Lopez Island get-away

By Alan Ness, Principal, Ten Directions Design

This is the souther exposure. One of the two bedrooms is to the upper left, the studio main room is through the doors to the upper right.

This is the souther exposure. One of the two bedrooms is to the upper left, the studio main room is through the doors to the upper right.

Kids lead to the darndest things. Through my elementary school-age son, I got to know a family with a five-acre lot on Lopez Island. I started using the services of the Dad for computer help, and he suggested that I design them a vacation house on Lopez Island.

The owners came to me with a site plan of a marvelous wooded lot with potential views of Puget Sound. He also wanted this house to be energy efficient. We started talking about double-wall construction with lots of space for insulation. Over time we looked into SIPs, which are Structural Insulated Panels. SIPs give the same kind of above-minimum insulation as thicker walls, as well as tighter construction. They also provide ease of construction on an island setting with no Home Depot around to buy extra supplies.

The house as seen through the woods. This is the southern exposure.

The house as seen through the woods. This is the southern exposure.

The house features vaulted ceiliings above the upper story. The beams are laminated Douglas Fir. This photo was taken facing east.

The house features vaulted ceiliings above the upper story. The beams are laminated Douglas Fir. This photo was taken facing east.

As the General Contractor, the Dad supervised or installed all the utilities to the site. The house is heated by an energy efficient, geo-thermal heat pump, which runs off of 1600 feet of 1" pipe buried 5' under the driveway. The system provides full-floor radiant heating on the ground level and upper level. A lightweight concrete topping slab was poured over the upper level plywood sub-floor, with hot water tubing laid down first.

This was my first time working with residential fire sprinklers, but I agreed on their usefulness after the owner told me about island houses that had burned down before anyone noticed the fire. Given the need for exposed piping, we went with a copper piping and fixtures, which look handsome against the pine-planked vaulted ceilings.

This house was designed with a two-bedroom unit on the upper level. It features a wrap-around deck to the south for the sun and to the east for the view. On the ground level there is a one-car garage and a large shop. The shop is crucial for the Dad as he finishes out the entire structure. And someday, this family dreams of building a retirement house near this vacation home, which then becomes the perfect guest house for visiting friends and family.

This is the southern exposure. One of the two bedrooms is to the upper left, the studio main room is through the doors to the upper right.

This is the southern exposure. One of the two bedrooms is to the upper left, the studio main room is through the doors to the upper right.

Photos by Walter Tuai.

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A Healthy Remodel on a Tight Budget,
The Case of the Classic Bungalow

By Alan Ness, Principal, Ten Directions Design

South elevation of a new master bedroom addition for a Seattle area home.

South elevation of a new master bedroom addition for a Seattle area home.

When I first saw this bungalow, it was love at first sight. This small one-story house is a beautiful Seattle example of the craftsman style. If architecture is frozen music, then this house has an exquisite minuet of roof-lines.

The clients are a couple that enjoy the charm and detailing of the 1929 construction. They love the small den off of the dining area, with its built-in alcoves, but this nook doesn't compensate for the lack of space in the bedroom. They yearned to live in a master suite instead of one of the two small original bedrooms.

They had a vision of an addition out the back of the house, with a porch that would project out and mirror the footprint of the den. One of the bedrooms would be converted into a master bath and hallway, leaving the remaining bedroom as a guest/office room.

However, the budget was tight and didn't seem to have much give. I gave the clients preliminary estimates of $100/SF for construction (1999), but I worried if we could really build it for that price and keep some healthy and eco-friendly items I felt were important.

The clients found a wonderful contractor, Conner Remodeling, who was recommended by friends. He worked hard to make this project come in at budget. He was also sensitive to some of the issues related to healthy building, especially the idea that it is easier to keep mildew out than get rid of it later. I appreciated his careful reading of my specifications and details, some of which came from A Guide to Planning, Building and Maintaining a Healthier Home, by Dan Morris.

Floor plan showing new bedroom and new porch.

Floor plan showing new bedroom and new porch.

An exterior elevation of the finished project.

An exterior elevation of the finished project.

Interior photograph of the master bedroom addition. Construction by Conner Remodeling, (206) 782-6959.

Interior photograph of the master bedroom addition. Construction by Conner Remodeling, (206) 782-6959.

The major features and items that I specified and added to the "standard" plans included:

  • Including "Forbidden Practices," as outlined by Morris, at the beginning of the specifications.
  • Calling for careful and thorough soil coverage in the crawl space.
  • Giving the option for the decking of cedar or recycled plastic lumber.
  • Specifying a sub-floor with exterior plywood that has no urea-formaldehyde.
  • Asking for no-or-low VOC construction adhesives.
  • Including information on low-e windows in regard to preventing the mildew-killing ultra-violet light from reaching the interiors, especially bedrooms.
  • Using energy-saving, flicker-free, true-color fluorescent lighting in the closets.
  • Sealing off heat ducts/outlets during construction.
  • Using good ventilation, especially after the interiors are closed in.
  • Detailing the bake-out/air-out procedure for the end of construction.

The contractor felt that these items added minimally to the overall cost of construction and would not lower the contract price significantly by omitting them.

In the end, the client stretched their budget by about 15%, in addition to doing some significant work on their own after the contractor is finished. By working together, all the parties were able to create a great project on a tight budget while keeping eco-healthy practices and products.

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Eco-Healthy Bathroom Remodel

By Alan Ness, Principal, Ten Directions Design

It all started several years ago when I took my wife to the opening of a fancy tile showroom downtown. She fell in love with the fabulous variety of tiles, and developed an appreciation for the new lines of glass tile. "For our bathroom, someday" she said.

That day finally arrived in 2001. Our small upstairs bathroom desperately needed both an upgrade as well as a redesign to improve its use. Our family of four was crowding around a single sink and we needed to get another sink in. But how?

I decided to shift functions and move the towel/storage shelving to an underutilized upstairs closet off a child's bedroom. This made space for the second sink. And so our adventure was underway. This was also my opportunity to try out my idea for a "back-saver" cabinet design: providing knee space in the lower cabinet, similar to the toe-kick space for feet. (I think this idea could go over big with the aching-back set.)

Our bathroom is small: 5'-6" x 10'-0". I thought, "Let's just gut the whole thing down to the studs and start all over." Well, the first bid was nearly double our budget. I learned lesson one: apply professional judgment to my own project. I scaled the scope back and let go of the idea for a new tile shower. The revised bid was half of the first one, and we were ready to proceed.

New two-sink layout with eco-healthy materials.

New two-sink layout with eco-healthy materials.

As an eco-friendly designer, I had a list of sustainable and energy-conserving products to try out on my own home remodel:

  • Genuine linoleum flooring made from plant material (tougher than vinyl).
  • Locally produced, handmade glass tiles produced from recycled sources. The tiles surround individual mirrors over the sinks.
  • Light fixtures with instant on, no-hum, color corrected fluorescent light bulbs.
  • High performance convection electric heater (for an all-electric house).

Also on my list were procedures and products to maintain a healthy indoor air quality:

  • Bleach out studs where mold had grown.
  • Low VOC paints for both primer and finish coats to minimize off-gassing.
  • Use of a one hour timer switch for the exhaust fan to prevent mold build-up.

Improved use items included:

  • Roll out shelves for the under counter area.
  • An extra deep medicine cabinet. The cabinet goes through a wall into an attic area. We made the cabinet 6" deep to hold hairbrushes and other longer items.
  • Half wall separating toilet from sinks, creating usable wall area at counter height.
  • Set back lower cabinet doors to encourage bending at the knees while standing.

It can still get busy in our family bathroom, but there is more harmony between us now. The logic of the layout plus the stylishness of the glass tiles make it a pleasure to wake up in the morning.

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Got Dormers?
A Classic Seattle Remodel

By Alan Ness, Principal, Ten Directions Design

Tale of Two Dormers
One of the most popular remodel projects is the dormer. A dormer is a great way to take unused or under-used space and convert it into a fully used part of a house. Typical applications are to extend the usable floor area of a second story that is under a moderate to steeply pitched roof. Occasionally that area is an unused attic, but typically dormers are used to open up cramped rooms that are cramped under the roof.

The two common types of dormers are "gable" and "shed," referring to two different roof forms. The gable forms a pitched roof over the dormer. The shed dormer is like slicing a rectangle out of your roof, which you then lift from the lower edge and let hinge at the upper side.

This article will focus on a remodel in Phinney Ridge where I used both kinds of dormers on the same house. It is a Classic Remodel of its kind and shows the potential of both kinds of dormers.

Making it Real
The house in Phinney Ridge is a large "over-size" bungalow with craftsman detailing. At some point in its history a stair was installed, which goes upstairs from the dining room. The stair was squeezed into the space above the basement stair, and arrives at the second floor at a headroom of only 4'-6" at the lowest point!

To add a walk-in closet and bathroom, as well as space for proper head room, a shed dormer is being run along the entire back side of the house (west side). To the east, a gable dormer will give both more square feet and a wonderful view of Green Lake and the territorial views available from the Ridge.

The clients are a couple with a young child, and thinking about a second one. They want to make the somewhat cramped upstairs into a real master bedroom, both for current use and for resale when they move into bigger quarters. Like most clients, their first concerns were budget and schedule. I did not know to what extent "green" concerns were of interest. One of the partners has allergies, which is a typical bridge to indoor air quality and ecological materials.

I was delightfully surprised during their "shopping" phase when they told me about going to the Environmental Home Center and looking at low VOC paints, flat weave Berber carpet, and some countertop materials made from recycled paper and plant glues. For the "green" bottom line, I see the dormers extending the use and "recycling" a home, with the client keeping an eye on green materials for finishes.

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