Good architecture does not just happen. It is formed through conversations, discussions, debates, and most important, listening. Architects are often assumed to serve those in need of a signature work that marks a place in time and culture. The reality of it is those buildings and projects are few and far between and almost never impact our daily lives. Those project are usually the buildings that land on the covers of magazines, show up in tourist brochures, and become destinations. However, the buildings that we work, live, and play are just as important if not more so.
We don’t often think of our homes and businesses as architectural destinations, but in reality they are just that if designed appropriately. A highly functional home will make your life easier, will lower your maintenance costs, and will re-energize your body. A well designed building is one that meets your current needs, anticipates your future needs, and is adaptable to those things in life that just happen. Architecture is more than just drawing a plan and elevation and letting the builder figure out the details. Architecture is a holistic concept that touches all aspects of your home and business from energy usage, aesthetics, to space planning and function. Architecture is about having conversations, many of them, to identify the goals, needs, and functions your architectural destination needs to be successful. Architecture is a conversation that results in drawings used to build your project.
I get asked all the time “how much more does it cost to do all that extra green stuff“? So many people think of going green as an added burden or an option that you add to a design for a home or business. Is this really the case? We are seeing real impacts of climate change (no this is not going to be a post about climate change being a man-made issue). We are seeing energy costs going up and quick. We have an incredible population growth rate worldwide that shows no signs of slowing down. We know that there are limited resources available to all of us including some essentials like water, air, food, and energy. So how could a decision that allows you to use less, be a better steward of what you do have, and save money be an option – this, green design, is needed now and should be seen as a requirement for all of us ethically. So my first answer is no, it does not cost more to go green (or as I like to point out, do it right).
HOWEVER, I know many people don’t share my views on our ethical obligations. So once again, does it cost more to ‘go green’?I still have to say no, it does not add a penny to your budget day one of moving into the home, but it may save you money if done right. Here is a real example. I designed a modest home locally for a young couple that wanted energy efficiency to be part of their project. They had their home priced by a few contractors with a variety of levels of understanding of energy-efficient design. One suggested that they get rid of all that ‘extra stuff’ the architect added to their design to save some money. They did the calculations and the savings on a 30 year mortgage for taking out those extras would cost them an extra $15 per month in energy costs (being very conservative about expected monthly electric bills compared to their current fees in a non-energy efficient home).
The added costs of an energy-efficient home are primarily in the cost of the insulation and the HVAC system. These are both areas that pay back monthly in savings from reduced energy usage. There are other things that you can add to a home to call it ‘green’ which are in fact more expensive than other options, but those decisions should be based on your beliefs in what is important. For instance, it is hard to justify using FSC wood financially here in Central Virginia, but if you think about the rain forests being cut down and the reduced capacity of those forests to offset carbon emissions, then you might make it a priority for your project. A FSC forest is required to meet certain standards and clear cutting is not allowed. The use of low VOC products can sometimes add some costs to a project, but if you think of the reduced risk of cancer for your family (VOC’s are known to off-gas for up to six years after installation and are known carcinogens) then perhaps the reduced stress and hospital bills will be valid motivation to spend a little more. We all have our belief systems that we make decisions and financial is just one of them. I can tell you it does not cost more to build a ‘green’ home that is energy-efficient, you just have to decide what factors you are adding to the equation to determine how much you spend.