Thursday, June 19, 2008

Who will design your green home?

A sustainable home starts with good home design – even with experience in home building and energy efficient building materials, you can benefit with the advice of a design expert. The traditional approach is to hire an architect to design your home and a builder to construct the home.

Make sure your architect is highly knowledgeable about green building, a LEED accredited professional if possible, and interview builders to see their energy efficient homes, discuss costs, budgets, and check their references. In this instance, the architect stays involved with the project from start to finish, helping you to find potential builders and making sure the home is built as specified in the drawings.

You may consider a local design-build firm to build your green home that will handle both the design and the construction of your home. Another approach is to hire a builder or manufacturer to design the home. Many companies offer “standard plans” with flexible floor plans. Consider carefully before selecting a stock plan: while your spatial needs may be met with a standard home design, your sustainable home should be designed to match your family’s philosophy on sustainability and be tailored to you site. Alex Wilson, President of BuildingGreen, Inc. and Editor of Environmental Building News and the GreenSpec Directory, also cautions about using standard plans in his book Your Green Home, “Green building involves elements that are not conducive to the use of stock house plans, such as a close examination of the building site and a careful tailoring of the design to make the home fit the site.”

Many design-build firms, builders, and manufacturers offer green home design services but do not have an architect on staff. So what’s the difference between an architect and a designer? Timber Home Living’s 2007 Annual Buyer’s Guide article titled “The Design Pros”, explains, “Schooling, accreditation, and cost, primarily. All architects are designers, but not all designers are architects.” Before hiring a designer who is not an architect, make sure you check with your state and local permitting authorities, many are requiring a registered architect’s stamp and you don’t want to end up paying twice for services.

The Timber Home Living article continues, “To become an architect, the individual must pass his or her state’s Board of Architects exam, which indicates an understanding of the structural engineering principles behind making a building stand up. A designer may be able to design an entire building, he just needs an architect or engineer to ensure it will be properly built.”

Alex Wilson essentially sums it up: “The importance of good energy design cannot be overemphasized. Hopefully the architecture firm or design-build company will have the in-house expertise needed to create a very low-energy house. If not, the designer should have a good working relationship with an energy expert who is skilled in energy-efficient construction detailing, passive solar heating design, daylighting, computer modeling of energy performance, advanced mechanical equipment, and state-of-the-art electric lighting.”

Take a look at our sustainable home design services when you get an opportunity. We're happy to answer any of your questions on green building and look forward to helping you design your sustainable home with structural insulated panels, timber framing, post and beam, or another building method you are interested in!

Jackie Lampiasi, Marketing Director

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