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The Scope of Green Building Q&A

A recent inquiry on our website rendered some great feedback from our designer, Tessa Smith, worthy of sharing:


After doing my homework, I believe the best green building standard is the ultra-efficient Passive House. That said, I know Passive House focus’ mainly on energy use (or conservation rather). Because designing and building a house is a complicated and involved process, I want to consider a full scope of ‘green’ while I’m at it. What else should I have in mind while I’m talking to designers and builders?


Great Question, an enormous question, but a good one. Let’s begin with the feasibility and design process, knowing your goals before pen ever hits paper is key. An excellent place to begin the establishment of these goals can often be researching and selecting a recognized certification or standard to certify your project under, such as Passive House, LEED for Home, Living building challenge, Built Green, and Energy Star, for example. Hiring the right professional designer with a much deeper background than designing to any certification is extremely relevant, but a sustainable approach is really only supported and quantified by third party documentation and review.

The quickest route to a “Green” project is through reducing operational energy (conservation essentially) my preference, for reasons of cost benefit, comfort, and longevity is Passive House, but this is just a very big piece of the pie, not the whole pie, by any means. For a truly comprehensively sustainable project there is a lot more than just efficiency, for example, reducing potable water consumption, using durable, low emitting, recycled, locally sourced materials, non invasive and native landscaping. Some certifications are broader than others, for example a LEED for Home project I designed recognized the relationship of the site to a greater community, bus lines, parks, proximity to amenities, this reduces the dependency on driving and takes better advantage of an existing infrastructure thus encouraging a lower carbon footprint on a daily basis. LEED for Home also awards more points for a small home than a large home, the smallest home that effectively meets your needs is always the most environmentally conscious choice.

As I mention above picking the right certification for your project is a great place to begin, and I can’t stress enough how hiring the right team to support that with experience and creativity is equally as potent. For example, not every choice on a checklist makes sense for every home, only experience can judge this, and conversely not every choice that can affect the greater impact of a home will be addressed by any single certification. For example, I try to build a great deal of flexibility into my designs which offers the homeowners the greatest freedom over time as their family and needs change; with the structure in place, the house naturally evolves with the family. Invest time and resources in enduring beauty and design, something that is valuable by its design is better cared for, and so becomes as much a part of sustainability as longevity, energy consumption and social equity. Put something on the planet worthy of care, and it will be cared for.