Deferring to their pristine surroundings, Glen and Deb Bruels built arguably the most environmentally friendly waterfront home—the Natural Balance House—on Washington’s San Juan Island. By, Diane M. Byrne


“The islands are bucolic, so you want to preserve that,” says Glen Bruels of the house that he and his wife, Deb, built off the coast of Washington State. But it’s not just a house that was designed to respect its natural surroundings. Known as the Natural Balance House, it’s under consideration for five major “green” building certifications, including LEED Platinum.

While the applications for certification are being reviewed, Bruels delights in what his design team—architect Michael McNamara of Blue Sky Design in British Columbia and builder Ravenhill Construction in San Juan Island— has achieved. Together, they planned an all-LED lighting scheme and used salvaged myrtle wood from Australia, where the Bruelses lived a few years ago. “That was our big souvenir to ourselves,” Bruels says of the wood used for cabinetry and flooring. The couple ensured every plant from the excavation site was kept alive for the two-year construction process, then replanted in the same place or on the home’s roof, a “green roof” that’s covered with plants.

The low-profile home is bunkered into the hillside, too, so “it fit into the landscape so well,” Bruels says. “It’s the first line of filtering” for their potable water. Rainwater from the roof flows into a 19,500-gallon cistern underground. “The house can run 100 percent on rainwater,” he adds.

The biggest benefit of living on San Juan Island is the view. The house overlooks a major shipping channel; between the boats, cruise ships, and orcas that pass by daily, Bruels jokes that they don’t need a TV. A glass wall lets them enjoy the view from inside on chilly nights. In summertime, though, “the outdoor living areas are just spectacular,” he says. LED strip lights on the rails of the glass sliders lend a subtle glow when night falls. And it’s a practical glow, too; one that’s low on energy consumption, high on function, and big on environmental respect. Just the way they like it.