SEED LLC is transforming the landscape of housing and green building by designing and developing carbon-neutral, affordable multifamily housing. Our design and development process is unique in that it is collaborative, to a large degree, with external partners and is intended to foster a sense of pride, ownership and community among our development partners and residents. Importantly, our projects contribute to a healthier, more social planet.
We know that a happy living environment is one that encourages meaningful community engagement. Therefore, we build housing that is intentional in its commitment to social interaction while still giving residents ample personal space. In most low or middle income housing developments, a sense of well-being, community and belonging are afterthoughts at best, if considered at all. Our housing design starts with the little things, culminating in an environment that naturally brings people together. We believe this is good for the bottom line, as well as a smart social investment needed to retain long term and high quality tenants.
It is estimated that the planet will have 1.2 billion additional people by 2030 and that 70% of the population will be living in cities and sharing more and more goods, services and amenities. “Coliving” is a term reserved for this type of living–a lifestyle that is expected to be more common by 2030. Interestingly, this is what people want now and about a third of us are already living this way.
In 2017, IKEA commissioned an online study (and a website) called “One Shared House 2030”, with an eye toward better understanding how people will be co-living together in the future. 7000 people from 147 countries participated in this survey research. The study concluded that people don’t really want to share bathrooms or bedrooms but are willing to share other amenities like “kitchens, workspaces, gardens and the internet.” Importantly, survey respondents were most interested in living with between 4 and 10 people. As opposed to most “coliving” urban environments involving high rise buildings and hundreds of units, our buildings offer small group living in simple, community-oriented spaces.
We have incorporated wide, 8’6”w by 9’6”h hallways into our housing design. Our common-area hallways are wide enough to make each apartment feel separate and unique. They also allow for a more leisurely entry and exit, inviting social interaction with neighbors rather than inhibiting it by squeezing everyone down a narrow hallway.
CONVERTIBLE SPACE TO ENCOURAGE OWNERSHIP
Our apartments are laid out to give both a sense of ownership as well as freedom. We have chosen to stick with studios so that one retains the ability to decide just how the space will be customized to their needs and preferences. With big windows, lots of light and a high ceiling, the units are cozy without creating a sense of confinement. A space needs to be customizable so that ownership is encouraged. When people have ownership they want to be responsible and participate in the overall well-being of their home and community. Our studio design fosters a sense of ownership by not restricting the placement of a resident’s furniture, which gives them the option to change things up as they feel the need.
SMALL GROUPS AND SHARED SPACES
Each floor is designed to house a small group of residents. Our buildings are designed for 10 units per floor and enough open space between units to allow for personal interaction. We design with an eye toward fostering the growth of community from within by facilitating small group interactions. The reasoning behind this design is simple: smaller groups can work together and form community much easier than larger groups. While our hallways provide a sense of belonging and ease of travel, our common areas are centers for community building and socializing.
In addition to a common lobby on the first floor and a community room in the basement, we have put two gathering spaces on both the second and third floors. At one end, we have designed a large bay window seat that can accommodate 2 or 3 people— and at the other end, an alcove that will seat the entire floor. The large alcove, much like a coffee shop or small town diner, is meant to be a group gathering spot that allows residents to come together to share some vibes while reading the paper, having coffee, or just getting to know each other. It is designed with large windows, high ceilings and an openness that will draw people into the common space where they can socialize with greater ease.
“The ‘seven, plus or minus two’ rule also applies to dinner parties. With this number you can have one conversation happening around the table. Any more than this, however, and the group starts to break up into separate conversations. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is helpful to know what to expect.”
Clear Concept: What is an ideal group size?
“An interesting example of this group size is the modern infantry “squad”, which consists of two fire teams of 4 people, and a squad leader, for a total of 9 people. Each fire team is large enough to function on its own, but together the group of 9 can still have effective small group dynamics.”
Life With Alacrity: Community by the Numbers, Part One: Group Thresholds
Our floors connect to form a larger community that give a sense of group belonging and foster positive group dynamics. For example, each floor is open to the floor above and/or below it, forming a “vertical commons” through the center of the building. From the ground floor to the top floor, our hallways have 25 people that share common sights, scents and sounds. This “vertical commons” is much like a common green in a small village, with each floor forming a cul-de-sac at each end and on each level. This design feature solidifies a sense of belonging between floors.
“A key prediction of behavioral economics is that the ownership of something increases its value in the owner’s eyes. This phenomenon is called the endowment effect. When we own something (car, dog, home, idea) we begin to value it more than other people do.”
Psychology Today: How the Ownership of Something Increases Our Valuations
With the help from our strategic partners, SEED LLC is committed to designing and building carbon neutral affordable housing in the state of Oregon. We achieve carbon-neutral housing the natural way: we build it that way to begin with and do not need to buy carbon offsets. We are mindful in our use of modern building materials and traditional construction processes to minimize environmental impact. Our “passive” approach to carbon-neutral construction has been shown to be more effective over the long term (see: Good & Manning, 2019 Energy Trust Fellows).
CARBON-NEUTRAL BUILDING DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
We work with the Energy Trust of Oregon, the State of Oregon’s OHCS/MEP (Oregon Housing and Community Services; Multifamily Energy Program), and Glumac’s energy modeling engineers to ensure these efforts are achievable and long lasting. Our smart design process incorporates the latest energy saving technology at the lowest cost, and ensures that every building can be carbon neutral (or very close to carbon neutral) and affordable from the start.
Our energy goals reflect the AIA’s 2030 goals. These goals prioritize energy performance and are intended to inspire architects and developers to design and build carbon-neutral buildings using efficient technologies and renewable energy resources. SEED LLC is an enthusiastic early adopter of carbon-neutral smart design for multifamily, affordable housing projects. We are proud to lead the way in this field, redefining what is possible in this growing market.
REDUCED LUMBER USAGE
- Advanced Framing: We have updated the tried and true “24 inches on center” framing layout, to realize an estimated 50% reduction in lumber and labor, without reducing quality or strength. This means that a lot fewer trees will need to be cut down, sawed up, and transported, thereby reducing our transport-related carbon footprint. By stacking all key structural components, keeping the entire design “on layout”, and using doors and windows that fit within layout, we have eliminated much of the lumber typically needed to cut openings and terminate walls. Because the designing of such an efficient 24 inch layout can be rather involved and time consuming, developers in the last 70 years have opted for the more “flexible” 16 inch layout. With energy and material efficiency as one of our primary goals, world class architects and designers on retainer, and a limited scope for our building needs, we are delighted to be able to build in this traditional, sound, and environmentally friendly manner.
HIGH THERMAL RESISTANCE
- More insulation in each wall: Fiberglass is about 3 times more efficient, as a thermal insulator, than wood. By building our walls on a 24” layout (as opposed to a 16” layout) we have reduced their wood content by about 50%. This amounts to an R-value increase of about 133% for each unopened wall. On top of this we use a thermal break (with an equivalent R-value of 6.2) around the entire wall surface, to effectively double the thermal resistance where the studs, headers and trimmers.
- Sealed and insulated roof cavity: In order to achieve energy efficiency in the roof area, we combine a highly insulated roof cavity with an R-13 thermal break to give the roof maximum energy efficiency. This method has the added benefit of moving the dew point outside of the cavity and reducing the potential for dry rot.
- Triple pane windows: We use triple pane windows to further reduce the loss of energy.
- Radiant Heating: Building for comfort is a very important part of home design. However, air temperature is only part of the equation. It is more important to use Mean Radiant Temperature (MRT) as a baseline on how the building will function. Simply, we want the air temperature and the temperature of surrounding objects to contribute equally to overall comfort (e.g., if the floor is cold and the air temperature is 80 degrees, you will still feel cold).
- Low Temp Hydronic Geothermal Heating/Cooling: How the building is heated is also very important. We have chosen to use a hydronic whole building geothermal water to water heat pump, with low temperature heating and high temperature cooling. Heat is incredibly efficient if used at low temperature, as it does not expand or stratify the air to leave uncomfortable pockets of hot and cold. Simply when we use low temperature hydronic heat, we are minimizing the chance for drafts and hot spots. In the summer we use the same geothermal loops to cool the building through our hydronic heat exchangers.
REDUCED POWER CONSUMPTION
Typically, developers do not design for what will actually be needed in an apartment being built. Our mindful recognition to the modern and changing lifestyle allows us to optimize the electrical and mechanical components for minimum power consumption. This results in the electrical load of building being significantly reduced and a substantial reduction in the wire needed to feed each unit.
- Induction Cooktop: The kitchen is furnished with an induction cooktop that only heats when there is a metal pan on the burners. This allows for the oven in a stove to be changed to a microwave convection oven and minimizes the energy consumed. By eliminating the apartment stove space, the load to the unit is reduced by 5000 watts.
- Strip LED Lighting: Using all strip LED lighting allows for us to get 110 lumens per watt, vs 14 lumens per watt for typical incandescent bulbs. Normally a studio would need 15 x 60watt bulbs, or 10,000 lumens, using 900 watts of energy. The new LEDs will only use 200 watts to get the same amount of lighting. A savings of 700 watts per studio unit.
- Geothermal Heating and Cooling: Instead of a resistance heating system, we use a central geothermal heat pump that will deliver the same thermal output at .25 the energy cost. At 500 watts, this energy consumption is still less than what is saved on average, by just converting a system from per-unit heating to central heating. Even during the summer months, this geothermal heat pump will reduce the energy costs of cooling the building by 1500 watts.
- Along with whole building heating and cooling, we also use this geothermal loop to pre-warm the supply for the central heat pump hot water heaters. This reduces the energy load by 4000 watts and reduces water heating costs by 75%.
- Energy Star Rated: The bath fan and ceiling fan are both energy star rated, using less than 100 watts each.
Our projects are good investments for all stakeholders, including residents, non-profit groups and businesses who choose to lease from us. The economic benefits that accrue to our stakeholders are realized through smart design. How are we able to create a green building that is cost effective to build, maintain and operate? By setting goals from the very beginning and working closely with architects and engineers (as well as our utilization of the many incentive programs offered for green, affordable, multifamily housing projects), we believe that it is still possible to deliver a superior product at under $100 a sq. ft with a carbon-neutral (or near carbon-neutral) footprint.
- In addition to being a green property, carbon-neutral construction will help us reduce operating costs over the long-term while enhancing the lives of tenants and increasing the value of our buildings.
- 24” Framing Layout: We are able to minimize costs by using advanced framing techniques, 24” construction, minimizing headers, trimmers and king studs by utilizing rim joists, and mindful framing with smart mechanical and electrical design.
- Economy of Space: Our units incorporates kitchen and living areas in a shared-space studio design. This design strategy is not just a means to save money on development costs (though it does do that), but is also a model that reflects the current living trends and preferences of the younger working population.
- Centralized Utilities: A major economic consequence of smart design is that building operating costs are minimized. We have purposefully designed the building to work holistically as a single unit instead of the traditional approach in which each unit is an individual, standalone cost center. For example, we believe that under traditional rental and leasing models that there is much waste involved when the utilities are not part of the building’s operating costs. Additionally, we believe that a major conflict and source of anxiety for residents are the utility bills. Community-oriented housing, then, attempts to minimize the challenges that disrupt lives and discourage community. By folding utility costs into the building’s operating costs, we ensure that our housing remains affordable and that residents live with less stress.
- Durable Materials: By utilizing durable materials, maintenance and turnover costs are held to a minimum. Some examples of the materials we use are: solid kitchen vinyl tile; C sheetrock instead of x sheetrock; concrete counter tops; solid plywood kitchen cabinets; easy to replace light fixtures (no electrician needed); tempered glass cook tops; and plug-in heating units.