Gaines Group Architects

Want a Green Home? Build a Balanced Team

Green homeWe see it in sports all the time, if there is a weak link on the team, they cannot win the championship. It takes everyone operating at their top level and working together to achieve success and win it all. The same holds true in home construction. You have to build a complete and balanced team to actually get a green home.

There are many aspects that go into achieving your dream green home. It has to fit your budget, provide healthy indoor air, operate efficiently, be economical to build, and conserve water (just to name a few). The appropriate team depends on the complexity of the design. As I have written many times, just purchasing a plan from a magazine does not take into account the site, the climate, or locally available materials and expertise. A builder is not an expert at selecting materials that are the most efficient and affordable option to achieve your goal. Many times they will send you to a supply house to make your selections – this puts all the burden on you to determine the most economical and appropriate option. Unless you frequently build homes yourself, you should not be expected to know the best solutions.

Green homeIf you don’t have a builder that understands efficient home construction, you will be paying someone to learn how to build efficiently. While it seems simple, just changing to advanced framing to be able to upgrade your insulation package, for instance, requires some understanding of all the impacts this change will have on other aspects of the home. If you don’t have an insulator that understand efficient insulation installation, you will undoubtedly pay more than you should for an insulation that does not perform as well as possible. If you hire an architect that does not understand specifications and building science, you will likely have a moisture problem in your conditioned attic. There are many considerations that need to be made. You should have a team that knows building science, design, construction, material selection, and installation. 

Green home

NEST Rebuild, 2010

Don’t fall for the old trap of purchasing a plan that does not address the site, materials, your functional needs, or the climate. Don’t hire a builder that does not know and understand building science. Don’t allow installers to learn by their mistakes on your project. Don’t let a designer with little experience in efficient homes learn how to design your green home. Find a balanced team of experts and pay a little more up front if that is needed to get the best team; it will save you everyday with a job done right.


Keys to an energy efficient home

I was at an event a few weeks ago that focused on making existing homes energy-efficient. One attendee pulled me aside to discuss what else she could do in her home. SO I asked the basic questions, “have you had an energy audit?” Her answer was immediate and definitive, my house is very energy-efficient. So I followed up with, “what kind of insulation do you have?” Her answer made me wonder where this conversation was heading “the normal kind.”

Most houses that are built don’t take building science into account. I believe this is in large part because you cannot see many of the things that are important for energy efficiency. So what should you look for in your home to determine if you are really energy-efficient?

energy auditFirst, I think every home owner should invest in an energy audit. You should select your auditor carefully, look for someone who understands building science and the complexities that exist in the most complicated machine you own – your home.

Get to know your home, look at the insulation in the attic, crawl space / basement, determine what kind of windows you have, and know the age and efficiency of your HVAC system. Then talk to your neighbors and friends about how much they pay per square foot for electricity. When you host a dinner party, show your friends the things that you have done to reduce your energy bills and talk about what they have done. Call a building scientist (me) to discuss all the low-cost things that you can do to make your home more energy-efficient. We all need to find ways to spend less each month – if you have not made your home efficient, then you are losing money every month that you could be saving!