By |2017-12-15T09:22:07+00:00December 15, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Duvall Passive House

This is a new house located in Duvall, a small town in NE King County. The clients were two teachers, one of whom, a high school physics teacher, took a sabbatical to act as the general contractor for the project. The site is in a rural area on the outskirts of town.

The homeowners’ goals for the project were to:

  • build a Net-Zero Energy home (incl. an electric car – no utility or gasoline bills for the rest of time);
  • use only renewable/ sustainable/ non-toxic materials (no foam!);
  • make the project affordable;
  • build something that would last for 100+ years;
  • help revolutionize the building industry;
  • promote Passive Houses for all!

The house is two stories with an attic, and no basement. It’s traditional in style, but very cutting edge in its performance:

  • R-50 walls, R-85 roof, R-38 floor;
  • sustainable materials (no foam);
  • Vapor open (drys to inside and outside);
  • no thermal-bridging;
  • protected OSB air barrier;
  • 2/3 Insulation outside of OSB (keep OSB above dew point);
  • triple-glazed windows;
  • space heating by ductless mini-split heat pumps;
  • heat recovery ventilator for fresh air;
  • heat pump water heater;
  • 10 kW PV array.

Passive House stats:

  • Space Heating – 3.12 kBtu/s.f/yr (below req’d. limit of 4.75)
  • Primary Energy – 25.8 kBtu/s.f/yr (below req’d. limit of 38)
  • Blower door test results – 0.40 ACH at 50 Pascals!
By |2017-07-24T19:20:31+00:00July 24, 2017|Uncategorized|2 Comments

The Backyard Box – Award Winning Backyard Cottage Designs!!!

Backyard Box is a line of customizable Backyard Cottages that we designed in collaboration with Sloan Ritchie of Cascade Built. They were intended to respond to the recent passage of Seattle’s Backyard Cottage Ordinance. In early 2010, Method Homes sponsored a city-wide Backyard Cottage Design Challenge, and Backyard Box won in the Most Sustainable category, and Best of Show!

What is a Backyard Box? It’s a Modern, Sustainable, Affordable alternative for those considering a Backyard Cottage. With the recent passage of Seattle’s Backyard Cottage Ordinance (yay!), Detached Accessory Dwelling Units are now allowed throughout the City.

As a way to increase the amount and availability of housing options in single-family neighborhoods, and thus help to reduce sprawl, loss of community, reliance on automobiles, etc., we salute the City of Seattle for taking this important step.

As consumers find themselves in need of a little extra space for:

• a home office or studio

• aging parents or boomerang kids

• a guest house

• income via a new rental property

or a mix of these, a Backyard Box will fit the bill. Backyard Boxes are turn-key homes – a homeowner has merely to choose a model from the catalog, along with a Finish Package and available Options (e.g. a Green Roof or Rainwater Catchment system), and the home will be permitted for their lot, fabricated, delivered to the site, erected, and completely finished inside and out. Each Backyard Box will be customized for its site layout, relationship to the main house, topography, solar access etc.

These homes can be designed and built to target the Passive House Standard, a building methodology that results in houses 75- 90% more energy-efficient than conventional structures. With little additional investment (i.e. a small PV array, available as an Option), they can be truly Net Zero-Energy homes. Jim Burton, the architect of the Backyard Boxes, is a Certified Passive House Consultant. Sloan Ritchie, owner of Cascade Built, has been at the forefront of green and sustainable building in the Seattle area for several years, building some of Seattle’s first LEED certified, and certified Passive House homes.

The Backyard Boxes are all ADA Adaptable (the Small Box is shown with the Accessible Bathroom option). They are designed as variations on a theme, yet each have their own distinctive character.

Love your home and neighborhood, but need more space? We have the solution – a Backyard Box!

w w w . b a c k y a r d b o x . com


By |2017-05-10T10:45:38+00:00May 10, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

3D Modeling

I was recently recommending to a client that we do a Sketchup model of their project, to better understand what our design was leading to, and some choices we’ll need to make affecting the massing etc.

Afterwards I recalled how anti-computer-modeling I used to be, in favor of true hand-built models over digital ones. Here is an early project I built a handmade model for, and then later modeled in Sketchup:

































I’ve come to appreciate the value of 3D models, particularly how quickly they can be constructed, how easy they are to navigate around and through, how they can be used to study the solar properties of the site and orientation, how easily they can be shared with clients and consultants (even used with contractors to explain complex details), how quickly changes can be made to materials, proportions, details etc. I’ll always look back with nostalgia, though, to the halcyon days before computer models!

I typically do not build ultra-realistic models, with landscaping, adjacent buildings, photo backgrounds, etc., but instead very quick, simple ones to use for design decisions. Here are some more random 3D models, of projects both built and unbuilt:








By |2017-04-12T10:50:02+00:00April 12, 2017|Uncategorized|1 Comment

Another New Project

This was a remodel of the main floor of a two-story house in Magnolia. The project centered around the kitchen, with the goal of opening up, expanding, and improving the efficiency of what was a very awkward space. The adjacent family room got a new media cabinet, and the powder room was remodeled too. The kitchen was bumped out a couple feet into the back yard, to gain a little more space.

The highlight of the new kitchen is an under-lit island, offering scads of seating. The new cabinets in the kitchen and family room are striking, with their zebrawood veneers.

By |2017-03-06T16:00:05+00:00March 6, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

New Project in Magnolia

This was an addition and remodel of a one-story house in the Magnolia neighborhood. The structurally unstable east wing of the existing house was demolished, and replaced by a two-story addition. The west portion of the house was retained, and incorporated into the new design. A new stair separates the two halves.

The addition contains a family room, powder, and laundry on the first floor, and three bedrooms, two baths upstairs. The master suite has new views of Puget Sound. The existing kitchen, dining and living room areas were left relatively untouched, to keep within a limited budget. The existing one-story portion that remained was re-roofed and re-sided to match the updated style of the addition. The HVAC system was replaced with an energy efficient hydronic system, with a heat-recovery ventilator for fresh air.

The steel stair railing was fabricated by the architect.

By |2017-02-24T10:25:27+00:00February 24, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

I’m Back!!!

After an extended hiatus, doing large commercial projects, I’m back doing residential design. I’ll follow up this post to show some recently completed new projects. In the meantime…

This past summer my family spent several weeks in Europe, mostly Italy. While there I was reminded of the time I spent studying in Rome, many years ago. I spent two semesters there in grad school, and much of the time was spent sketching. We made many field trips, around Rome, and across Italy, always with our sketchbooks in hand. I regretted not thinking to bring a sketchbook with me on this recent trip, but resolved to begin sketching again when I returned home (and I actually have)!

Here are some sketches (and a couple of more finished drawings) from back then:




By |2016-12-06T13:50:32+00:00December 6, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Jim Burton Architects Featured on Houzz!!

General contractors, home builders, and more ∨

Before starting a bathroom remodel, search for bathroom ideas and interesting products, including a one-of-a-kind tub, vanity and bathroom sink.
Search for a fun counter stool, clock, sectional and storage dresser to spice up your basement.

By |2014-03-05T12:04:03+00:00March 5, 2014|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Remodeling on a Budget

Budgeting is an important concern on any project. By starting out with reasonable goals, understanding what you want from the project, keeping some important ideas in mind, and developing realistic cost estimates from the start (and revisiting these as the design progresses), you should be in good shape.


First of all, think through your reasons for taking on the project. Are you adding needed square footage? Increasing functionality? Making aesthetic improvements? Wanting to add value to home? Understanding your own goals can help make decisions about budgeting easier.

Determine Scope

What is the smallest project that will achieve your goals?  Ask yourself what project will have the most value to you – i.e. give you what you want in the most cost-effective manner. Is it a minor remodel (mostly cosmetic improvements)? Is it a major remodel (involving opening up floor plan, new kitchen, etc.)? Is it an addition, perhaps as part of a remodel? Or is it a total tear-down (or I should say, deconstruction) and new building?

Determine Budget

Think through what your budget is, and remember to consider not just Construction Cost but Project Cost. The Project Cost includes professional fees (architect, consultants etc.), permit fees, bank fees, insurance, in addition to the cost of construction.

Be realistic – account for reasonable costs to estimate your budget. I had a potential client who came to me wanting to do a full second story addition for $40K – and wanted to have it completed (designed, permitted & built) in 4 months!

Some homeowners try to hide (low-ball) their true budget from a contractor, thinking this strategy will lead to a lower cost estimate. I believe it’s better to be up front from the start about what the actual budget is, and then develop a team that works together to respect (and meet) that budget.

It’s always wise to include a contingency in your budget (5-10%). This is especially true in a remodel, where you often don’t discover issues until the existing walls are opened up. A contingency has the benefit of making you feel more at ease entering into a project, and can allow you to splurge on some things further into the project.

Rarely does a client’s initial budget equal the initial construction cost estimate. And guess what? – usually the former is lower than the latter. On most projects there is some juggling of the elements of the project – the budget, scope, or schedule. For example, often the clients have to raise their budget to achieve their goals and program, or if their budget is set in stone, the scope has to be reduced.

Ballpark S.F. Costs

To estimate construction cost early on in a project, the easiest way is to apply typical square foot costs. Numbers I often use are:

New construction = $225-275/s.f.;

Major remodel = $150-225+/s.f;

Minor remodel = $100-150/s.f.

On an addition project, remember to account not just for the new construction, but also the cost of work to the existing parts of the project. For example, in a full second story addition, don’t assume the construction cost only includes the area of the addition, times the new construction factor. There will be significant costs to the existing portions of the house too, where the structure to support the new second story needs to come through to reach the foundation, to connect new to existing plumbing, electrical, mechanical systems etc, in addition to new stairs the reach the second floor.

Strategies to Control Costs

Think small – the best way to control budget is by reducing the size and scope of your project. Often rooms can be combined to serve more than one function – an office can act as a spare bedroom when needed, or the laundry can be located in a mudroom or powder room. And do you really need a separate living room?

If you’re planning a teardown and new house, consider a remodel of the existing structure,. This is not always a cheaper option – it depends on the project.

Keep the floor plan simple. Keep the design simple. Use straightforward vs. complicated elements and details – there can be a beauty in the simple expression of natural materials that don’t need elaborate trimwork to “spruce it up”.

Prioritize your program and concentrate on highest value goals. Save the splurging for the parts of the project that will have the most impact, or mean the most to you. This might be in the areas guests will see, or it may be in the master bath – every project is different.

Phase work within a master plan – sometimes it make sense to break the project up into pieces, and implement them over time as budget allows.

Other Strategies to Control Costs

An open plan makes a house feel larger.

Limit moving of structural components.

Limit mechanical/plumbing/electrical work.

Limit extent of house affected.

Be creative with materials and finishes – sometimes the creative use of off-the-shelf materials can have more of an impact than more expensive “fancy” materials and finishes.

Let components of the architecture do “double-duty” – for example an exposed (perhaps colored?) concrete slab in the basement acts as both the structure and the finish floor.

Do some of the work yourself. Some clients act as their own General Contractor (G.C.), which can save contractor overhead and profit costs, and sales tax on the project. There are risks associated with this approach, so be careful.

Research and source building materials and finishes yourself.

On some projects the owners can stay in the house during construction, and save rental costs during the course of the project. There may be higher construction costs associated with this approach, however (for example the cost of taking more care every day to protect the inhabited portion from construction dust etc.), that may partially offset the savings.


If you don’t have one already, shop around for contractors – interview 2 or 3 to get a range of cost estimates. And don’t always opt for the lowest bidder!

Select a contractor early in the design process, and get their input about constructability and construction cost as the design progresses.

Do multiple cost estimates as the design is refined.  

Keep long term costs in mind – for example, upgrading to a more efficient heating system can be a big up-front cost, but will pay for itself over time in reduced energy costs.


Consider adding an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit), or Backyard Cottage. This can be rented out, and provide income to offset its construction cost.

If you have a too-short, substandard basement, consider raising the house a couple of feet to turn it into a fully functional new space.

Consider recycling an old house! A client a few years back bought a house for $1.00 from a builder who was going to have it demolished. We deconstructed the existing dilapidated house on his lot, and had the house he’d bought moved to the site and installed on a new foundation/basement: http://www.seattlepi.com/default/article/Imagine-paying-just-1-for-a-home-plus-moving-1242517.php

Don’t make decisions based on some theoretical future home buyer. Unless you’ll be selling your house within a year or two, it’s better to make decisions based on your own goals and preferences.

By |2013-07-23T10:22:51+00:00July 23, 2013|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Social Media

Early last year I decided I couldn’t hold off any longer getting on the Social Media train. My Queen Anne House had been the AIA/Northwest Home Magazine Home of the Month the previous November, and I was about to give up hope of ever getting any work out of it. Which seemed strange at the time, since in the past it was published projects and recognition such as this which was the source of most of my work. It finally dawned on me that the old-school style of marketing I’d always counted on just wasn’t working anymore.

So, about this time last year I contacted Rory Martin, whom I’d worked with before in re-designing my website, to bring me up to speed with social networking. He developed a multi-step plan, involving setting up a Facebook page for my company, setting up a blog, optimizing my LinkedIn profile, and doing some search engine optimization. In addition, I created a profile for my business on the Houzz website (http://www.houzz.com/pro/jim-burton/jim-burton-architects).

For a few months I didn’t notice any improvement, although Rory showed me the analytics of how many people were seeing my website etc. Finally though, starting about four or five months after I’d started working with him (which was as long as he told me it would take) I started to see some real results. I began getting potential clients calling again. And interestingly, it seemed like I got actual jobs from these more often than in the past. In other words, I think some of this social media gives potential clients a deeper, more genuine sense of who I am, what I do and how I work, than an article in a design mag ever could. I also found that when someone did contact me after, for example, seeing my blog, I was the only architect they were talking to, whereas more often than not in the past I would be one of several architects that potential clients were interviewing.

And I’m getting some new recognition, which is really surprising me. I’ve been told by LinkedIn that I had one of the top 5% most viewed LinkedIn profiles in 2012. I was featured in a Houzz Ideabook (online article) about how design in Seattle responds to the environment (http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/4184745/list/City-View–Seattle-Design-Reveals-Natural-Wonders). And Jim Burton Architects was chosen as a Houzz Best of 2013 winner, in the Customer Satisfaction category!

By |2013-02-18T23:25:01+00:00February 18, 2013|Architectural Design, Uncategorized|0 Comments
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