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Modern Cliff-Top Home is Both Gorgeous and Green

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Joanne Ellis' new cliff-top home on Bainbridge Island shows green can also be gorgeous.
"It's pretty darn awesome," Ellis says in describing her dream home with floor-to-ceiling windows that look east to Seattle. Yet its drama and Puget Sound location is only part of its allure. It's also energy-efficient.

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 "The whole house is designed to passively cool and heat itself," Ellis says. It's oriented to capture sun and shade, and its concrete floors and concrete interior wall hold the heat. On a 100-degree day last year, she says, the house was comfortable without air conditioning.Ellis' home -- chosen as "This Week's Green House" -- earned the top or platinum rating in June from the private U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. Her architect, Matthew Coates, says it's the first LEED-platinum house in Washington that's not in Seattle.
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The 2,450-square-foot home, which has a separate 700-square-foot apartment, spared no expense on its green features, which include geothermal heating, two 1,500-gallon cisterns, a vegetated roof, a 4-kilowatt solar array and Loewen triple-pane wood windows.

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Nor did Ellis shortchange design. The home has a sleek but casual look. Its interior has lots of natural light, custom cabinetry and sustainably harvested Douglas fir ceilings.
PHOTOS: Green homes across the USA
Its exterior is a blend of concrete masonry units (also used inside), Ipe siding and galvanized metal panels.
"We do different variations of Northwest modern. It's generally a little warmer than typical modern -- more wood and Japanese inspiration," says Justin Helmbrecht of Coates Design, the Bainbridge Island firm that created the Ellis residence.

How much did it cost?
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Ellis, 60, who moved into the house in January with her husband, Ed, 61, says she hasn't tabulated its total price tag but says it's typical of custom builds. She says they saved their pennies so they didn't need a construction loan.
"We didn't want to build just another house," she says. "We wanted to do something different but didn't know what. Matthew Coates defined it."
When Coates told them about LEED's four levels of certification, they were immediately interested. She says her husband, who owns his own shipping business, responded: "Well, let's do platinum!"
She says they want to "make a difference," but they're not political people. "We've just lived consciously," she says. "We're products of our age -- very practical, waste not-want not, a penny saved is a penny earned." When her three kids (now in their 20s) were little, she says, she made her own baby food and used cloth diapers.
They raised their kids on Bainbridge Island, and she says they would have stayed in their prior home if they hadn't seen the cliff-top lot for sale. The site had an old cabin and, rather than demolish it, they had it deconstructed or taken apart piece by piece so its building materials could be reused and not sent to the landfill.
Their new house is tightly sealed (it has mechanical ventilation) and super-insulated (roof is R-60 and walls, R-24) with a mixture of spray-foam and batt insulation. She says their utility bills are now less than those for the condo they rented during construction, and she'll be getting a refund.
"We sell kilowatts to the power company, and it sends me a check once a year," she says.
What she loves about her home, aside from its efficiency and flexible spaces that accommodate visiting adult children, is its magnificent views.
"Every window captures a different view," she says. "I can't foresee myself ever getting bored with this house."
See photos of: Seattle
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