Recently, in the living room of his  nearly complete dream house on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Jason F. McLennan watched as Kevin Wildes, a vice president of the floor-covering giant Mohawk Group, swiftly pieced together a modular area rug. McLennan—ENR’s 2016 Award of Excellence winner for master­minding the world’s most rigorous green-building performance standard—had a big smile on his face.

The creator of the 11-year-old Living Building Challenge (LBC) was pleased because the carpet, from Mohawk’s new Lichen Collection by McLennan Design, is his first design collaboration on a supersustainably produced line of floor coverings. The rug is one of several innovations in McLennan’s 3,200-sq-ft residence, called Heron Hall, which he designed as a living laboratory and showcase for regenerative building.

As designer, client and owner, the project “was challenging even for me,” says the CEO and design partner of McLennan Design LLC and chairman of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), which administers the LBC (ENR 4/11/16 p. 42).

“Jason [blazed] the trail and set a new standard,” says James Weaver, the City of Bainbridge Island building official.

Heron Hall will be eligible for Living Building certification if it meets seven performance areas, called “petals,” after a year of occupancy. Petals are site, net-zero water, net-zero energy, materials, health, beauty and equity. One equity imperative is that a project “may not block access to, nor diminish the quality of, fresh air, sunlight and natural waterways for any member of society or adjacent developments.”

Buildings can be petal-certified if they achieve at least one of the most difficult petals—energy, water or materials.

A Living Building, which is independent of utilities, generates all its energy from renewable sources, captures and treats all its water on site, composts biosolids and is constructed efficiently using mostly local resources and materials. But  achieving full certification is difficult, because many jurisdictions do not permit composting toilets instead of a sewer connection or water systems that treat captured rainwater to potable standards. 

That was true of Bainbridge Island until McLennan initiated a change in local rules. “The city was supportive, but I had to write the ordinance,” he says. He had help from the city attorney, he adds.

First, the city modified the Bainbridge Island Municipal Code: Section 13.12 Sewers to allow an on-site sewage system—but only if composting-toilet and graywater-disposal systems gain approval from the county health district, if the owner installs a stub-out connection for a future sewer linkup if a flush-toilet system is ever installed and if the owner pays associated connection fees.

At the end of 2014, the city council approved the code modification by adopting Ordinance 42-14. The change process took only nine months, says Weaver, who adds that, already, two other projects have benefited from the ordinance.

McLennan received his building permit in 2015. The two-story house is framed with local lumber. It has exposed and insulated rammed-earth shear walls; roof-mounted solar photovoltaics; rain­water collection; and a Metal Sales standing-seam metal roof that debuts a coating free of toxic ingredients, such as hexavalent chromium, lead phthalates and bisphenol-A. There are also reused and repurposed materials throughout.

The lichen line ranks as the first flooring material certified by ILFI’s Living Product Challenge. LPC, tailored to sustainable manufacturing, is LBC’s younger cousin. 

The collection, made from nylon yarn, is the only floor covering installed using an adhesive tab, called Flex Loc Tabs, free of ingredients on ILFI’s Red List of known toxins. It also is the only adhesive with a Declare ingredient label, according to Mohawk. The tile’s backing is also Red List-free.

Including Mohawk and Metal Sales, McLennan had nearly 20 collaborators  helping create his dream house, which was built by Smallwood Design and Construction. The list includes consulting engineer Integral Group; Knauf Insulation; Sustainable Northwest Woods; Phoenix Composting; ECOS Paints; SIREWALL, for rammed-earth walls that contain very little Portland cement; Prosoco, for Red-List-free exterior waterproofing; and Coldspring, for stone pavers. 

Interior details and exterior landscaping are not yet finished, though the family began its move into the house on April 1.

McLennan is not sure when the house will be eligible for Living Building certification. “We will likely go for petal certification first,” by next spring, he says.