without compromise. The idea for this home is to demonstrate that an environmentally friendly home offers all the comforts, benefits, and amenities of traditional homes, but with added features that protect human health and our quality of life. From the beginning the goal was to push our limits on green building practices and products. Thus the Sensible House began on a small lot in Northeast Seattle.


We elected to deconstruct the existing 1948 “shotgun” style house instead of remodeling to most effectively reach our energy and healthy house goals affordably. The ReStore salvaged for reuse virtually all materials prior to construction. Many of the materials were reused in the Sensible House project; other materials were salvaged for resale. The remaining materials were sorted for recycling. Very little material was sent to the landfill.

Just the Right Size

The new 1,800-square-foot main unit, accompanied by a 650-square-foot accessory dwelling unit (ADU), was designed with “not so big house” principles tweaked into what we call “just the right size” house. Care was taken in the design of the house, to build only rooms the owners would use day-to-day, and making those rooms a functional size and no bigger. We also used design to make spaces “feel good” to enhance the owners' wellness by creating sunny spaces, gathering places, and places that connect the indoors and the outdoors.

Learn more at www.sensiblehouse.org


JLCProfiles in Green

zblogzHome Inspiration: The Sensible House

Perkins Lane Whole-House Remodel


Location: Seattle
Certification: Built Green 5 Star

Green Features

Site & Water

  • Rainwater cistern: 960 gallon
  • Landscaping: no grass, all drought tolerant plants
  • Bio-fuel for all excavation equipment and vehicles
  • Dual-flush toilets 
  • Minimized house impact – increase in living space without increase in house footprint 
  • Pin pier footings


  • Solar PV collectors 2 KW 
  • Cellulose insulation
  • Blower-door and duct blaster tests
  • Triple glazed fiberglass windows U.23
  • R-45 attic insulation
  • Sun tubes for natural day lighting
  • High efficiency Energy Star appliances (hot water heater, refrigerator, dishwasher)
  • Lighting designed for energy efficiency 

Built Green’s First 5-Star Remodel Project

This single-family home remodel was driven by the homeowner’s desire to “do the right thing” in the context of a neighborhood, which is witnessing a change of character as the small houses of its quiet past are getting replaced by large luxury homes. One of the biggest initial challenges was to resist the temptation to increase the size and height of the house in order to gain even better views, to resist keeping up with the Joneses. The house already had an expansive view of Puget Sound. The owner also did not want the house to compete with the land for attention or resources. The house should be humble and respect nature, a metaphor for walking lightly on the earth. 

The site also had its physical challenges. It is classified as a Critical Area due to its steep slope, and there is also an eagle’s nest nearby. Given these site challenges, minimizing the house’s impact on the site was established as an underlying guiding principle early in the design process. The footprint of the house was kept intact and the exterior changes were kept to a minimum. Even the deck and landscaping walls (both of which needed replacement due to failures in the materials) were rebuilt within the same size and footprints. The landscaping plan included removing invasives and returning the site to native vegetation. 

The original house was built in the 1940s and had endured various additions over the years. Another objective was to blend the division between the new remodel, the former remodels, and the original house to make the house feel whole again and not a collection of random pieces. The use of salvaged materials and the reuse of existing materials were high priorities among many sustainable goals that included the conservation of energy, water, and materials. 

The house received the honor of being the first Built Green 5-Star Remodel, scoring 428 points. This is significant given that the owner hadn’t actually set out with that goal at all. The topic was only seriously considered during construction. While the owner wanted to demonstrate and promote sustainable building, in the end it wasn’t about the points, it was still about “doing the right thing."


@homeSEATTLEWeighing the Green of Green: Homeowners, Builders Eye Costs of Benefits

Historic Deep Green Remodel


Location: Seattle
Number of bedrooms: 4
Number of baths: 3
Square footage: 3,115
Year completed: 2013
Architect: VELOCIPEDE architects inc


“I learned to let workers walk around to gape at the ornate details during their first visit before trying to engage them with any business.”
This 1904 home was built by partners of the Pantages Theaters. Oak floors with marquetry borders, ornate plaster ceilings, beveled glass windows, molded trim, and carved figureheads create an elegant home. Unfortunately a multiyear leak had ruined a corner of the dining room, so specialists were found to match the original decorative plaster and basket weave inlaid flooring. Workers painstakingly set 10,000 finish nails into the flooring. 

“We want to retrofit to Passivhaus standards.”
We undertook a thorough sealing of the old walls and attic, insulated the basement with polyiso, and blew piles of cellulose in the attic. Windows on the second floor and basement were replaced with triple-glazed units, while the elegant first floor windows were refurbished and fitted with interior storms. Barred from removing the interior plaster or exterior stucco, we insulated the first floor walls from above. Analysis of dollars per BTU saved guided our decision to not remove the stucco to outsulate with mineral wool. In the end, we cut heat losses by 84% from an EUI of 121 to just 19, and received Built Green 4-Star certification.

“We’d like to view Mt. Rainier from the master bedroom.”
The entire second floor was demolished back to the studs, except for the elegant central stair hall. The floor plan was completely rearranged to fit three bedrooms plus a study under the existing roof. New waste plumbing pipes were threaded down through the house in two directions to serve the new family bathroom, split into a bathing chamber and a toilet chamber. 

“We love to cook and entertain dinner guests.”
The old servant kitchen, tucked away in the back with its own separate stair, was replaced by a new mud room and bathroom. The old three-foot door from dining to kitchen was widened to an eight-foot archway, carefully replicating the door casing so it appears to be original. The new kitchen has views to the back yard garden, soapstone countertops, custom cherry cabinets, a glass tile splash, energy- and water-efficient appliances, and even a filtered water stub out for the espresso maker.

“I really want four more inches of headroom in the basement.”
We demolished the old slab, excavated without undermining the shallow footings, installed new gravel, insulation, vapor retarder and concrete slab. The northeast basement corner was thermally isolated to become a root cellar that will store food produced by the entire yard’s conversion to permaculture. The basement now houses the guest bed and bath, family room, laundry, and mechanical room.


“We expected lead paint, but I’ve never seen asbestos in plaster before.”
The hazmat crew did all necessary plaster demo. Trim and doors were carefully removed, labeled, and stored for reinstallation. Lead RRP and construction indoor air quality procedures were vigorously followed. When the new HRV and flexible ventilation tubing arrived on site, we set up a clean room where all HVAC materials were stored and cut prior to installation to assure pristine air quality. 

“We don’t want to draw our fresh air from down near the ground.”
The old laundry chute, our only existing vertical chase, had been promised three times over for plumbing, wiring, and ducts. So we routed the new fresh air duct from the basement HRV up through the old furnace chimney to the sky, a symbol of clean green replacing dirty fossil fuel.