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Green Homes

Convert an Attic into a Luxury Bath

**Transformed from a dark attic,** this sunny bathroom addition benefits from lots of light and tasteful materials including a recycled chalkboard-slate floor, recycled-glass wall tiles, and a beadboard ceiling of sustainably harvested cedar. The wide-open curbless shower features two shower units and a shelf capped with slate.
Image Credit: Charles Bickford/Fine Homebuilding
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**Convenience concealed.** One big goal was to bring amenities closer together. The bathroom and laundry, both formerly downstairs, are now combined in one efficient space. Swing-away cabinets hide the washer and dryer from view, leaving an otherwise simple and tidy space. **Great, guilt-free materials.** Towel bars and other bath hardware are all made from recycled aluminum. Storm-felled Pacific madrone trees provided the wood for the cabinets and backsplash; the vanity counter is made of Richlite, a material made of kraft paper and phenolic resins.
Image Credit: Charles Bickford/Fine Homebuilding
**Don't just save energy—reclaim it.** A new, energy-efficient Viessmann boiler (left) and water heater (right) keep up with the home's increased demands. The Gravity Film eXchange (GFX) drainwater heat-recovery device (center) captures some of the heat lost down the drain and sends it to the water heater.
Image Credit: VELOCIPEDE architects inc
**Stacked framing doesn't just save on materials.** Stacking each I-joist rafter on a wall stud avoided the need for window headers (see arrow in photo). Not only did this require less framing material, it also provided a comfortable ceiling height and plenty of windows without modifying the existing roof ridge.
Image Credit: VELOCIPEDE architects inc
**Improving energy efficiency.** When you build an addition, it's a good time to consider insulation and HVAC upgrades. In this case, cellulose insulation was sprayed into the new walls and roof. Wall-mounted PEX tubing was then installed to provide radiant heat.
Image Credit: VELOCIPEDE architects inc
**Regionally sourced slate.** Recycled chalkboards were located at a salvage company in Bellingham, a 90-minute drive. They were not available in Seattle at the time, in spite of the fact that Seattle has undergone a decade of steady school renovations. Large, smooth faces would have made for a great shower floor with few joints; these heavy slabs with irregular undersides were a challenge to install.
Image Credit: VELOCIPEDE architects inc
**Same footprint, more space.** An attic dormer was the easiest way to fit some much needed amenities into this home. The new space includes the bathroom/laundry combo (shaded area in floor plan) and an adjacent dressing room.
Image Credit: Paul Perreault

An attic conversion brings daily tasks closer together without expanding this home’s footprint.

Leslie and Heather, the owners of a 100-year-old 1 1â„2-story house in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district, were tired of hiking downstairs in the middle of the night from their attic bedroom to the first-floor bathroom. To make matters even more inconvenient, the laundry room was still farther below in the basement. Leslie and Heather wanted to simplify their lives and their floor plan by putting all three spaces on one level. Their poorly insulated bedroom needed revamping anyway, so it made sense to add a dormer next to the bedroom, gaining space for a bath, a laundry, and a dressing room.

Design approach: Mix historical, modern, functional, and sustainable

Leslie and Heather wanted the new construction to harmonize with the traditional style of their old house, but they also wanted unmistakably modern features such as a large tub, a curbless shower, and stylish sinks. They also challenged us to make the project environmentally responsible. The resulting design is a mixture of salvaged schoolhouse blackboards, antique light fixtures, and a beadboard ceiling that contrasts with the sleek lines of the plumbing fixtures.

Despite the number of features that are packed into the bathroom, the room still feels open and spacious. Skylights and a row of windows above the bathtub fill the room with daylight, while the sills are high enough to provide privacy.

The washer and dryer are also in the bathroom, so to avoid a utility room feel, I designed a closet with shelves on the doors’ interiors. When the closet doors open, an instant laundry room is created. When they are closed, the machines are out of sight.

Healthy and economical choices for now and the future

A big part of my job on this project was to help Leslie and Heather reconcile their dreams of a luxurious bathroom with their goal to be good world citizens. In our practice, we look for products that are socially responsible, contain recycled material, and use sustainably harvested resources.

All materials, finishes, and adhesives were chosen after carefully considering their effects on indoor air quality. We used wet-blown cellulose insulation instead of fiberglass and and a nontoxic clear finish on bathroom surfaces. “Using environmentally friendly materials is a good health practice for both the homeowner and the installer,” builder Joyce Hurford said later. “For example, the incense-cedar ceilings were finished with OS Hardwax, which means that we didn’t have to breathe in polyurethane or other noxious fumes during application. We learned a lot about the use of nontoxic materials, and we plan to use more of these products in the future.” Even the towel bars are resourceful: They are made from 100% recycled aluminum.

Conservation, reducing energy bills and saving water are key parts of our designs as well. On this job, we used a dual-flush toilet and something called a Gravity Film eX-change (or GFX) device — a copper water supply coil that surrounds a copper drainpipe. As hot water from the shower, washing machine, bathtub, and sinks runs down the drainpipe, the GFX’s water-filled coils capture some of the heat from the draining water and return it to the water heater. Thedevice starts at $450, not including installation, and it can recover 60% of the heat usually lost down the drain.

Green doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg

I often hear (and repeat) the line that you don’t have to break the bank to use environmentally responsible materials. It’s when someone is only interested in the absolute lowest price for something that a green alternative product looks expensive. The prices for this project were reasonable—not high-end, but not cheap, either. The owners purchased all the materials and really helped themselves out by shopping for bargains wherever they could. I think these numbers demonstrate that you can use high-quality, durable materials without depleting ever-scarcer resources, and not pay an arm and a leg.

Lessons Learned

Communication, creative thinking, and compromises pay off
No matter how thorough you are, there's always a good chance of miscommunication. Our specs called for FSC-certified lumber, but the framer purchased ordinary lumber with "Certified" in the lumber grading stamp. We failed to explain what FSC meant—to us it's a common acronym, but to the builder it was an unknown term. We did manage to get FSC-certified cedar beadboard for the finished ceiling.

Working in existing spaces often demands creative solutions. The geometry of the house's existing roof fixed the ridge, and we could only raise the north slope so much. By placing TJI rafters at 32 in. o.c. and bearing directly on wall studs, we eliminated window headers, lowered our eave plate height, and provided enough ceiling height.

The existing subfloor was at the same level throughout the second floor, so we installed a subtle ramp in the passage from bedroom to bathroom to gain the 1 1/2-in. height necessary for the mortar bed that encases the PEX and supports the slate.

Further resources##

To see a panoramic view of this bathroom, visit

General Specs and Team

Location: Seattle, WA
Additional Notes: ##Team **Architect:** [VELOCIPEDE architects inc]( **Builder:** Jan Henderson and Joyce Hurford, Blue Marlin Construction ##Site - Added new space above existing footprint – avoided site disturbance ##General design and construction - Consolidated laundry and bathroom into more accessible space - Open plan, including curbless shower - Well-designed storage; efficient layout ##Building envelope - Damp-spray cellulose insulation - Wood windows made regionally in Bend, Ore. - Wet- and dry-blown cellulose insulation made of 100% recycled content (R-54 ceilings) - Cotton batt insulation (100% recycled content) - Advanced framing ##HVAC - Radiant heat in walls and floor - New gas-fired boiler and water heater (Viessman); existing radiators remained at most rooms; PEX tubing in floor and walls of new construction ##Plumbing - dual-flush toilet (1.6/0.8 gpf) - EPA-compliant showerhead and faucets - drainwater heat recovery (Gravity Film eXchange) ##Lighting - Skylights and window bank supply natural lighting - Antique light fixtures ##Equipment - Energy- and water-efficient washer/dryer ##Interior finishes - Ceiling of sustainably harvested cedar - Recycled chalkboard-slate floor - 100% recycled glass wall tiles - Paper/resin composite countertop (Richlite, FSC certified/recycled paper) - Plant-based oil/wax wood finish (OS Hardwax) - Pacific madrone cabinets (lumber from storm-felled city trees) - Low-toxic paints and sealants ##Exterior finishes - Fiber-cement siding over rainscreen

One Comment

  1. Natur Haus | | #1

    Beautiful Bathroom
    VERY nice design and aesthetics. Laughed at the part about the "certification." If a material is truly green or of higher quality, of course it will cost more, substantially more. Who are we to kid ourselves that quality is not costly, or that you get what you pay for. In my experience as a General Contractor, green builder, and finish carpenter, with expensive and scrupulous taste, that it is the case. I don't think most clients would look at this bathroom's cost as "modest"........I do agree deals can be found.

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