Easy Being Green // An Island Couple Shares Their Leed Platinum Home

By Vicki Wilson

If you’ve ever forgotten your reusable grocery bags or dragged your overflowing recycling bin to the curb in the pouring rain, you know that sometimes doing the right thing can be, well, a bit of a hassle. But for Bainbridge Islanders Ed and Joanne Ellis, living green means living well. In fact, from the moment you enter the comfortable sanctuary they call home, you toss aside any notion of sacrifice and realize that a dream house can be a green house.

“It’s a beautiful, well-designed house that’s both elegant and sustainable. It doesn’t have to be a yurt,” says Joanne. She and Ed have lived on Bainbridge since 1990. The couple raised their three children here, and when it was time for a change, they knew that going green was the way to go.

“Joanne had lusted after the view of Seattle from Madrona Drive,” recalls Ed, an executive in the shipping industry. When a dilapidated cottage came on the market, Ed and Joanne went to check it out. As they looked out over the water, a container ship floated by, and they took it as a sign to go ahead.

The couple knew they wanted to build, and that they wanted to build green. Like so many construction projects, one thing often leads to another. In this case, that domino effect was good news for the environment, because along with their architect and builder they decided to go for the top prize: LEED Platinum, a designation they were awarded in 2010. Their home was the first in the state of Washington to receive this honor outside of Seattle’s city limits.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building, home or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

The LEED rating system, as defined by the Natural Resources Defense Council, offers four certification levels for new construction: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Achieving LEED Platinum status requires a unified vision from everyone who works on the project. The Ellises found like-minded partners when they chose Matthew Coates of Coates Design Architects and Rob Smallwood of Smallwood Design & Construction, Inc. as their architect and builder.

“This is a new way of building that requires a new process,” explains Coates. “You can’t look at building a green home like you do a conventional home and just slap all this green stuff on it.”

That new process included demolition. By mindfully deconstructing the existing structure, the team was able to effectively divert 98 percent of the debris from the landfill, and save the Ellises $16,000 in the process. The reduce reuse-recycle attitude even encompassed the single Douglas Fir that needed to be taken down. The tree was milled on-site and became stair treads and trim work in the finished house. “That stately old tree is still here,” says Joanne.

The Ellises’ passion, enthusiasm and belief in the project inspired their building partners. “We try to be environmentally conscious,” explains Smallwood. “But the requirements of this project changed how we operate.”

Of course, before demolition comes design. For Ed and Joanne, the guiding question was, “How do we want to live?” Ed admits to being a child of the 60s, who did his share of marching for causes; Joanne remembers her grandmother’s ball of rubber bands as an emblem of a “waste not, want not” way of life. “Just as you are what you eat, you are where you live,” she says.

The Ellises definitely talk the talk and walk the walk. The two-bedroom main house and detached guest house feature myriad multi-use and multi-purpose spaces, allowing the house to expand and contract depending on the family’s needs. And everything from appliances to HVAC components was carefully selected with the environment in mind.

The kitchen is the perfect example. It features smart appliances, such as a Miele induction ceramic cooktop and a Miele Energy Star dishwasher, as well as an ample recycled quartz Caesarstone countertop that can double as a buffet sideboard or a gift-wrapping station. Even the leaves of the dining table fold away out of sight, making the table just right for two on most days.

“This is my triple-purpose room,” says Joanne of the combination family room/office/spare bedroom in the center of the main house’s first floor. Music-loving Ed was given a right-sized closet for his beloved audio components, as well as an office workstation that can be hidden behind closet doors when company comes. And, if the company is spending the night, the specially designed coffee table tucks into a custom-built alcove, and the couch converts into a bed with a simple pull. Additional pocket doors create a fourth wall for privacy.

Even though green architecture is a forward-thinking concept, its dictates are rooted in the same kind of homespun common sense on which the pioneers depended when they were homesteading. Siting a house to take advantage of the sun for warmth and light, using cisterns to collect rainwater—even growing your own food, as the Ellises do in the meadow that stands in for a lawn—none of these ideas are new.

Still, the house is replete with innovation. The private deck area off the second floor features a vegetated patio that also provides greater insulation to the rooms below. The master bathroom dualflush toilet incorporates a hand sink into the tank top. After you’ve “finished your business,” you wash your hands in the sink, and when you flush, the runoff “grey” water drains from the sink to fill the tank.

The master bath offers another example of old meeting new, or even East meeting West. Ed had lived in Japan, where he became a fan of the ofuru, or Japanese soaking tub. Basically a Jacuzzi without the jets, the tub facilitates traditional Japanese bathing: shower first, and then soak in the warm, relaxing tub. Because you’re already clean and the tub is designed to hold the water at a comfortable temperature, it can be filled, used and re-used for days. “The tub presented a complicated challenge,” explains Ryan Smallwood, Rob’s son and the project superintendent. “We had to pour it in place; we probably used a yard or two of concrete.”

As the bumper sticker says, “Live simply so that others may live.” For Ed and Joanne Ellis, living simply has not meant sacrificing functionality, comfort or beauty. Matthew Coates sums it up well: “It became obvious early on that Ed and Joanne wanted to do more than just build green. They are active role models for sustainable living.”