6 Reasons Why An Architect Will Save You Money

As architects, we know that building your dream home is a huge financial (and time!) commitment. We have all heard cautionary tales of cost overruns and construction delays. Many homeowners begin custom home projects with excitement and enthusiasm but end them with frustration about a lengthy and overwhelming process. As architects, we can help.

A common misstep that homeowners make is waiting too long to hire an architect. An architect is a start-to-finish resource—not just your designer or permit specialist, but your advocate, advisor, project coordinator, and guide as you turn your dream into reality. Starting your project with an architect will provide you with valuable insights and expertise that will save you money not only during construction but throughout the life of your building.


How can an architect save you money?

1. We are creative problem solvers

We analyze your constraints and highlight multiple ways to achieve your goals. Creative solutions come in all sizes and prices, and we ensure you have the information you need to choose which solution is right for you.

For example, perhaps you think an addition is the solution to your needs, but you might just need to reallocate and reorganize the space you have. Architects can see the opportunities that might not be apparent to you, especially if you live in the home and are accustomed to its current patterns.

This interior remodel reconfigured existing spaces to add function and daylight in key areas — without increasing square footage.

This interior remodel reconfigured existing spaces to add function and daylight in key areas — without increasing square footage.


2. We balance soft costs and hard costs

Soft costs include services and fees relating to design and permitting. Design services aren’t free, but they are a relatively small percentage of construction cost (5-12% of most custom homes, depending on the services provided). Creative problem solving at the beginning of a project can add up to significant savings during construction and occupancy.

Hard costs are direct construction costs—materials and labor. Material and resource efficiency is key to managing hard costs. Architects can:

  • Right-size your home so you are not overbuilding and overspending on space (and therefore labor and materials) you don’t need.

  • Design for energy efficiency so your home is more affordable to heat and cool.

  • Suggest unconventional strategies to achieve conventional goals.

For example, we helped one client achieve a 20% cost savings on structural additions by choosing to lift up their existing house and build below it, rather than building on top of the existing structure. Learn more about this unconventional solution here.

The existing home would have had to undergo significant structural alterations to support a new second story. Lifting the existing home and building the addition beneath allowed for most of the existing structure to remain, and eliminated the need for a new roof!

The existing home would have had to undergo significant structural alterations to support a new second story. Lifting the existing home and building the addition beneath allowed for most of the existing structure to remain, and eliminated the need for a new roof!


3. We balance first costs and life-cycle costs

Buildings –like cars—cost more than their initial purchase price, or “first cost.” They need to operate effectively and efficiently for their entire life cycle. They need to be heated, cooled, illuminated, and ventilated. They need to draw and supply power and water for the various activities that take place inside. All of these systems can be designed to take advantage of natural resources on your site to save on long-term operations cost.

A sneakier part of life-cycle cost is maintenance – interior and exterior material choices can have a lot to do with how much you spend to care for a home over the course of its life. You can save money in the long-term if you choose:

  • Materials that weather with age rather than degrade

  • Materials that are durable for their climate and use

  • Materials that support occupant health

Concerned with the cradle-to-grave life cycle of materials and processes? Then we can help you evaluate the environmental costs of your project life-cycle as well.


4. We design buildings to be resilient systems

Buildings are systems, not just an enclosure for stuff. All the parts of the system have an impact on operational cost, which is a significant factor in how affordable it will be to live in your house long-term. We consider the interdependency of many factors when designing for operational cost savings: the equipment and appliances you put into your home, the performance of the building envelope, and your preferences and behaviors as an occupant.

For example, our Yakima Net Positive Project incorporates passive solar, geothermal, PV panels, super-insulated walls, and smart home integration. Learn more about these integrated systems here.

Site-wide sustainable strategies provide the basis for long-term cost savings. This geothermal field was a key integrated system for this net-positive energy home.

Site-wide sustainable strategies provide the basis for long-term cost savings. This geothermal field was a key integrated system for this net-positive energy home.

5. We know when to standardize and when to customize

While every project presents a unique set of goals and constraints, there are many similarities we encounter from one project to the next. Our approach to every job includes evaluating where we can save time and money by drawing from proven solutions on past projects and where customization and innovation are the best way to address a new set of challenges.

For example, Roy Farms is a family-owned Yakima Valley farm that has been in operation for more than 100 years. As part of their commitment to a sustainable future, they asked us to remodel an existing farm building to create a healthy and satisfying work space for their field employees. For remodels like this, customization can be an important strategy, where unusual conditions or constraints exist and energy and material efficiency are important goals. Learn more about the ways we upgraded this farm to meet their sustainability goals here.

Custom wall and roof assemblies were key to reusing most of the existing structure while increasing energy efficiency.

Custom wall and roof assemblies were key to reusing most of the existing structure while increasing energy efficiency.

6. Knowledge is Purchasing Power

When you hire an architect, you get years of experience and insight focused on your needs. We are your advisor and advocate, and work to empower you to make decisions that support your goals. When we work with you from the beginning of your custom home project, we can make sure you get a home ideally suited to your needs. Our consistent involvement as your advocate from start-to-finish brings you a level of control throughout the process, so that you avoid the unhappy surprises of budget overruns and higher than expected maintenance costs.

If you are in the early planning stages of a new construction or remodeling project and you’d like to discuss it with us, please fill out our Brief Online Questionnaire.

If you are interested in a new custom home or home remodel and would like to have a more in-depth discussion of project priorities, site issues, and design goals, please contact us.

Family Builds Out Old Home By Lifting It Up, Up, Up – by David Hayes

Betsy Grant and her husband Steve have wanted to own a home in the Olde Town section of Issaquah since they lived in an apartment on Front Street in 2001.

Their dream came to fruition in 2014 when a property went up for sale on First Avenue Northeast — a 1,070-square-foot rambler built in the 1950s. 

“We love the neighborhood. We wanted to be where we could walk places and ride our bikes all the time,” Betsy Grant said. “We found the location. Now we’re creating the house to fit our family.”

With two sets of twins, the Grants needed more space for their family of six. They are increasing the home’s square footage to about 2,100 and are upsizing from three bedrooms and one bath to five bedrooms, three baths and a utility guest room. They are also making the first floor more accessible for their son with special needs. 

With an all-in budget of $450,000, they didn’t want to tear down the existing structure to make way for a new one. Betsy Grant credits her architect Terry Phelan of Living Shelter Design Architects with the idea of the lift — jacking up the old house and filling in with new structure underneath. 

“I like the idea of keeping the character of the neighborhood and upgrading so the house has another 100 years of use without disregarding everything that’s already here,” Phelan said.

“We wanted to do the most cost- and resource-efficient way of making our house two stories,” Betsy Grant said. “Terry’s company came up with idea of lifting it. Two companies did a cost analysis, if it made sense to raise it.

“By raising, we save the entire roof, save all of the outside structure and the bottom subfloor and bottom structure. We get to reuse the whole foundation,” Grant added.

Craig Dye of Old Town Builders admits he was skeptical of the idea at first.

“We were shaking our heads,” Dye said. “But we sat down, did the math and saw, with the engineering requirements, it made a lot of sense to lift the existing structure.”

Dye explained that homes built in mid 1950s often had a keyway at the top of the foundation and a 2-by-4 would sit in there that was good enough to keep lateral movement from happening in a seismic event. 

“Now they require you to bolt it into the foundation. So we would be required to come in and open all the walls and positively tie into the foundation. That’s one big chunk of change right there,” he said.

Phelan said another benefit of the lift was headroom. 

“They had a pretty low ceiling on the existing structure. So by lifting, they got to choose a higher ceiling height,” she said.

With Old Town Builders on board last year, Dye said they found the right people to do the lift job on the home Jan. 11.

“We found a wonderful company, Cook Structural Movers from Fall City, with three brothers who’ve been doing it for decades,” Dye said. “Their father is a contractor and said he could do it on a dare. So he found a way and did it. Now they have specialized tools. For example, they have these hydraulic pumps and jacks. They’ll start lifting it up and once the jacks have enough head space, they’ll slip in another course of these ties. Shimmy it up, set another tie beam in and move the jack up. Just a beautiful operation.”

Grant said it took just three hours to get the home up on the pylons stacked in each of the four corners, surprising the neighbors. 

“The neighbors next door are working with Terry on a project of their own and are in the design phase,” she said. “They told me, ‘We came home and all of a sudden the house next door was taller than ours.’ It happened so fast.”

Now two years into the project, Grant feels like they’re in the home stretch. 

Dye had a different definition of home stretch.

“We’re probably at a timeline of being completely done with all the little finishes. Probably looking at another four-and-a-half to five months,” he said.

Dye said he’s amazed by Cook Structural Movers’ ability to match their lift with his build underneath.

“They gave us about an extra foot and half where top of walls will land. We have to do two things — build as plumb as possible and try to make the top plate outline match the existing pretty close. We know our walls won’t exactly be plumb here and there, so we’ll have to cheat in a touch here and there to make it land right. When the house comes down, they can nudge it into place with the jacks. Dan was telling me he could get it to match within an eighth- to quarter-inch. It is amazing.”

During the construction, the Grants were fortunate to find a rental just down the street.

“We’re staying six doors down — a miracle of timing,” she said. “A family was moving out of a rental house at the exact time we needed to move out of our house. We came to an agreement with the owner. Which is great. We can come down here and bug Craig’s crew any time we want and the kids get to play with friends on street and still walk to school. It worked out really, really well.” 

Thanks to dear David Hayes from The Issaquah Press for the good article, here is the link to the website:

4 Tips for Preparing Your Home for a Loved One with Parkinson’s Disease

By Guest Blogger Jim Vogel

There are an estimated 60,000 Americans diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) each year, and the illness seems to be especially prominent in the senior population. As a result, many families are opening their homes to elder loved ones with Parkinson’s rather than opting for them to live on their own (which can create dangerous circumstances as the disease progresses) or in a senior care facility. The disease can make some everyday, seemingly-harmless tasks become hazardous. Chopping vegetables in the kitchen, for example, is a greater risk. Falls (anywhere in the house) are a very real threat.


If you are one of the generous individuals acting as a caregiver for your ailing loved one, there are several ways to make this transition easier for both of you. Here are a few tips on how to get your home ready for your newest resident:


Start with simple adjustments in each room of the house.

This guide from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research offers advice for quick, cost-effective tweaks that will help protect your loved one. For example, remove any power cords or loose rugs from the floor that may make getting around even more difficult for someone with mobility issues, and increase the amount of light in dark hallways by adding lamps or battery-powered wall sconces.


Consider heftier home modifications if they are needed.

You and your loved one will benefit from having a home safety tour together and then discussing any adjustments to living spaces that will make life at home more manageable. For example, installing hand rails in the bathroom will make getting in and out of the bathtub safer, while structural changes such as widening doorways, and replacing carpeted floors with hard, smooth flooring surfaces will accommodate individuals who use walkers or wheelchairs.


Stock your fridge full of healthy, nutrient-dense foods.

This is a good habit for any family to practice, and those with PD are no exception. Maintaining a healthy diet and staying active not only makes us feel our best, but can also ward off conditions like osteoporosis that individuals with PD are prone to.Keep your fridge stocked with healthy foods and ready-to-drink filtered water. Your loved one should also consult his doctor about any special dietary and exercise needs, especially if he suffers from any other conditions (such as diabetes) or takes medication.


Get some extra help if you need it.

It’s completely natural – and reasonable – to feel overwhelmed as a caregiver. If that’s the case, it may be worthwhile to hire a part-time or even full-time caregiver. These professionals can provide special support to both you and your loved one, especially if the PD has advanced to a stage that makes everyday tasks difficult. In order to find the right caregiver for you and your family’s unique situation, be sure to ask potential candidates specific questions. For example, “What caregiving training have you had?” and “What drew you to caregiving?”


As the Michael J. Fox Foundation notes, Parkinson’s is a “highly individualistic disease that everyone experiences differently.”  There are many long-term benefits to your loved one being in a familiar, residential environment, including the ability to personalize and customize surroundings as the needs of the person receiving care change, a reduction in pre-mature decline, and an extended and improved quality of life. Although no one wants to watch someone they care about deal with any hardships brought on by PD, inviting a loved one to live with you after this diagnosis can be a wonderful way for you both to spend quality time together and lean on one another for support.

About Jim Vogel 

Jim vogel Created along with his wife after they became caregivers for their aging parents. The site is dedicated to promoting senior health and providing valuable information to seniors and their caregivers to help ensure our nation’s seniors are able to thrive throughout their golden years.

At Peace in Your Home, Part 3: An Exercise in Spatial Mindfulness

We hope you enjoyed Parts 1 and 2 of our continuing discussion of home. In this concluding post on the topic, we’d like to offer a few questions to encourage your exploration of home and guide you as you explore how you can create restorative spaces:


What type of space do you need to relax in? Should it be quiet, or is there a particular sound you find relaxing? What colors, textures, views, and smells help you feel relaxed? Do you currently have a space like this? A relaxing space might be a whole room or just a quiet corner.


What sort of social interaction do you enjoy at home? Perhaps you love to entertain, and need a dedicated gathering space for many friends. Or maybe you prefer smaller interactions with family and limited guests. How can you accommodate the social activities that are meaningful to you?


What aspects of the natural world do you enjoy? Can you introduce your favorite type of plant, material, animal, or color into your space? Even without a garden or yard, there are ways to bring elements of nature into your home and engage all of your senses.


What activities, hobbies, or practices do you find fulfilling? Do these activities have a dedicated space or presence in your home? Do you have any rituals or traditions surrounding these activities? Some examples may include cooking, crafting, gardening, reading or writing, playing an instrument, or a more formal religious or spiritual practice.

At Peace in Your Home, Part 2: Spatial Mindfulness

We hope you enjoyed Part 1 of our discussion on home last week, Nesting Instincts. We’re continuing the discussion this week, with a focus on strategies and rituals that can help craft a peaceful environment.

The qualities and features required to create a restorative home depend on the needs of the inhabitants. In his book A Home for the Soul, architect Anthony Lawlor describes that there is often “a gap between who we are and where we live”[1]. We may need a home that provides peace and quiet, but where we live may seem to be more of a source of disagreement and disorder. Rather than ascribing to a rigid system or approach, Lawlor suggests that anyone can evaluate their home with a spatial mindfulness that focuses on accommodating and celebrating meaningful daily activities. What are the rituals of your daily life? What do you find comforting and enjoyable? How can you make space for these activities and honor them? Lawlor urges that “each room in your home can care for a different aspect of your soul and all rooms together can renew and enliven wholeness within you.”[2]

The Danish tradition of hygge incorporates a similar mindfulness, bringing simple but meaningful intentions to everyday spaces and interactions. Hygge is challenging to define in English, roughly translating as “cozy-ness,” while its root word in Norwegian means “well-being.”[3]

Writer Louisa Thomsen Brits, who is half Danish and half English, captures the variety of setting and ritual embodied in the word, describing hygge as:

“…the art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive…. In our overstretched, complex, modern lives, hygge is a resourceful, tangible way to find deeper connection to our families, our communities, our children, our homes and our earth.”[4]

Hygge is not just about the home, it is also about the people and experiences that enrich homes and communities. It is important to note that the origins of the word “home” don’t all focus on a single, private dwelling either. Within various languages and periods in history “home” has been used to describe a collection of dwellings, a small village, or a community.[5] Depending on how far we are from it, we use the term home to refer to our broader geographic background as well. Home does not stop at the walls of our house, or even at the fence surrounding our yard. The private dwelling can only do so much to repair the soul. As social beings, we thrive on a network of connections to other people and places.

Architect Christopher Day writes that if we aim to design places that heal and restore, they must be “accessible for all, not just for globetrotters and meditators but especially for those who lack the outer or inner means.”[6] Mindfully tending to our own needs necessarily encompasses being aware of shared communal needs as well. The serious challenges of housing affordability and homelessness cannot be addressed one single-family dwelling at a time. Our communities need spaces that provide refuge for the most vulnerable members. We need spaces to gather and learn from one another; that allow us to publicly voice support and dissent; celebrate and mourn; and recharge and reconnect with each other and the natural world. Home is more than just shelter. It reflects our choices, values, and daily rituals, but is also in dialogue with us and can change with our needs. Our homes and selves are intertwined, and neither is perfect. Perfect is fragile, stressful, and untenable. Homes and communities that foster resilience are works in progress, as are we.

[1] Anthony Lawlor, A Home for the Soul, 16

[2] Ibid, 15

[3] Visit Denmark, Accessed August 3, 2016

[4] Louisa Thomsen Brits, “Hygge,”  Accessed August 4, 2016

[5] Moore, A Prehistory of Home, 7-8.Architect Christopher Day (link)

[6] Christopher Day, Places of the Soul (London: Thorsons, 1995), 140

Intrigued by the idea of “Hygge”? read more here:

At Peace in Your Home, Part 1: Nesting Instincts

I had a roommate in college who would spend days at the library studying for finals. She would stop home briefly to shower and change as needed, but for the larger part of a week would dwell elsewhere. Once all of her finals were complete, she would return home in full force, immersing herself in the space she had forsaken for the demands of school. She would thoroughly clean our apartment with celebratory relief, cook piles of food to share with friends, and generally reconnect with her home

When the stresses and challenges that are an undeniable part of daily life pull our physical and mental energies in one direction (or many, simultaneously), we often experience a counterbalancing urge to return to our “home base.” There are innate connections between humans and home. While home can take many forms depending on location, available resources, and cultural traditions, all homes serve a few universal purposes.

The most basic function of a home is to provide us with shelter. Animals and insects large and small construct shelter as well, but human homes are unique not only in their variety of appearance, but in their ability to reflect layers of personal and cultural meaning. In his book A Prehistory of Home , anthropologist Jerry Moore offers an expansive look at human homes, from ancient settlements to contemporary suburbs. Moore points out that home has always been a human “project” – our homes reflect many decisions and choices about our constraints, values, and identity, and they change as we change over time.[1]

We craft our homes as we craft ourselves.  Some approaches to this craft are based in long-standing cultural practices: The Eastern traditions of Feng Shui and mandalas are used to connect spatial order at various scales with a greater cosmological order. More of-the-moment approaches are catalogued in countless do-it-yourself magazines, each proclaiming to be the missing link in our search for a well-ordered home. Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has sold more than six million copies and has been published in more than forty languages.[2] The desire to improve the spaces around us is a deeply rooted and powerful instinct.

The relationship between home and self –between our surroundings and our psyche –is one of exchange and interconnection. The way we feel influences how we interact with our homes. Our homes in turn shape how we feel and how we see ourselves. We start and end each day at home, and it is within our abilities to create homes that bridge the gap between what we need from the world and what we get. A home like this does not wall out the world and separate us from each other. It mends the parts of the soul that need the most care so we can continue to find our place in the world.

We’ll be continuing this discussion of home over the next couple of weeks, and we’d love to hear from you on this topic. What aspects of your home help you recharge? What activities do you like to celebrate? What is missing from your home that would make it a more restorative environment?

[1] Jerry D. Moore, A Prehistory of Home (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 3.

[2] KonMari Media, “The Author,” Accessed August 3, 2016

Photo credit: Peter Rimar, Wikimedia Commons

Slowing Down and Scaling Up: Thoughts on Regenerative Design

At the recent EcoBuilding conference here in Seattle, Bill Reid gave an energizing keynote on regenerative design. As sustainability has gained influence in design culture, the green building industry has developed a dizzying array of certifications, checklists, and performance standards that attempt to quantify sustainability for the market at large. Reid reminded us that these metrics are important but insufficient on their own, as they often don’t address the complexity of interaction between human and natural systems over time.

Reid challenged us to think beyond these metrics of sustainability and focus on regeneration – a continual process of rebirth that requires not only the restoration of natural systems but an ongoing, evolving relationship between natural and human systems. He shared that in his experience, it takes time to understand an ecological system, and offered a few key points to define a regenerative, systems-based approach to design:

  • relationships are regenerating, not buildings

  • lists are an incomplete way to know a place

  • any system is made up of invisible patterns and relationships , both natural and human

Designing a regenerative future for any ecosystem requires first understanding the system – discovering its patterns and relationships in order to engage with them. As you might imagine, uncovering invisible patterns in an ecosystem is not a strictly linear process (this image depicts it nicely). It requires careful consideration, asking us to slow down.

“Slow down” is not a phrase that often finds its way into the design process. In regards to regenerative design, however, it doesn’t necessarily refer to the time required to complete the project. To slow down in this context means to take a more mindful approach to understanding the purpose and potential of the project at the beginning, when many transformative choices can be made.

In the Slow Food movement, for example, “slow” is used as an intentional contrast to “fast” food, but the movement is more about cultivating awareness of our role in the food system, proclaiming that “a better, cleaner, fairer world begins with what we put on our plate – our daily choices determine the future of the environment, economy and society.” There is even a Slow Home movement that has taken a cue from Slow Food, urging alternative approaches to standardized, mass-produced residential development.

Images from the Charles and Ray Eames 1977 film Powers of Ten – a look at the interconnections of scales large and small.

Images from the Charles and Ray Eames 1977 film Powers of Ten – a look at the interconnections of scales large and small.

In his book A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander reminds us that not only are patterns present at various scales in the landscape, but they are connected through scales. Both Slow Food and Slow Home challenge us to address our role in an existing, problematic pattern (fast food or fast homes), and encourage us to exercise our power to choose an alternative pattern. Small-scale choices are integral to large-scale evolution in an interconnected system.

Alexander also urges that “…when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole….” While buildings themselves are not regenerating, they can be a catalyst for evolution within a larger ecosystem. They can help establish regenerative relationships and behaviors.

Consider your home not just as your individual space, but as a piece of the larger system comprised of your neighborhood, your local economy, and your watershed. Which patterns work in your system, and which need to evolve? What role can you play in repairing the world around you?

What Does it Mean to “Build Local”?

Most of us are familiar with the economic and environmental benefits of “buy local”: contributing to our local economy, minimizing the energy spent transporting our purchases, and supporting organizations capable of responding to the unique needs or desires of our community. If we expand this approach to building a home or small business space, it is clear that the same strategies apply – from obtaining materials from local and regional sources, to working with nearby designers who understand the local climate and lifestyle. The “build local” approach is also essential to accomplishing a more ephemeral feat: what architects often term a “sense of place.”

Place is a challenging term to define – what makes a location an authentic “place,” rather than just coordinates on a map? What makes some cities, towns and homes memorable and others forgettable? What impact does “place” have on our community and individual identities? And how do we uncover a location’s sense of place? Building professionals and scholars have long debated these questions amidst ongoing explorations of what makes a space a “place,” and how this sense of place varies from region to region.


We often think of particular historical styles of building when thinking of different regions – Craftsman in Seattle, Ranch Style in Los Angeles, and Victorian in San Francisco for example. But the true character of a place is not a particular style or product. Place is not static, but something that is continuously evolving through the interaction of people and their environment. As a region’s people and culture evolve, so can its architecture.


What does it mean to “build local” in the Pacific Northwest?

In most cities and towns, it is easy to find buildings that don’t tell us much about our communities. Fast-food chains and big-box stores are two common examples of buildings that owe their appearance to processes far removed from their site and the community they serve. They are uniformly prescriptive, rather than uniquely perceptive. These buildings detract from a sense of place not because they lack a specific style, but because regardless of where they are built, their appearance and relationship to their surroundings is the same.

It is the process required to build locally – collaborating with suppliers and practitioners in your community and building in response to local features and constraints—that brings the character of a place into focus. Place-making requires discovery, participation and interaction, not only from building professionals, but from home owners and community members as well. This process can shape architecture in a variety of ways: a building may respond to the history of a region, highlight local cultural or natural resources, showcase the craft and innovation of local artisans and builders, or celebrate local materials. In the Pacific Northwest we are lucky to have a variety of local materials and manufacturers to support an equally varied palette for local architecture. Stylistically, local architecture may blend in or stand out—either way, if it communicates something specific about its context, it tells a unique story about a place.


Place is more than a dominant historical style: Craftsman in Seattle, Victorian in San Francisco, and Ranch in Los Angeles.

The built environment – the sum of our buildings, outdoor spaces, and infrastructure—occupies the space between us and the raw landscape. When we enclose spaces in buildings we shouldn’t think of them as separate from the land, but rather places that can heighten our awareness of our surroundings. The forms we build embody choices and values pertaining both to the inhabitants and to the land upon which they sit. Architecture provides shelter, enables interaction, and provides retreat and privacy. It is an essential tool for living in the world. Successful places not only function well as a collection of tools, but they express a dynamic connection between the land and the people who live there.

There is ecological and spiritual value in forging connections with the places we live. When we actively engage in the “build local” process as home owners, community members, and designers, then we can better understand our relationships to each other and our impact on the world around us. Building locally is not about shutting out the world, but negotiating local and global tensions. With the wealth of inspiring imagery available online with the click of a mouse, it can be tempting to seek out design trends from all over in hopes of creating something unique. While there is much to be learned from the diversity of materials and methods in various locales, the act of engaging with the local community and environment is essential to discovering what is unique about your place in the world and contributing to a sustainable future.

 Photo credits: Historic mill photo from UW Libraries; Map of Washington from Visit Seattle; Downtown and ferry boat from Department of Transportation; Craftsman home from HistoryLink, Victorian home by Hypersite on Creative Commons, Ranch home by Visitor7 on Creative Commons.

Leading Force Energy and Design Center: A Space for Powerful Ideas

There is a revolution underway in the building industry based on a simple, yet powerful idea: collaboration produces better results. This seems like an obvious truth. So why is it so revolutionary in the building professions? Isn’t this the way buildings are built?

As it turns out, it isn’t–at least, not historically. The traditional approach to building design and construction is what the American Institute of Architects (AIA) calls the “building triad” — comprised of the owner, architect, and contractor. This triad forms the top of the project hierarchy and additional subcontractors and specialists are brought into a project as needed. But this way of working is outdated. It fails to harness and apply specialized knowledge. It leads to inefficiencies, miscommunications, and missed opportunities.

We, as building professionals, need to find ways to better apply our specialized knowledge as a force for collaborative good.

This collaborative revolution is enough of a departure from the traditional approach that the AIA has adopted a new term for it – Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). While this term may seem vague, and the 60+ page document explaining it may seem complex, the core of this approach is comprised of several simple ideas: 


– build your team early

– practice clear and consistent communication

– establish mutual respect and trust

– share risk and reward



IPD recognizes that the ideal team is comprised of multiple stakeholders, each with specific expertise that informs a project from start to finish. It prioritizes collective decision making and open discussion over the strict, linear hierarchy of the “building triad.” The team’s success is linked to the project’s success, and this reduces time and material waste, maximizes project efficiency, and increases the project value for the owner.

Not only does IPD offer a new approach to professional collaboration, it has the potential to produce better performing, more affordable buildings. There are thresholds of efficiency and cost savings that are tough to surpass without collaboration. For instance, AIA research has shown that it is possible to reduce energy use by 30% through fairly simply tools such as prescriptive checklists and best practices. But the AIA ultimately argues that passing the 30% threshold requires that the “complex interaction of systems and context must be taken into account.” Such analysis requires ongoing and open discussion, not just information. That is, turning discussion into innovative design requires team relationships, not just checklists.

Collaborative approaches are the future of sustainable building. While technology continues to play a role in facilitating virtual collaboration, we believe it is also important to make space for face-to-face collaboration. That is why we are proud to announce our partnership in the Leading Force Energy and Design Center. Leading Force is a place where collaboration is given a physical presence – where the powerful ideas of IPD are tested in real time and open to the public. It is a place for designers and builders, clients and community members, and experts and novices alike. It is a place for learning and innovation. We hope to see you there.

Upgrading a Mid-Century Classic


With the recent revival of the housing market, it is a great time to think about upgrading existing homes to improve their livability and longevity. We recently had the opportunity to recommend an upgrade strategy for a mid-century home in Bellevue, WA. Mid-century homes offer many desirable features and renovation possibilities. While surface updates are the most immediately appealing, energy efficiency upgrades are essential to the long-term sustainability of any home. We recommend getting started with an energy audit to identify the most effective strategies.


Many mid-century homes are also single-level, making them ideal candidates for long-term accessibility. Simple updates such as widening doors and reworking bathrooms can make these homes even more livable for people of all ages and abilities.

Do you live in a mid-century home? Tell us what is great about it as well as what features you’d like to upgrade!