Low Impact Dwelling on Orcas Island

This is North Beach Residence on Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands in Washington.  The 2,070 square-foot project received a national AIA Honor Award this year and is owned by Rysia Sucheca and John Warburton for use as a summer house from May through October.  It was designed by Heliotrope Architects and built by David Shore Construction.

North Beach occupies a site once used by the Lummi Indians, precluding excavation in favor of preserving archeological artifacts that may still be in the area.  As a result, the home is built on a slab placed on top of grass and all existing trees were left untouched.

It’s hard to tell but North Beach has a landscaped roof to reduce runoff and provide a habitat for plants and insects.  Rainwater is collected and stored in two 5,000-gallon tanks to be used for irrigation.  To save more water, North Beach also has low-flow fixtures and fittings.

The owners generate energy from a 3 kW solar photovoltaic array, while three solar hot water collectors heat water and contribute to the hydronic space-heating system.

North Beach is open and filled with views of other islands and the surrounding landscape.  The design incorporates Fleetwood windows, Taylor Metals metal cladding, Oregon Lumber flooring, and locally sourced native alder for end-grain flooring, custom veneer cabinetry, and certain furnishings.

Not including the cost of land, the single-family home was built for about $300 per square foot, according to the Wall Street Journal.  That’s not bad, especially considering the fact that the home runs on a net-zero electricity basis when used for the summer half of the year.

[+] Read about the AIA Housing Award to North Beach Residence.

Credits: Sean Airhart, Ben Benschneider.


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  • Seth

    This is a really beautiful project on an incredible site.

  • holz

    there is no doubt this is a phenomenal project, though it’s a bit misleading to call a second home w/ stone imported from italy “low-impact” – it’s the very opposite, even with incorporation of photovoltaics, low-flow fixtures and a vegetated roof…

  • David

    Shouldn’t you at least mention that this is a glass house…a la Mies van der rohe or Phillip Johnson–you know, those projects that building scientists point to as some of the prime examples of modernist hubris in the face of common sense? Good thing it is only used in the summer–I can’t imagine it would be terribly comfortable the rest of the year. I guess using a house for a quarter of the year is a funny way of being “low impact.” Strikes me as an example of throwing green features (PV, solar thermal, green roof, etc.) at a fundamentally flawed design (glass box) and calling it green–in other words–trying to have one’s cake and eat it too.

  • http://www.destinationtoturkey.com/ turkey tour

    Many people however, come to Orcas to tour the countryside by bicycle
    or to kayak the fjords and coastal waters. Day tours are available
    through several local companies on the island. These pictures are really very beautiful.

  • Nooralhuda001

    Do you have an office in Atlanta?

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