The Lawrence Street House – Bidding and LEED

I know it’s been a little while since I gave you all an update on the Lawrence House. With the holidays, I took a bit longer finishing the drawings and we really didn’t want to have to be doing open houses during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Open Houses are actually kind of a pain. Clean the house, keep it spotless, etc. for a two to three hour window on a Sunday afternoon. So we rested that for a while.

I also got the drawings done and ready to go out to bid. Based on my original budget, we had our present house priced at where we needed to be for a little negotiation and be able to go straight across. Part of the triple bottom line (the three “E’s” of sustainability) is economy and we didn’t want to end up with a mortgage when it’s all said and done.

But I’ve been getting preliminary bids back and they are actually coming in under my original budget (which, frankly, was pretty generous). So now we’re starting to get pretty excited. This may actually happen! We’re also currently at 5kw for the solar and are considering 6kw. We have room on the roof and believe it’s the right thing to do.

We had our first official LEED preliminary rating meeting Friday. This is where we sat down with Eli, our LEED rater, our landscape architect and our mechanical contractor. We’ve already done the design charrette and this is to make sure the major players understand the ground rules for LEED and also what we expect. Third party verification requires some stringent guidelines and we want to do it right from from the beginning. We should easily make Platinum on each house.

We discussed the mechanical systems and how they needed to be designed and installed. The way we are insulating our house, we are foaming the tops of the roof rafters so the heat pump indoor units and the ductwork will be within the conditioned space. That way we don’t have to insulate the ducts and it also makes the system run much more efficiently. We’ll still seal the ducts (the major area of mechanical system inefficiencies) and everything will be ceiling-fed.

We’re thinking the cottage will use a mini-split unit, or ductless heat pump. This is much more efficient, especially in a 776 sq ft house. The main house will have a conventional heat pump, but just a very high efficiency one.

Our landscaping is all low irrigation demand. We discussed at length eco lawn versus regular turf versus synthetic turf. We have just about 3% lawn area, but LEED, to maximize the points, doesn’t allow irrigation or mowing, otherwise you lose those two points. I’ve said all along we won’t chase points, but this is an area we want to be sure we do it right and also have something we will enjoy. An eco lawn in the location we have this might not be what we want. Our landscape architect suggested a synthetic lawn (I know, my first thought is “Astro-Turf“). We are going to go look at one here in town, but I’m skeptical about it. The term “Fake Lawn” is what comes off my lips. I’ll keep you posted.

So that’s where we’re at. I’m hopeful we’ll have the bids come in well and we can get this house sold and start building. The prime building season in Eugene (March – September) is fast approaching.

The Philosophy of Sustainable Design

The Philosophy of Sustainable Design, by Jason McLennan is unique in “green” books about architecture and building design in that it really gets to the philosophy behind sustainable practices, and not just a list of “dos” or “don’ts.” I appreciate that. McLennan is teaching us to fish.

With sixteen chapters and five appendices, the book is very complete. It is also very readable. Sometimes books like this are, frankly, a bit dry and technical. They can tend to be “thick”, as I call them, meaning you need to read a paragraph, stop and reread it again to really comprehend what the author is trying to say. But not so with The Philosophy of Sustainable Design. This book is extremely comprehensive in its approach and its way of thinking.

From the philosophy to the evolution through the principles of sustainable design, McLennan talks about biomimicry (how learning from natural systems and processes can benefit our lives) and the cycle of life (the seven generations principle) and how these all fit together into a whole. All are viewed in a context of respect. Respect for nature, respect for place, respect for people, respect for our grandkids.

“Sustainability deals with all aspects of society,” McLennan writes. If there is one principle in this book that comes through loud and clear, it’s that everything is connected. No one action or process can be done in a vacuum. It WILL affect something, somewhere. “We are not exempt in any way from this overarching interconnectedness principle. And yet, curiously and arrogantly, we act like we are.”

While McLennan talks in depth (and in an interesting style) about sustainable principles, he briefly touches on the concept of how we are disconnected from place. The idea that we have air-conditioned homes and offices that we commute to and from in air-conditioned cars, shows how we have lost our sense of place; we have increasingly relied on science and technology to solve all our problems. In relating this to global warming, he posits that our culture says, “what does it matter how hot it gets if you have an air conditioner?” For me, this is evident in our loss of the front porch and resulting demise of neighborhoods (see my “The Front Porch and the Garden” post). There are some simple principles we need to return to.

All told, this is a great read. It’s not thick, but it is substantial. The Philosophy of Sustainable Design is a “must read” book for anyone wanting to walk the talk.

The Lawrence Street House – Rainwater, Part 1

In addition to harvesting the solar on our site, we are seriously considering harvesting our rainwater. Eugene gets about 50 inches of rain each year. The rooftop of our main house is about 3,400 sq ft (remember, this includes porches and the garage), and our secondary unit has a roof area of about 1,570 sq ft.

There are several resources you can get online to calculate how many gallons of water this translates into. that’s helpful as we get into our irrigation demand and other things we might want to do with our water.
I’ve talked with the people from RainTech in Jacksonville, Oregon, just over 150 miles from here. Their system (pictured above), is called RainSpace. It’s underground, simple low-tech and just seems elegant to us. Visit their site, watch their installation video and see what we mean.
We’re hoping to use rainwater for all our irrigation and maybe even flush our toilets and wash our clothes with it. I’ll get into a bit more about that tomorrow. Meanwhile, check out RainTech, their green certifications and learn a little more about their company.

The Lawrence Street House – Front Porch continued…

I know it’s been a while since my last post. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, I’ve been in the final stages of completing my Sustainable Building Advisor class and the last part of the class got even more intense. Second, we’ve been also finishing the working drawings so we can get bids and find out just where we’re at on our budget.

In this post, I want to kind of tag on to my Front Porch article previously in April. This has been a huge part of my wife and my personal culture shift and paradigm that it became a major part of our design. It is also a major part of our landscaping layout. Thankfully, our landscape architect, David Dougherty (Dougherty Landscape Architects), who designed our landscaping in our present house 11 years ago was called into service to design our new one. David understands our desires (our current landscaping is incredible), sustainability and front porch philosophy.
Because our house faces probably the major bike and pedestrian east-west connection through town, we wanted to have our house relate well to that. It’s interesting that our City code allows us, because we are on a corner lot, to pick one side as the “front” and the other one as the “side”. This means, if we wanted to, we could build a 6′ high, solid wood fence the entire 150 foot length of our lot along this wonderful ped/bike corridor. Real neighborly, huh?
Of course, that would be totally contrary to what we envision for this house. We want to be part of the neighborhood, not project this idea that “this is my space; stay out.” Yet, because we are on a major circulation path, we do want some level of privacy for our outdoor living space. From the street as well as from the secondary home. Therein lies the challenge.
And David met that challenge. The image above is a segment of our conceptual plan, showing the porch and the yard. You can download a full size plan by clicking here, but I want to focus my discussion today on just the front porch and the yard.
I’ll start with the yard first. As I said, we wanted some level of privacy when we’re out having a barbecue or family gathering. After all, this is a major circulation path. Not a wood fence or hedge of arborvitae. This isn’t a major path for cars. We were mowing our lot the other day and in a fifteen minute period or so, I counted 22 bikes, 6 pedestrians and 2 cars passing by. So sound privacy isn’t much of an issue. We also don’t want to be completely on display. David captured that essence wonderfully and we are now taking this conceptual plan to that next level with only minor changes. We are reducing the lawn size even more (that IS our only lawn area — about 250 sq ft on a 9,000 sq ft lot) and providing some more patio for our outdoor table, chairs and umbrella. I’ll go into more detail as this progresses in a later post.
If you’ve read my April post about front porches, you’ll understand why our front porch is the way it is; if you haven’t read it, do that now, then return to this spot. We are envisioning some stone insets between the porch steps and the sidewalk wrapping around the corner. This allows people to cut the corner walking from 15th to Lawrence (they will anyway, so why not go with it?) and makes a hugely-inviting “front” to our home. My wife and I can see ourselves sitting out on the front porch on a Saturday morning, greeting passersby and maybe even inviting them up for a cup of coffee or ice tea (if summer ever arrives…). Neighborhood is all about this interaction and that is some of what we’ve lost in our recent trends in house and subdivision design.
That’s probably enough information for anyone to process in one sitting. As I mentioned, I’ll talk in more detail about some of our other landscape ideas later.
But this parting thought: most people design a house, get everything done, sometimes even start construction, THEN think about colors, plants, patios, etc. It needs to happen sooner, in this earlier stage of design, so the indoors and outdoors have some cohesive connection (and so it fits into the budget). Good design is comprehensive.

The Front Porch and "The Garden"


As an architect, the design of place has always held an incredible fascination to me. To be able to be a part of creating a built environment that is beautiful and useful has always held an appeal that is hard to describe. I first wanted to be an architect when I was in fifth grade; and that “desire of my heart” stuck throughout my teen and young adult years.

The place of homes has also always intrigued me. The places we live and eat and raise our kids have held a special place in my passions. Even in my junior high years, I would design houses for classmates for 25¢ or 50¢ on taped-together pieces of typing paper.

Homes are an incredible place where we live and interact with those we love and care deeply about. Even Jesus is “going to prepare a place” for us that where he is, we may be also. This is a huge part of who we are as humans and what we need physically, emotionally and spiritually.


Culturally, porches have been around since ancient times. In Greek and Roman architecture, porches were common. Also called porticos, loggia or verandas, these covered, open structures attached to buildings were everywhere.

And, in the history of the United States, porches were brought here with the melting pot of cultures coming into this country from Europe and Africa and were also common throughout our early history until right around World War II.


Porches are a splendid connection we have to nature. It’s about how we feel when we’re outside. The refreshing aspect of sitting out enjoying Creation. I think this can be traced back to the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve walking in the “cool of the day” with God. We have within us that God-given connection to nature, that desire to be part of the Garden.

Even in the US, this connection to nature was so strong that we established the world’s first national park in 1872. There is an innate sense in our being that we are somehow connected to nature and the outdoors. The fresh air, the activity. It’s live, not YouTube.


Porches also are a wonderful way to interact with our neighbors. To sit on the front porch in a chair or a swing, sipping ice tea or lemonade in our present “cool of the day” still holds an amazing appeal to us. To be able to greet our neighbors and have a short chat fosters a very spiritual concept called “community”.

While our connection to nature could be part of the first great commandment of loving God, our connection to those in our immediate community could be part of that second commandment to love our neighbor. Do we really love our neighbor? Do we even KNOW our neighbor? We’ve fallen out of touch with those around us.


Three events in the mid 20th Century had an almost fatal effect on the front porch and our connection to our neighbors: the automobile, the air conditioner and the television.

In the summer time, we would often sit outside in the evenings to escape the heat inside our homes. Little insulation, no air conditioning, no TV made this a viable, even necessary alternative. And we didn’t have large back yards with large decks, barbecues and spas. So we’d sit on our front porches and watch our neighbors and friends walk by. We walked more then since we maybe had one car per family and not too many places to drive to.

With the growing availability of the automobile, we became much more mobile as a society. We could go places, and we did. We weren’t home as much. Most people could afford a car, some two. We spent less time in our neighborhood, on our porches. At first, garages were detached buildings at the back of our property. Then, they were attached so we could go directly inside our homes. Then the garage to “house” our cars became a dominant architectural feature. And when electric openers gained even more popularity, we could drive home, press a remote-control button, open our garage door, drive inside and never have contact with any of our neighbors.

With the advent of the air conditioner, we also didn’t have to escape the heat of our homes. We could stay inside in a thermally-constant, comfortable environment. And we had something to occupy our time while inside: television. Television literally exploded in the late 1940s. In 1948, there were 350,000 TVs in the US. By August 1949, there were 2 million. October 1950, 8 million and by 1953, half of all US homes (25 million) had TVs.

Houses didn’t need front porches anymore, so there was a trend toward the ranch house and a simple box with maybe a small roof over the front door… or maybe not.


I was born in 1956, after World War II, so I don’t remember growing up in a house with a front porch. I designed our first two houses, and both had front porches; but they were really just token porches; they weren’t “real”. They were just for show or as that transition space between outside and inside. It happened during the period of the late 1980s and early 1990s when we started putting porches back on the front of our houses, but I’m not sure we really knew why.

I’m thinking now it was a longing for what we no longer had in our connection to the outdoors and our connection to our neighbors. Somewhere in the back of our minds, we remembered a time when we had those connections and it was a time of the front porch. Our connection to God (vertical, through nature and the outdoors) and our connection to our neighbors (horizontal, through a chair and some lemonade) is, I believe, fundamental to the way we are created.

There is a trend in planning that is what I’d call a sort of return to our roots. It’s that desire to regain some of what we lost with the automobile, the air conditioner and the television. It is a desire for the simpler, more basic lifestyle where we can breathe a little easier and be a little calmer. It’s a Sabbath of sorts, where we don’t feel compelled to produce, we can just be.