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Best Green Houses:

A Seattle Home with an Accessory Dwelling Embodies Healthy Living for all Generations

Bradley Khouri
Seattle, Washington

By David Sokol
March 2014
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Photo © Ed Sozinho

Kelly Forsyth could have made a good architect. Instead, she made one of the best clients ever. As Bradley Khouri puts it, “When you have a client asking you for things that normally require [the architect] making a case for, your job is a lot easier.”

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Khouri, founder of b9 architects, met Forsyth in 2010—a year in which the introduction felt particularly fortuitous. In the north Seattle neighborhood Greenwood, Forsyth had been living in a 1930s-era house that, with two interim expansions, totaled approximately 3,200 square feet. Recognizing that environmentally responsible homeownership starts with the square footage one consumes, she requested replacing the sprawling house with new construction that fit within the original building envelope.

Even trimmed down to just under the historically appropriate 2,200 square feet, Forsyth also knew that she and her son did not need all that new space to themselves. In 2010 she also imagined creating an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) for aging in place. Throughout, the house was supposed to be as sustainable as a $180-per-square-foot budget allowed. “Our visions were perfectly aligned,” Khouri says. In fact, just prior to commencing work on this project, dubbed Family Share, Khouri had designed and developed a high-performing pair of townhouses of the same total size behind his home in Seattle’s Central District.

For Family Share, Khouri distributed three stories into the 1,330-square foot two-bedroom primary dwelling over a 795-square-foot accessory; the units share a utility room that includes laundry and heating equipment. Because the site, a triple lot facing west, features a grade change, the ADU is hidden from the street. This apartment otherwise enjoys three exposures, and its rear bedroom projection provides an outdoor dining patio for the residence above.

The top floor’s master bedroom also projects from the building mass, about which Khouri says, “To maximize building performance, you don’t want a bumpy building; you want your walls to stack as much as possible,” referring to minimizing the area exposed to the elements. To offset that negative impact, the architect did configure the cantilevered volume so that it creates an entry moment above the front porch.  

Besides determining the engagement between the primary and accessory dwellings, the overall composition is driven by passive sustainability principles. Double-glazed Simonton windows—which boast a U value and solar heat gain coefficient of .28 and .19, respectively—maximize the sunshine that hits the radiant-heated concrete flooring on the two lower stories. Additionally, the primary residence’s interior is organized around a series of elements that harvest daylight, such as a pantry walled in translucent composite acrylic panels and sliding glass doors that open the master bedroom to western light and views.

If materials were not selected for their light-driven capabilities, then they were chosen for environmental health: indoor and planetary. A serendipitous cold call from a local cabinetmaker led to the installation of formaldehyde-free apply-ply kitchen cabinets finished in locally sourced 100-percent-recycled Ecotop Snow White. Stair treads are made of Paperstone.

Of course, before the design could be executed, the original house had to come down. To do so, Khouri and Forsyth brought in Seattle-based RE Store to deconstruct the building, recycling parts for other applications. In turn, the new house adopts materials salvaged from other demolition projects. Most noticeable is 50-year-old fir that another Washington company, Windfall Lumber, had reclaimed from granary bins that had stood in the eastern part of the state. This tongue-and-groove decking was remade into shiplap siding and incorporated into Family Share’s rainscreen. The rainscreen combines fir and Hardi Panel “as a matter of introducing scale on a 3-story residential building, and highlighting the forms,” Khouri explains.

The project is too new for Forsyth to measure the preventive effects of the rainscreen, but she notes that her utility expenses have already fallen dramatically. And while sedum is prospering on the roof of her detached garage, Family Share’s south-sloping roof is prepared for the installation of photovoltaics and solar evacuated tubes someday. Knowing that she can downsize to the ADU if circumstances require it, this savvy Seattleite has given herself plenty of time to make her green home even greener.


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