-By Camron Momyer
Sage Homes Northwest has been busy this year adding more high performance, energy efficient homes to Seattle’s bustling housing market. With a goal to be the “the most progressive building company in the Pacific Northwest region, employing technology and techniques that will provide maximum efficiency, accountability and responsibility”, we expect great things from this small but mighty company. Co-owners Todd Leabman and Jesse Molnick have been in business together 2005, and with all the projects they have in the works, will likely be in it for many more years to come.
I recently met Todd for a site visit at 8038 Mary Ave NW in the Crown Hill neighborhood. Todd was kind enough to show me around the site and share his thoughts on building green.
Here is a little bit of our Q and A:
Q: How did you get started in this business?
A: I started out in real estate and construction right out of UW. My business partner has been in construction all his life. When the downturn came in 2008 and banks stopped lending, we re-tooled to focus on custom homes and other fee building activities. We were lucky and didn’t get caught with a lot of land before the crash, so in 2009 when prices hit rock bottom, we were able to start buying again. Today we have enough land to build 50 houses in the next year.
Q: What made you want to go Built Green?
A: We met Tadashi in 2010. He had been recommended to us because we had a piece of land that required approval of a larger floor area to provide a viable design and project. (this is one of the incentives that the city of Seattle hands out for getting a 3rd party green certification.) Previously, most of our projects were 3 star and self certified. We found value in working with Tadashi and his team. Now the majority of our projects are third party certified Built Green.
Q: What are the main benefits of building this way for you and for the company?
A: I think it differentiates our homes from the older homes in the NW Seattle area. “New” resonates with some buyers, especially because of better indoor air quality and energy efficiency. There are the obvious benefits of getting faster permitting and approval for more floor area, but mostly we like it because we feel that we are staying ahead of what home buyers are asking for. We recently had several Built Green projects that sold for more money and sold faster than equivalent standard-built projects in same neighborhood. I think the Built Green certification gave us an edge. It will be interesting to see if that trend holds when the economy gets stronger.
Q: Tell me about any challenges or obstacles you encountered as you and your team were learning to build greener homes?
A: The challenges we’ve encountered are mostly to do with jurisdictional rules and permitting, zoning, inspections. (Todd cited a recent dispute with the Department of Planning and Development regarding Heat Recovery Ventilators).
Q: A lot of builders we talk to say that their main challenge has been around knowledge, training and making sure sub-contractors are all on the same page about Built Green standards. It requires a new way of doing things that is foreign to many in the construction industry. Did you find this to be an issue as well?
A: I think one of the main things that set us apart is the great attitude of our team. It’s been an easy learning curve because everyone is on board and really wanting to learn and experiment. Even our production manager, who has a long history in building, has been enthusiastic about learning new ways of doing things. It would be easy, after so much time, to get stuck in routine and not want to change – instead he’s leading the charge.
Q: What would you say to builders who don’t want to adopt these new standards because they think it would be too costly or too difficult?
A: We’ve found that it doesn’t actually cost that much more. (Todd points out some thin caulk that I noticed around every window, door frame, top and bottom plates.) For example, this is part of an extra step that we take to ensure good air sealing when the drywall goes in. Many builders don’t use the Airtight Drywall Approach because of the hassle, but we found in reality it only took one guy half a day to finish the whole house. Many things aren’t as costly or time consuming as you’d think.
Q: I hear you are doing some projects much further North. Are you looking to expand?
A: We do projects all over the Puget Sound but we like to keep our primary focus in NW Seattle. Its home, I know the area, I know the market and I love it here.
Q: Where do you live?
A: I have lived up the street in Broadview in an old early 1900’s house since 2005 and in north Seattle area for 18 years. I plan to take advantage of extra time I will have during the next downturn to build my own new house. In the meantime, I’m taking notes on what I like, what works and what doesn’t.
Q: What do you do when you aren’t building houses?
A: I actually have a Distillery called Captive Spirits which produces a London Dry style Gin in Ballard. We’ve even won some awards.
(note: Big Gin happens to be a really good gin. It’s my super-foodie brother-in-law’s favorite. Here’s the website: http://www.captivespiritsdistilling.com)
Q: Aside from the house we are standing in now, what else do you have in the works?
You should check out our project at 15thand NW 90th . It will be a development of 12 Built Green townhomes. We also have a modern, Built Green Duplex on NW 60th St. coming up for sale in September and a 4 star townhome project coming up in Fremont.
To date, Sage has 17 homes in various stages of planning and construction slated for Built Green certification. Fans can stay up to tuned to what’s coming next by visiting www.sagehomesnw.com.
See photos of the completed Mary Ave NW and pix from the completed duplex on NW 60th St below.
8038 Mary Ave NW
Designed by Caron Architecture to have a “modern farmhouse” feel, 8038 Mary Ave NW has the traditional peaked roof and simple squared lines of a farmhouse with materials, windows and finishes that have a clean and modern look.
4 Star Built Green (certification pending). 2600sf + a 450sf apartment over the garage. 4 bedrooms + a den. On-demand hot water, upgraded insulation, in floor hydronic heating, gas range, gas fireplace, energy star appliances and light fixtures. Heat Recovery Ventilator.
1536 NW 60th St
Designed by Conflux Architecture, this modern duplex is close to all the best stuff in Ballard. This would be a really fun spot to live – plus it comes with all the benefits of a Built Green 4 star home (certification pending).
HRV System, upgraded insulation, low VOC paint, integrated domestic hot water and hydronic space heating. Large Open Kitchen with Energy Star Appliance Package, Recycled Quartz Countertops, pre-finished hardwood floors and a cool rooftop deck with great views.