In Washington, One Firm, Two Different Visions Of Green

When you lead people on trips through the Cascade Mountains for a living, chances are, you have an appreciation for the natural world. So when mountain guides Scott Schell and Margaret Wheeler decided to build a home in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington — above Snoqualmie, not far from work — they wanted it to do right by the environment.

The location of their house in North Bend allows the two guides to bring their work home with them, so to speak, by living at a high altitude in a landscape they’re deeply familiar with. It also fulfills their practical needs in style. But according to the designers behind the project at Johnston Architects PLLC, the home also satisfies the couple’s desire t do what’s right.


Schell Wheeler residence

image via Johnson Architects

Tall Tree Construction made use of trees from the surrounding area that were blown down in storms, which were milled into the home’s siding, fascias and trim. A solar (thermal) hot water set up preheats the water that enters the home’s ground source heat pump system, keeping the home warm in during those long mountain winters (and during summer nights, too, when temperatures at high altitudes tend to plummet). Abundant natural lighting helps to keep electricity bills to a minimum; even on gray and rainy days, this forest retreat is filled with light.

The Schell Wheeler home is currently pending LEED Silver certification.

Johnson Architects is no stranger to green build projects, as it’s the firm behind the Greenfire Campus, a sustainable community development slated for Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood that broke ground this spring. The green build strategies behind this five-story apartment building and four-story, 18,000 square foot office building are different than those behind the Schell Wheeler residence — not simply because of the difference in project scope, but because the concept at Greenfire is not simply to “what’s right,” but (as befits a commercial development) to make every green decision make sense at the financial level as well.

Greenfire Campus

image via Johnson Architects


The development’s many green features include rainwater storage cisterns, a pea patch, urban agriculture, and a riparian zone designed to filter water through rain gardens while providing vital habitat within the city to songbirds and pollinators. Green roofs will help to slow the flow of Seattle’s prodigious rainfall into the city’s storm sewers, thereby helping to reduce the amount of pollution from the surrounding streets that enters the Puget Sound. These green roofs (planted with edibles such as blueberries) will also help to mitigate the heat island effect associated with sprawling cities covered in concrete, cooling the surrounding environs. The development is slated for completion in Spring 2013.

Such a development likely seems a world away to Schell and Wheeler, tucked away high in the foothills of the Cascades, far from the hustle and bustle of Seattle. And, we imagine, that’s exactly how they like it.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

1 Comment

  • Reply September 19, 2012


    Considering that the Greenfire Campus is going up two blocks from my house, it’s nice to find out what it’s going to look like.

    Looking forward to see what it can do to move the green building movement along.

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