Off the grid in Washington, Part 1

Project Type: New Construction
Location: Okanogan County, Washington

The purpose of this project is to explore residential options for land east of the Cascade Mountains just south of the Canadian border in Washington State.

Geography and Climate

The geography as you can see below is low rolling hills with occasional groupings of evergreen trees. This area is fairly high, at about 3,500 feet (1,066 meters).  Although this area gets far less rain than on average for the US, there is significant snow accumulation.  This is a net heating climate, as there are approximately 7,400 heating degree days and 372 cooling degree days per year.   The mountains to the west play a large role in defining the climate.  Mountains in the western United States tend to block cloud formation moving east off of the Pacific Ocean.  Also, the topographical affects during warm months drive the formation of thunderstorms which lead to some precipitation and raise the potential for wildfires.  Cold Canada to the North influences the weather in the winter by partnering up with the Cascade Mountains and funneling cold weather south across this region.

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Building Siting

Site access is from the dirt road on the west boundary of the site.


There are two locations being considered for the structure on this site.  The first is deep into the site, near a pond. Since wildlife gather at the pond, the client would like to view the activity from a porch.  At the same time, the client would like to be able to view the Cascades.  The downside to this location is the lack of proximity to the road.

The second location being considered is located closer to the road up on a small hill, electricity, and the well, but is visually shielded from the pond.  The view of the Cascades is better.  The proximity to electricity may be not important as the client intends to be disconnected from the commercial power source.

The concept below places the structure at site 1.


There is  a well on the site for water.  Perhaps have a gray water system.

No septic.  Interested in using composing toilets. Minimize water use.

Not interested in using municipal power.  Hopes to be off the grid.


The client is considering a 900 to 1,000 sq ft structure incorporating a bed and breakfast function.  The bed and breakfast function would include a “family room” space with a restroom and two very small sleeping rooms adjacent to the family room.  Loft spaces are imagined offering additional sleeping space.

This bed and breakfast function would be linked to the main living space.  There’s a preference for sliding doors between spaces which would allow for multipurpose spaces.  It is imagined that a loft space atop storage and a restroom would account for the sleeping space; no bedrooms required.  A large fireplace and porches are desired.


High on the list of preferences are open, bright, light filled spaces.   Client envisions white walls with reclaimed wood floors and exposed wood structure above.  Exterior to the building the client would like natural aesthetic, but considering the potential vulnerability to wildfires, wood siding may not be appropriate.

Initial Concepts

The purpose of this post is to establish the site conditions and to identify spacial relationships and requirements.  We take a stab at a concept here.  The renderings do not indicate an intention of finality, rather an attempt to give the client an opportunity to respond to an aesthetic and to the volume related to the two potential layouts below and give us all something to discuss.   We’d love any and all feedback.. this is a long way from being finished and we’re excited to test a wide array of ideas.  We have no allegiance to any concept.

Both of the concepts are rotated 45 degrees off an east-west axis to maintain desired views from main rooms (pond to the east, mountains to the west) as well as maintain a partial southern exposure to maintain control of direct glare.  The first simplified layout below lines the NW edge of the house with utilitarian spaces.  The rest of the building remains largely open allowing for flexibility with the exception of the sliding doors separating the bed and breakfast function from the rest of the house.  It is imagined that access for guests could be separate from the main entrance-through the sliding doors on the south side of the building.  Perhaps the client would prefer a joint entrance.  This needs to be discussed.

Massing-wise, both layouts are the same.  Two side-by-side rectangular forms linked by a transitional space.


This second concept is slightly different from the first.  The storage and restroom function are rotated off the northwest edge of the house and placed in the center of the building separating the living space from the dining space. We test this concept in the renderings below to see how this feels.


Here’s a series of quick renderings.  First, here is an overhead view: one block with butterfly roof, other block with shed roof.  Skylights along north edge of shed roof.


Two covered porches, one for the bed and breakfast (also serves as a covered entry porch) and one for the main house.  Siding and roof imagined to be seamed metal as this kind of exterior finish serves several purposes (durable, readily available, relatively inexpensive, fire resistant, and is suitable for rainwater collection).  However, through discussion we question whether a butterfly roof is appropriate in this climate due to presence of snow throughout the winter months.




We will first take a look at the mass that contains the main living block.  Here’s a section through the building.  We chose a shed roof to allow controlled daylight to enter the space through clerestories from the south.  A low roof shelters the porch from the elements and prevents direct daylight from entering through the glass in the sliding doors.  Behind the fireplace and over the centrally placed restroom and storage is a loft sleeping space accessed by the ladder seen in the section.  The front door is seen on the left side of the image.


A view from the transition space looking into the living room.



Here’s a view looking back at the living room.  Front door to the right, bed and breakfast space beyond:



A view from the loft:



Now we’ll take a look on the other side of the central mass at the kitchen and dining area.  This space is over-sized for the needs of the client.  A full table is really not necessary.  Space is only needed for a fold town table and chairs.  We’ll revisit this in the next round of exploration.



Turning around 180 degrees we have this view.  Completely generic cabinets at this point.. Our apologies for the lack of creativity.



Now a few views of the bed and breakfast space.  First, here’s a section through the space:


A butterfly roof is being considered for this mass for a few reasons.

1) Allows daylight in from the SW.

2) Provides a mounting surface for a PV array.

3) Allows for head space above the loft.

Under the loft is two very small sleeping rooms and a restroom.

Here’s a view from the living room through the transition space into the bed and breakfast:



And a view down from the loft space:



Here are a few exterior views.  First a view from the NE corner of the house looking toward the front door.  Dining area window on the left.  The porch along the SW side of the bed and breakfast wing reaches beyond the building to provide protection from the elements for visitors as they arrive.



A view of the entry to the left.




Several questions will addressed during round 2 of concepts.  The building massing is unresolved.  Spaces need to be developed to have meaning and intent.  Thanks to Himat (Kunda Design) and Lucas (Talkitect) for discussing the project.  Several questions came up:

1) Tapering the beams exterior to the building.

2) Protecting the building with overhangs.

3) Detailing the valley of the butterfly roof.

4) Raising the building up and meeting the ground in a more environmentally responsible way.

5) Two stories.

6) Alternative roof strategies.

This is a fun project with a lot of potential.  We’re looking forward to refining this concept and developing some new ideas.  Please, if you’d like to contribute ideas or feedback, do so below!

Here’s the images in this post: [nggallery id=13]

6 Replies to “Off the grid in Washington, Part 1”

  1. I like the concept very much and the natural lighting is what really makes it for me and the interior spaces work very well as in a nice flowing indoor outdoor feel. my only tweaking would be to change the exterior white wall so that it would be smooth and continuous without the vertical lines that to me interfere with the visual flow of the over all design.
    loving it anyway, Daniel

  2. Rick Joy’s Tubac House comes to mind when reviewing your preliminary concept. A few photos and plan in above linked…also in his Desert Works book. Different climate of course, but look for clues in how he extends roof to elegantly integrate outdoor spaces. Also the plan reveals intentional shifts of buildings (for views, etc) from access for a more dynamic exterior. Have you considered shifting the entry to the gap between buildings?

    1. Thanks so much Himat. Re: Rick Joy’s Tubac House: I really appreciate the placement of features with intention. A major take away for me is not merely “laminating” outdoor spaces onto the side of the building but rather designing them into the built form with intention and meaning. I’d give anything to go see this site in person as being there in person would inform the design process but alas we will do what we can from afar. I like your idea of placing the entrance in the “gap” between the buildings-it is a logical place to put it for a couple of reasons. One, as the building is approached by visitors, it will be a natural place to seek out the entrance. Two, it removes the main entrance from a currently awkward position that is wasting valuable interior space and places into the space whose main purpose already is circulation.

  3. This makes me want to build a house!

    How would you imagine managing the rainwater that would be collected by the butterfly roof?

    1. The most common way to collect rainwater from a butterfly roof is to directly capture the water in a cistern as it flows off the valley flashing that runs the width of the butterfly roofs at the low point. Several different storage systems available (above and below ground).

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