Rye Hudak, Principal at Level Five Design, would like to thank Glen and Deb Bruels for the opportunity to contribute traditional Japanese plaster application to the interior design of their stunning Natural Balance House. Many thanks also to Peter Kilpatrick, Jonathan Hu, Jerry Price, and the Ravenhill Crew for facilitating exceptional jobsite choreography and morale.
A few words on materials:
Traditional Japanese plaster is often called Wara Juraku. Wara means straw, from rice stalks. Juraku refers to a kind of earth, which was traditionally collected from the Kyoto area that has favorable working qualities.
This earthen plaster is typically seen in Traditional Japanese architecture and tea houses, and has an organic yet sophisticated aesthetic featuring the distinctive “grassy” look of the rice fibers.
The materials used in the Natural Balance House project were sourced from Japanese Wall and are from the “Wabi” series. (www.japanesewall.com)
Japanese wall products are made up of natural sand, natural clay, diatomaceous earth and straw. Their materials are breathable, and the diatomaceous earth serves to clean indoor air of contaminants. The binders are no-voc and formaldehyde free. These materials serve to significantly improve indoor air quality (I.A.Q.), while bringing character, context, and design to the interior wall surfaces.
Glen Bruels (homeowner): We knew a lot of the house would be fairly neutral, so we wanted to add something to ‘pretty it up a bit.’ We did research on recycled tiles and found Oceanside, and that lead us to the showroom of Ambiente European Tile Design. It was seeing Oceanside that really sold us on it – it has this iridescent thing going on that’s really cool. We stopped looking when we saw that! Our designer from Ambiente, Kim Fleury, did a great job with design so it feels like the tile is actually part of the artwork on display at the house.
Glen Bruels (homeowner): Originally we were looking at no-VOC or recycled paint for the house, until we went to the West Coast Green conference in 2009. We wandered around the show and ran across Level 5 Design. We were really impressed with the owner, Rye Hudak, and his products – we loved the way it looked and that it was totally natural. We found out later that it’s even been shown to clean the air by absorbing toxins!
Glen Bruels (homeowner): In 2003 and 2004, we vacationed on Nukubati, a tiny island in Fiji (only 12 guests at a time) with strong ties to New Zealand. The maintenance guy there told us to put our money in LEDs! Then in 2006 we spent a year in Australia, where everybody had already switched to CFLs because their electric rates were so high. That’s where we first saw LEDs on sale for home use, at a green show put on by the Alternative Technology Association, and we thought they were very cool. When we came back from Australia to our house in Colorado, we switched all our bulbs to CFLs, but had lots of problems with color temperature, etc. We were excited that LEDs had become readily available by the time we started the Natural Balance House so we could use them for 100% of our lighting.
Glen Bruels (homeowner): There were several reasons we chose to go with a green roof: 1) to absorb some of the stormwater runoff; 2) to filter the rooftop runoff that would go into our rainwater cistern; and 3) to reduce the visual impact of the house. We wanted our house to have low visibility. We hate it when houses look like they were ‘dropped out of the sky’ – we saw lots of those when we lived in Colorado.
Glen Bruels (homeowner): We had some experience (and a fair amount of heartache!) with integrating multiple A/V sources in the mid-90’s in our previous home in Colorado – the system was only in full operation for about a month during our first five years there and had to be completely redesigned twice. The technology has made lots of advances since then, although it’s dominated by a couple of big players who charge exorbitant rates and usually come at it from either lighting or A/V. We chose to go with Control 4 because they were different. They see themselves as middleware, making a system that will talk to anybody that meets the protocol. Best of all, we can view and control everything on our iPads!
Ideally, we want the system to monitor energy, water, and the propane tank. Control 4 is developing an energy module to control ‘vampire’ loads, but it won’t be ready for this house on Day 1. We’re talking to software companies that can work with Control 4 on the water side, but at first we’ll probably only have a low water alarm.
Glen Bruels (homeowner): We recognized that there were local challenges with water – the neighborhood uses a reverse-osmosis desalination system that needs lots of maintenance, including divers being sent down to fix things. We didn’t want to risk being out of water. We also wanted to be proactive about managing runoff and protecting the local habitat.
GLEN BRUELS (homeowner): We found our architect, Michael McNamara of Blue Sky Design, after seeing photos of a Salt Spring Island house he’d designed in the book, Timberframe: The Art and Craft of the Post-and-Beam Home by Tedd Benson. We could see he was very good on ‘hanging’ houses on steep slopes, which would be necessary on our site. He’d also had experience with green roofs and other green building techniques, and we especially liked his signature curved roofs. Most important, we felt comfortable with him – he’s a good guy.
Pete Kilpatrick, our builder, has been building green homes since he started Ravenhill Construction back in the 70’s. He had a strong, established crew, which we felt said good things about how he treats his people. The deciding factor was that Pete was willing to go through the process of certifying the house to several green programs, which we figured would take a lot of extra work on the builder’s part. He didn’t let us down – Pete and especially his project manager Jonathan Hu have really become pros at the requirements and documentation for LEED for Homes, ENERGY STAR Homes, and Built Green.
GLEN BRUELS (homeowner): When I was in the service, I spent a year at Todd Shipyards in Seattle and began visiting San Juan Island (SJI). I fell in love with the place. Later I started taking Deb and the kids there on vacations from our home in Colorado Springs, and they loved it, too. When we began thinking about retirement, we considered Mexico, Hawaii or the Caribbean, but we kept coming back to SJI: it was bucolic, beautiful and relaxing, with friendly people, and we’re not sunbathers so we didn’t care that it was too far north for a swimming beach. The Stewarts next door owned the lot, and when I found myself in Vancouver on business in 2000 I went down to SJI and boom, I bought it. The very next day, another couple offered Gene Stewart 20% more for it, but he turned them down because he and I had shaken hands on it and he was a man of his word.