Seattle homeowner talks pros, cons of green building

Seattle homeowner talks pros, cons of green building

by Shawndra Miller

How do you measure the value of a green home? By its impact on the earth, your wallet and the health of your family? By sheer quality of workmanship? Won Williamson counts all of these as benefits of living in his home, certified by the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Homes program.

He and his family were among the earliest residents to move into the eco-friendly Ashworth Cottages development in Green Lake. Developers Curt Pryde and Fawn Johnson, partners in Pryde+Johnson, shepherded the residential project to a LEED platinum rating - and were first in the state to receive the designation.

The developers planned the community with an eye for both ecology and beauty. "There's a perception out there that if you buy something green or sustainable, you're buying something of lower value," Pryde says. But as Williamson can attest, that's a common misconception.

"[My house] is so well built compared to other homes, design-wise and eco-friendly-wise," Williamson says. "Everything comes together."

Spanning less than an acre, the community is situated on the site of a demolished 1920s-era warehouse. Eight carriage- and 12 cottage-style homes are grouped around a central courtyard. The homes, which range in size from 1,571 to 1,856 square feet, are Energy Star-labeled, boasting green features like rainwater cisterns, instantaneous water heaters and concrete countertops incorporating recycled glass. Bricks, terra cotta tiles and old growth timbers from the original warehouse structure were incorporated into patios and a central greenhouse.

Pryde says the fact that interior finishes are free of formaldehyde and Volatile Organic Compounds is obvious when prospective buyers walk in. "There's a difference in what [people] don't smell," he says. "I relate it to that new car smell. People love that smell, but it's actually harmful off-gassing from all the materials used in the interiors."

Williamson can vouch for that. Son Aaron, 9, was plagued with allergies at their previous house, especially during winter. "Since moving into our home [last November], he hasn't coughed at all," Williamson says.

The family also appreciates the comfort of living in a well-insulated home. "I realized when it was cold outside, our temperature inside was around 68 degrees, but I felt much warmer here than at the house we used to live in," says Williamson.

Ashworth Cottage prices start in the mid-$600,000 range. Windermere real estate agent Ryan Shaffer, the community's sales manager, projects that electricity usage will be about half that of a typical home of the same size. Water usage will be about 40 percent lower.

While LEED for Homes is a nationally recognized program, green certification is also available under the local Master Builders Association's Built Green program. There are roughly 12,400 Built Green certified homes in the Seattle area. About 130 homes throughout Seattle are LEED-registered, with only a handful certified.

Built Green is rigorous, according to LEED provider Alistair Jackson, who certified some of the Ashworth Cottages, but its verification process is less stringent than the LEED program. To obtain the highest rating, only 60 percent of Built Green credits must be third-party verified, while all levels of LEED require full third-party verification.

Jackson says Seattle homebuyers are starting to see LEED as a "green brand," an identifier of a better place to live. "LEED for Homes is penetrating the market because it is seen as a credible process," he says. "It's a brand that's going to stand up over the long term."

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