Of the nearly 30 full Living Building Challenge-certified structures that have been completed in locales stretching from Atlanta to Ann Arbor to Wollongong, Australia, only four are residences, and only a single one of those is a renovated home.
That home, the Loom House on Bainbridge Island, Washington, achieved the ultra-rigorous, performance-based sustainable building certification earlier this year after a deep green transformation carried out by Seattle’s The Miller Hull Partnership. As described by the firm, the renovation, which was completed in 2019, was “inspired by weaving together people, place, community, and equity” and sets out to provide other homeowners with a “prototype to renovate their homes using resilient retrofitting strategies.”
While Loom House might serve as an exemplar for other beautiful and highly sustainable remodeled homes to come, it will be hard to top the siting of the 3,200-square-foot waterfront residence, which is comprised of a main house to the south and, to the north on the opposite side of an outdoor patio, a second house with guest quarters and office space. The two structures are engulfed in a lush Pacific Northwest landscape (towering evergreens, rhododendrons, Japanese maples, and a “mycological foraging forest”) and perched high atop a landscaped bluff. The rocky shoreline of the Salish Sea lies directly below.
The original residence is a 1960s-era gem designed by Hal Moldstad, the late Seattle architect best known for designing contemporary Puget Sound palaces for Microsoft cofounders Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Miller Hull, which was joined by a larger design team that included, among others, Charlie Hellstern Interior Design, Anne James Landscape Architecture, Clark Construction, and MEP engineer WSP, was careful to preserve the original character of Moldstad’s “mid-century bones” while shepherding the residence into the 21st century with updated interiors and a slew of sustainable upgrades. Major fixes include a super-tight building envelope, triple-glazed windows, extensive water-conserving/harvesting features, radiant floor heating, and a single, 16-kilowatt-hour photovoltaic array on the main house that, during the summer months, produces more energy than the owners of Loom House require. (Excess energy is fed back into the grid.) Together, these systems and others enable the net-positive energy Loom House to operate in a wholly self-sufficient manner.
(As with all Living Building Challenge projects, the program has published a detailed case study as to how Loom House achieved full seven- “Petal”—Place, Energy, Water, Health + Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty—certification.)
In addition to overhauling the two main buildings, which both maintain the same height and footprint as before the renovation, a 725-square-foot detached carport and storage area was added to the .65-acre property as part of the revamp. The original, lower-level garage space in the main living quarters is now the primary suite while the original warren of small rooms on the home’s main upper level was converted into an expansive open living space with soaring windows looking straight out into the Puget Sound. Another addition is an entry bridge that provides a dramatic new approach to the home.
While the Living Building Challenge is, as advertised, the most challenging to achieve of the sustainable building certification programs, Loom House is notable in that it goes even further beyond what was required by LBC’s own stringent imperatives. Namely, the project extends Red List-free materials into all of the furniture and furnishings, not just building materials, “permanently eliminating chemicals of concern from a wider group of craftspeople, installers, vendors, and manufacturers,” according to Miller Hull.
What’s more, the project team lobbied the City of Bainbridge Island—also the name of the large island itself, which is just west of Seattle and east of the Kitsap Peninsula in the heart of the Puget Sound basin—to change city code to allow for on-site grey and black water treatment. The code was changed, a move that the owners and design team hope will encourage other Bainbridge Islanders to follow suit. Neighbors are also invited to wander through a portion of the property’s garden along a small, publicly accessible nature trail to pick berries and contribute to a community cabinet of curiosities (a little free library but for exchanging “interesting and found objects,” per the project case study).
It’s worth noting that while not full Living Building Challenge-certified, Miller Hull’s headquarters at the historic Polson Building in downtown Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood is Petal-certified (this certification pathway requires three of the Challenge’s seven Petals to be achieved with Energy, Water, or Materials being at least one of them) as is the firm’s San Diego studio. Miller Hull also designed Seattle’s Bullitt Center, a commercial office complex that was designed to be the self-proclaimed “greenest building in the world” when completed in 2015. The International Living Future Institute, the nonprofit organization that established the Living Building Challenge in 2006, has its global headquarters in the Bullitt Center.
“The impact of Loom House has continued to drive the project forward, advocating for change far beyond its property line,” said Miller Hull. “From design through construction, the goal of the project was to create a global impact by showing a path to Living Building Challenge Certification for all residential remodels.”