Dwell Development LLC entered the uncharted American territory of using cork as a building material to realise the ‘Cork Haus’ in Seattle as a net-zero energy haven.
Passive structures don’t seem to be a particular rarity in the Columbia City neighbourhood of Seattle, so, ‘Cork Haus’, conceptualised and realised by local firm, Dwell Development LLC, and completed in January 2015, becomes one of the latest additions to this sustainable landscape. But what distinguishes it from its environment-conscious ilk members is its ingenious use of cork as a building material, an aesthetic the design team picked up especially from the construction legacy of the Portuguese.
“Cork, an unconventional building material in the United States, has been used in other parts of the world for centuries due to its long-term durability and carbon negative properties. The low maintenance 3-inch thick cork panels don’t need to be painted, stained or treated and provide additional insulation,” attests the team.
The cork siding not only makes this home a visually compelling structure but also becomes one of the critical features that make up its green credentials.
Cork’s legendary durability and hydrophobia are perfect fits for the needs of this home, exposed as it is to the rainy, windy climes of the Pacific Northwest. Its highly insular character also fulfils the home’s ‘Passive House’ ambitions by becoming a solid exterior envelope that clamps down heat transfer to naught.
Completing this solid package is the Prosoco Cat-5 air barrier system and the triple-glazed high-performance European windows and doors. In the interest of uninterrupted fresh air supply is a heat recovery ventilation system (HRV) that jettisons stale air from the insides of the home and helps keep things daisy fresh.
The biggest salvo in favour of a ‘Passive House’ status here may be the insulation envelope, but the overall sustainability credit of the home is also ably helped along by the energy-saving set-up. The impressive solar technology paraphernalia installed here includes a solar panel array, mini-split heating and cooling, a heat pump water heater, and a south-facing built-up to maximise solar gain.
This plan has garnered the home a RESNET (Residential Energy Services Network) HERS (Home Energy Rating System) Index rating of 0 or Net Zero, meaning that the home breaks even on energy production and spending; has example-setting low energy bills with minimal temperature fluctuations; and ultimately has a rather small carbon footprint. It is also a Built Green 5-Star certified home, which Dwell Development exclusively commits itself to building.
All this heavy-duty attention to environment-consciousness didn’t thankfully dampen the design team’s interest in elegant interiors. The 1,711 sq ft overall swathe of the project includes 3 sunlight-flushed bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, and some wistful balcony spaces that face lovely views.
Countertops made from 85% recycled materials were sourced from local supplier Novu Stone. The bathrooms sport 70% recycled porcelain tiles. The beautiful hardwood flooring throughout has been realised with sustainably harvested fir.
The charm of the home, however, is in the little details – in the light streaming in from the mullioned windows, and the parallel lines of shadows they throw onto the walls and floors; in the interior scheme, which skips over bright colours to embrace white, brown, and black; and in the geometry-loving furniture and accessories that are intelligently laid around. All these elements in combination make this home a minimalist, queerly-European space that conjures up the liveliness of beach houses.
Cork Haus breaks the mould in green architecture in the country of its location, especially by boldly exploring the possibilities of building with cork. Having built this first net-zero energy speculative home in Seattle, Dwell Development has also positioned itself as a market-leader in the local sustainability market.
Text By Shruti Nambiar
Photographs Courtesy Tucker English