Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Excuse me sir, would you like your new home facing the club house or sewage lagoon?

Saint Consulting interviewed 1,000 people to find out what they thought were the most undesirable projects to be built near them. Not too surprising, landfills, casinos, and gravel pits topped the list. Heck, even Walmart was on there.

Maybe it was just too obvious to identify but, how about a sewage plant? Well, a group of landowners in Washington State just learned that exact thing may be happening literally, right next to them. The development is approved for 120 new homes. Individuals bought lots with plans to build vacation homes. With designs for a clubhouse, equestrian center and gated entry, this new development was on its way to becoming one of the nicest in the county.

Not only will the new development be affected but also the existing farms and orchards that surround it. Local farmers and longtime residents strongly oppose the lagoon and have been busy writing letters.

The application was made by a company that hauls sewage. The property they selected for the lagoon includes critical slope areas on it. The applicant stated that their plan is to dump the raw sewage into an open lagoon. Then wait for the “liquids” to evaporate out. Then they’ll scoop up the “solids,” haul them away and repeat the cycle. This is a poorly thought out project. In one part of their application they said they anticipated no adverse impacts of smell to the surrounding residents.

The small site they selected also has a ravine on it. The ravine heads down a steep embankment towards dozens of farms and the river running through town. Since little to no evaporation will occur during the winter months, the rains and snow melt will add to the level of the pond and increase the chances of an overflow.

A week ago the County issued a Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance for the sewage lagoon and opened it up for public comment.

This whole lagoon idea has left a bad taste in many people’s mouth.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How small of a home could you live in?

Mini Bungalows are coming to Seattle but could you live in a 300-sf home?

One of the first passive houses in Seattle will open for tours later this month. The project, called Mini-B, demonstrates super-efficient green building techniques.

Mini-B is short for mini-bungalow. The 300-square-foot prototype dwelling is designed to meet the city's requirements for a backyard cottage on a single-family lot. The unit has a bathroom, kitchenette and sleeping area, and is in the parking lot of the Phinney Neighborhood Center at 6532 Phinney Ave. N.

It will be open the weekend of Jan. 29 and each weekend after that for six months. Visits also can be arranged during the week by appointment.

Passive houses have been built for years in Germany and Sweden. They combine highly efficient enclosures with passive solar strategies to create comfortable spaces that cost little to heat.

Passive House Northwest, a local nonprofit, says passive houses use about 85 percent less energy to operate than comparable conventional buildings.

Joe Giampietro, director of housing at Johnson Braund Design Group, is a passive house consultant and developed Mini-B. He said he was inspired by a presentation put on by the Urbana, Ill.-based Passive House Institute about two years ago, and soon after became a passive house consultant. He said there are about 40 such consultants in the region and about 12 passive houses underway in Seattle, including one in Southwest Seattle that is just about complete.

Other green building certification programs target many elements of green construction, but passive houses are focused mostly on energy and an efficient envelope.

“A number of us in the Northwest... are convinced that this is the answer to many of our energy problems because buildings are still the largest users of energy and the most cost-efficient way to address that is through better building envelope,” Giampietro said.

But examples are needed to show that passive houses can work. Giampietro said the goal of the Mini-B project is to expose more people to passive house methods and generate public interest. “What I'm trying to do is to make some funds available to pursue passive house design,” he said.

Giampietro is especially interested in getting nonprofit housing developers to give passive a try. He said passive houses are an easy way to develop affordable housing that is energy efficient without adding photovoltaics or other sources of renewable energy. If a modular units were used, he said these projects could be made for less than $80,000 per unit.

The Mini-B module was built on the Georgetown campus of South Seattle Community College and trucked to the Phinney Neighborhood Center. Finishing touches are going on now.

After six months, Mini-B will be offered for sale as a backyard cottage or cabin. Giampietro said he hopes the sale will cover the development costs. Any profit would go to sponsors including the Phinney Neighborhood Association, Seattle Central Community College and probably a nonprofit housing organization.

For now, Mini-B is purely an exhibit. People can tour the space and it may be used for meetings but not for housing. To test the energy claims, Giampietro said the space will use power, heat and ventilation.

“It will be getting a workout because people will be coming and visiting it. It will be maintaining it's interior temperature and air quality the whole time.”

For more information, visit

Journal Staff Reporter