Hope in the Future of Sustainable Design

Hope in the Future of Sustainable Design

Charles has the pleasure of speaking about building science and sustainable design in a variety of venues and to diverse groups of people. His years of experience speaking on these topics has given him an insightful perspective on the future of sustainable design and building. Below, he shares his thoughts on the future and the hope he feels in the progress to be made.

Charles discussing sustainable design to a group at VMRC.

I have been on a “lecture circuit” discussing building science and sustainable design since 2005 when I designed what would become, one of the first LEED Certified homes in the country. Ray Gaines is the architect of record for that project and our entire team was part of the process. As I continue to learn more about sustainability including the economics of climate change, I evolve in the knowledge I am capable to share. However, the building science basics have not changed in all that time. We have seen tremendous progress in what we can achieve in energy efficiency and healthy indoor environments, new products have entered our market to make some things easier, and we have found more and more demand for healthy, energy-efficient, and durable design solutions. The only thing that remains constant is the building science. 

One of the key things to understand when talking about sustainable design comes from a phrase I heard many times while attending UVA to study architecture: “We have not learned how to be good, just less bad.” The inherent nature of creating places for us to live, work, play is that we have a negative impact on the environment that existed before we got there. We dig a hole, use chemicals, cut down trees, use valuable resources to create and define a space. Don’t get me wrong, we have come a very long way since I began learning about sustainable design. Our solutions today are tremendously better than what we were doing in 2000 or even in 2005 when we used LEED for Homes to measure our success. We have better products that are softer on the environment. Our buildings are even more energy efficient. We better understand how to minimize our carbon footprint. We know how to better manage site disturbance. However, at the end of the process we are still not creating healthy regenerative environments that benefit the overall environment. Ultimately, we continue being “less bad”.

I think there is certainly hope for a future where we can build regenerative environments to live, work, and play. I see glimpses of it now with clean energy installations, vegetative walls and roofs, and biophilic design strategies. I see our industry moving towards holistic design solutions that acknowledge our contribution to climate change and environmental degradation and a desire to fix our problems. The AIA code of ethics in fact demands that all architects take up this challenge and design better and more holistic solutions. Even the building code minimums that we see numerous buildings built to meet has embraced the need for energy-efficiency to our carbon emissions. 

While we have no shortage of challenges ahead, I see many that are rising to meet them. I see architects coming together to figure out best practices and understand building science. There are new products coming to market that embrace a healthier future, some will work, and some will not, but we have to test and experiment to find the right path. I see hope in the generations ahead and their desire to take on these challenges and solve some big problems in new, inclusive, and holistic ways. We are moving in the right direction, slowly, but we are still moving.

Going Green: Should You Build Your Home to a Higher Standard?

Going greenGoing green when building a sustainable home is the first step in ensuring you are helping your environment and your wallet for years to come. How are your eco-friendly decisions benefiting your home?

It is easy to dismiss making a decision that protects forests in South America if you have no direct attachment to South America. Using FSC certified wood is more expensive on a cash basis without a doubt. So why would you ever care about using this strategy? FSC is a third-party certification that protects rain forests in South America from being clear-cut.

How do we put value on saving these forests? It is difficult, however those forests are filtering air, sequestering carbon, and producing oxygen to breathe. So inherently we know the health of those forests is important, but again, is it worth paying more to build your home to protect forests half a world away?

Going green

Precious wood at Mil Madeiras Ltd. FSC, from sustainable logging. Amazon, Brazil

Deciding to build a healthy, energy-efficient, and durable home is not as complicated a decision as deciding which strategies are right for your home and budget. These are complex issues that should be considered with the full impact on the future of our world and the impact on your project. Installing a more expensive HVAC system, for instance, that saves you money through energy efficiency can easily be evaluated on a payback basis. Installing insulation that is air tight and vapor permeable is critical to maintaining your monthly finances and can also be easily evaluated. Using healthy products that do not off-gas dangerous chemicals into the air you breath should be done without a second thought.

Going green is not a political decision. It does not cost more if planned through design using the right strategies for your project. Going green benefits your wallet, the planet, and future generations to come.

Going green

Crossroads Farm

Going green

Wolford Dedication

What are All Those Certifications, and Do They Add Value to Your Project?

In the construction industry, like many others, there are many certifications, professional designations, and credentials. So does it add value to you for your project? How do you know it shows added expertise? Should I hire someone who does not have a particular certification? Learning more about what the initials stand for will help you evaluate what matters to you. Looking for someone who has gone through the added training that will benefit your project is a key to selecting the right team.

So let me define some of the more common letters you see after the names of prominent architects:

RA (often not used if a member of AIA) – Registered Architect – this means you are legally empowered to practice architecture. You can start your own firm, seal, stamp, or sign your own drawings, and turn your client’s ideas into reality. For a design project this is the base level designation that shows the person has achieved a certain level of education, experience, and knowledge. Without it, you have no way of knowing if the ‘designer’ has achieved any level of competence in design as measured by testing. Architects are responsible for protecting the public’s health, safety, and welfare, so earning the license is not an easy task. Hiring someone to design your home or business with this designation will give you peace of mind. This is the designation that holds an architect accountable for their actions.


Certifications demonstrate knowledge of the construction process, contractual relationships, and construction contract administration procedures.

AIA – indicates you are an RA and a member in good standing with the American Institute of Architects. You can be an “Assoc. AIA” without being an RA. Certifications

CSI – indicates you are a member in good standing with the Construction Specifications Institute.

NCARB – indicates you hold a National Council of Architectural Review Board certificate which speeds the reciprocity process. Most don’t add this to their signature unless soliciting work that might require licensure in another State in the future.

CDT – The Construction Documents Technology (CDT) Program provides a comprehensive overview for anyone who writes, interprets, enforces, or manages construction documents. By being able to understand and interpret written construction documents, CDTs perform their jobs more effectively. By understanding the roles and relationships of all participants, CDTs improve communication among all members of the construction team.

CCS – A Certified Construction Specifier (CCS) is a skilled product researcher who knows how to investigate and identify cost-effective, efficient solutions, and then communicate those solutions through the specifications. CCS certifications demonstrate advanced knowledge in all aspects of specifications development, including contractual relationships, organization, preparation and enforcement.

CCCA – Certified Construction Contract Administration (CCCA) certification teaches you to develop, administer and enforce construction documentation. CCCA c

LEED AP – The LEED AP credential affirms your advanced knowledge in green building as well as expertise in a particular LEED rating system. The LEED AP BD+C credential suits professionals with expertise in the design and construction phases of green buildings serving the commercial, residential, education and healthcare sectors.

LEED GA – This in an entry-level certification that is required to achieve the LEED AP once you have more experience in green building. The LEED Green Associate credential demonstrates a solid and current foundation in green building principles and practices. From marketers to lawyers, landscape architects to education professionals, and product manufacturers to policymakers, LEED Green Associates enjoy a broad understanding of sustainability that bolsters their careers.Certifications

CAPS – The Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation program teaches the technical, business management, and customer service skills essential to competing in the fastest growing segment of the residential remodeling industry: home modifications for the aging-in-place. CAPS professionals have the answers to your questions. They have been taught the strategies and techniques for designing and building aesthetically enriching, barrier-free living environments. The CAPS program goes beyond design to address the codes and standards, common remodeling expenditures and projects, product ideas, and resources needed to provide comprehensive and practical aging-in-place solutions. CAPS graduates pledge to uphold a code of ethics and are required to maintain their designation by attending continuing education programs and participating in community service.

CGP – The Certified Green Professional designation recognizes builders, remodelers and other industry professionals who incorporate green building principles into homes— without driving up the cost of construction. Classwork leading to the designation provides a solid background in green building methods, as well as the tools to reach consumers, from the organization leading the charge to provide market-driven green building solutions to the home building industry.

What other certifications do you think add value to your architect? Let me know – I am always looking for a new challenge. Next up for me is the CCCA.