Going Whole Hog on Green Homes
May 27, 2008
As green architects, we are often asked to design a truly green home. Here’s how we do it:
There is so much complexity and there are so many choices in designing a green home, we use what we call an integrated or “whole systems” design process. This process looks at the interaction of all the systems in and around the home with the intent of having all of those systems work together to gain maximum efficiency in the design and operation. Whole Systems Designs integrate all of the site, building and occupant needs. They also set the bar for reducing impacts on the earth.
No single system, like solar hot water panels, can make a home green. So, to get to truly green designs, we take cues from historical architecture and add to that what we learn from design in nature. This can be a somewhat challenging task. To achieve this level of design, we address all the following issues:
Appropriateness of the site for development: (Some places shouldn’t be developed!)
Aesthetics: (Just because its green doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful; it must be.)
Comfort: (Green buildings are naturally comfortable.)
Space efficiency: (Smaller is better when you’re trying to reduce impacts.)
Energy efficiency: (An energy efficient home costs less to operate and demands less
from our municipal infrastructure)
Quality and durability: (Houses should last a long time, 75 years or more, and materials should last, too, and be low-maintenance.)
Responsible material use: (Materials should be from rapidly renewable sources and should be found locally whenever possible, such as engineered wood products made from aspen trees.)
Healthy indoor environments: (Great indoor air quality makes for a healthy home.)
Reuse and recycling: (Materials can be selected that have an “afterlife!”)
Lifecycle design: (Finding out how long it takes for a system to pay for itself helps you decide which system to use.)
Reduced water use: (The utmost in importance in our arid mountain and high desert climates.)
It’s quite a list, I know. To do it right takes a small team of talented individuals. You may have an architect, a builder, a structural engineer, mechanical engineer, lighting designer, acoustic engineer … it all depends on the project and the priorities of the owner.
We assemble this fantastic design team in what we call a “design charrette.” A design charrette can be as simple as having the owner, architect and contractor at the table for key meetings, or as involved as a two day marathon with all of the stakeholders in the same room hashing out design ideas. The advantage gained from a design charrette is that the team members get to know each other by working together up front on the project. Great amounts of information can be analyzed and synthesized into design ideas when the entire team is working together; essentially, multiple heads are better than one for brainstorming creative solutions to tricky design challenges. And everyone walks away from the design charrette with a clear idea of his responsibilities on the project and his next tasks.
You’re probably asking yourself: Does it cost more to get really green using this whole systems approach? Probably in the design, but not necessarily in the construction. The beauty of a fully integrated, whole systems design is that many of the systems get downsized and sometimes even eliminated! What we’ve found is that if you attack the problem from all angles, you arrive at a solution that is so efficient that it becomes simple and cost-effective.
So, be creative, understand your impacts, and whenever you can, go whole hog!
For more information on Whole Systems Design, Google: Building Science Corporation, Living Building Challenge, LEED for Homes, and Built Green Colorado.
Steven A. Novy, AIA is a principal and partner in Green Line Architects, PC. A small collaborative firm in Carbondale, Colo., that is committed to designing truly sustainable, beautiful, functional homes.