green design

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The Next Step in Sustainable Design

Bringing the naturally changing movement of wind and water indoors helps people feel healthier

Posted on Aug 2 2017 by Kevin Nute

A building’s primary purpose may be to keep the weather out, but most do such an effective job of this that they also inadvertently deprive us of contact with two key requirements for our well-being and effectiveness: nature and change.

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Image Credits:

  1. Kevin Nute

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A Shortcut To Sustainable Living: Downsize!

A high-rise condo usually has a smaller carbon footprint than a single-family house

Posted on Sep 10 2013 by Alan Abrams and Joseph Gilday

The purpose of sustainable design and green building is to achieve sustainable living. To do this, we attempt to make best possible use of the assets at hand. That could mean designing and building from scratch. It could also mean taking an existing dwelling and nudging it in the direction of sustainability.

It’s an imperfect process and takes time. It’s only natural that we look for shortcuts to living green. Here’s one: downsize and move into a condo.

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Image Credits:

  1. All photos: Ken Wyner

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Pondering the Sorry State of Green Building

Something new: Carl is feeling grumpy — this time, it's because clients hire him after their project has already been designed

Posted on Nov 12 2012 by Carl Seville

After several months off from my blog, I am finally inspired to start writing again. I clearly don’t have the stamina of Allison Bailes of Energy Vanguard, who seems to put up a blog post about every 10 minutes, but I do need to get back on track so I don’t fade into obscurity (if I haven’t already).

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Image Credits:

  1. Carl Seville

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10 Projects, Each Presented in 10 Minutes and 10 Slides

The 10x10x10 Green Building Slam showcases residential and commercial projects that emphasize green principles

Posted on Mar 26 2012 by Richard Defendorf

There is something to be said for playing fast, if not loose, with the facts when it comes to presenting the essentials of a building project. Or at least that’s the driving concept behind the 10x10x10 Green Building Slam, scheduled for Wednesday at the Magic Lantern Theatre in Spokane, Washington.

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Image Credits:

  1. Copeland Architecture & Construction

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The Pretty Good House

Finding the right balance between construction cost and energy performance

Posted on Feb 6 2012 by Michael Maines

Energy Star. LEED. Passivhaus. There are many programs with different metrics for determining how green your home is. But what elements of green building are important to you when designing and building a home?

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Image Credits:

  1. Diane Milliken

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Luxury Hybrid Cars and Green McMansions

Using green as a cover to avoid any real change or sacrifice

Posted on Jan 9 2012 by Carl Seville

This post was inspired by a car commercial for an Infiniti luxury hybrid sedan that boasts a 32 MPG highway rating, which means that it probably gets closer to about 23 MPG in normal use around town. I once owned an Infiniti - there’s something about nice leather, quality workmanship, and raw power that is quite intoxicating.

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High-Performance and Net-Zero Homes — Part 2

Why simple building geometry beats elaborate ornamentation or curb appeal

Posted on Dec 22 2011 by Ann Edminster

Welcome back to the rant! (This is an extended, multi-month rant, in case you were wondering.)

Last month I introduced the “Change Toolkit,” a hierarchy of interventions with Mindset at the top (most effective type of intervention), followed by Processes, then Tools; Technologies (the perennial favorite) resides at the bottom – i.e., it is the least effective change lever in our toolkit for creating higher-performing homes.

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High-Performance and Net-Zero Homes — Part 1

Achieving your energy goals depends on the process, the perception, and the people — and on having the mindset of a revolutionary

Posted on Nov 24 2011 by Ann Edminster

I come from a family of non-conformists. My dad was the product of a line of labor shit-disturbers of the first order; my mom came from milder stock but was herself a civic activist of unparalleled backbone. I spent my childhood marching for racial equality, farm worker rights, and peace in Vietnam. So perhaps it’s inevitable that I have come to view myself as a green building revolutionary.

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Siting with the Sun: Passive Heating and Daylighting

Design Around the Sun to Lower Heating and Lighting Needs

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Siting can keep a house warm and cool

How a house is oriented to the sun has a dramatic impact on heating and cooling costs — the largest energy load in most homes.

As promising as photovoltaic (PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow.) and solar hot water collectors are for reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, passive solar design alone can lower heating costs tremendously. Much of the reduction is available without spending an extra dime.

Tab 1

Use concrete wisely and choose windows well

Specify different types of window glazingWhen referring to windows or doors, the transparent or translucent layer that transmits light. High-performance glazing may include multiple layers of glass or plastic, low-e coatings, and low-conductivity gas fill. for different sides of the house. While west-facing windows require low-solar-gain glazing, south-facing windows (in all but the hottest climates) require high-solar-gain glazing. Although high-solar-gain low-eLow-emissivity coating. Very thin metallic coating on glass or plastic window glazing that permits most of the sun’s short-wave (light) radiation to enter, while blocking up to 90% of the long-wave (heat) radiation. Low-e coatings boost a window’s R-value and reduce its U-factor. glazing is available from major glass manufacturers, it is often unavailable from U.S. window manufacturers. Canadian window manufacturers are much more likely to stock high-solar-gain glazing.

Dense materials like stone and concrete soak up the sun's energy during the day and release it at night. High thermal massHeavy, high-heat-capacity material that can absorb and store a significant amount of heat; used in passive solar heating to keep the house warm at night. helps smooth out swings in temperature even without the benefit of mechanical heating and cooling. Rooms that have higher thermal mass can afford larger window areas because the heat generated by the sun has somewhere to go. Rooms with low thermal mass and large windows can overheat and suffer wider temperature fluctuations.

Tab 2

Slide show

Designing for daylighting has its own unique issues

Pay attention to critical areas: kitchen, office, reading area. In many households, the occupants are gone for a large part of daylight hours. This, combined with the fact that code requires regularly inhabited spaces in the home to have windows, may mean that "design as usual" will provide adequate results for daylighting purposes. Areas that may benefit from more attention are those where critical visual tasks take place — kitchen workspaces, offices, hobby and reading areas. Other daylighting opportunities not to overlook include utility rooms and walk-in closets. In these spaces, quality daylighting can significantly reduce the need for artificial lighting. “Solar tubes” (narrow, tubular skylights) may be particularly useful in these types of locations.

Tab 3

Flashing a curbed skylight

Slide show

A skylight is a great way to bring light deep into a house but can be a leaky mess if it's not installed well. Whether your flashing comes as a kit or you make it yourself, follow these basic steps to get it to work right.

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More windows mean more insulation

Lots of passive solar heat can mean that you have to be better than code. Chapter 11 of the IRCInternational Residential Code. The one- and two-family dwelling model building code copyrighted by the International Code Council. The IRC is meant to be a stand-alone code compatible with the three national building codes—the Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA) National code, the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) code and the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) code. sets the baseline for energy efficiency in building envelopes — but if you're considering passive solar heating, you'll probably have to do better than code. Directly using the sun's heat usually means plenty of south windows. If glass covers more than 15% of your exterior walls, you'll need to meet the stricter insulation requirements prescribed by the IECC International Energy Conservation Code..

Even though the IECC sets the bar a bit higher, a passive solar home has some unique needs that might encourage you to up your R-values by as much as 40% or 50%.

Thermal massHeavy, high-heat-capacity material that can absorb and store a significant amount of heat; used in passive solar heating to keep the house warm at night. can help, if it's insulated
Many passive homes rely on thermal mass of masonry floors or walls to hold some of their heat into the night. If these large heat sinks are only insulated to the code minimum, they may actually be fighting your passive gain instead of helping it.

Windows don't work when the sun isn't shining
The IECC tries to compensate for all that extra glass with higher R-values in the rest of the building envelope. But even if you superinsulate your walls and ceilings, the best windows will still be the weak link when it comes to heat loss. Movable insulation is not often thought of as a building envelope component, but maybe it should be. Simple accordion shades or insulated curtains will require routine manual operation, while automated window insulation systems can be triggered by light or temperature sensors — providing convenience along with a potential maintenance headache.


Existing landscape
can affect how well your site design works for your house.

Drainage patterns of a site can affect landscape choices and foundation durability.


Shade walls with roof overhangs
Direct sun eats up siding faster than anything else. Even small roof overhangs provide shelter for walls, and deep overhangs can shelter the whole wall.

Collect sun, block sun
In hot climates, use deciduous trees to shade summer heat while letting some winter heat in. Roof overhangs can do the same job if designed with the sun's seasonal path in mind.


Windows mean free heat and light, but they also amount to a big hole in the wall that must be leak-free. Problem is, many windows aren't leak-free.

Skylights can bring daylight into dark interior rooms, but like windows, they too can amount to leak-prone holes — in the roof! They also let in unwanted heat in the summer.

Window placement should work well inside and look good outside. The balance between what looks good inside and what looks good outside matters because people tend not to take care of unattractive houses.

Sunlight can affect a thermostat, a good thing to keep in mind when deciding where to install them. A thermostat will do a better job of regulating indoor temperatures when it is kept out of direct sunlight and placed in a central location.


LEED for HomesLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. 1 point under ID 1.5 (Innovation & Design Process) for meeting passive solar design criteria.

NGBSNational Green Building Standard Based on the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines and passed through ANSI. This standard can be applied to both new homes, remodeling projects, and additions. Under Ch. 7 — Energy Efficiency: 4 points for meeting passive solar design requirements (704.3.1.4); 2 points for skylights (704.2.4).


Start your design with a compass.
Think about how the sun moves through the day and through the year when you start designing your floor plan. Selective siting, shading, and construction strategies can save money on lighting and heating bills. Also, a house with plenty of natural light is more pleasant to be in.

Design floor plans to use sun all day long. Think of a house as four distinct quadrants, each with its own potential for daylight and free heat, depending on the sun's position during the day.

Morning sun is dominant in east-facing rooms. Locating the dining room or breakfast nook and the kitchen on the east wall makes the most of light potential early in the day. It's also a good place for a dense floor that can soak up some solar heat for the day. Bedrooms with east-facing windows will be great for early risers but terrible for people who like to sleep in.

Sunlight is strongest on the south wall. This is the right quadrant for the living room and other spaces that will be used throughout the day. For heat gain, rooms with south-facing windows are another good choice for dense materials like stone, brick, or concrete.

Early evening light from the west is at a low angle. Because the sun is so low in the sky, west-facing windows get direct sunlight blazing through them. This makes west-facing rooms a bad choice for TV rooms because strong light makes screens harder to see.

In cold areas, this is the last chance of the day to soak up some sun; in hot areas, it's the most important window to shade with trees. A west bedroom is good for people who like to sleep in because the room is very dark in the morning.

North rooms have the least natural light. They also have the greatest potential for heat loss through windows. This is a good place for bathrooms, utility rooms, entries, and other rooms where natural light isn't as important. That said, painters and artisans might appreciate generous north-facing windows because of the quality of the light.

Of course, cooling a house can be expensive, too.
The sun's orientation is just as important for houses built in the Sunbelt, where controlling heat gain in the summer lowers cooling costs and creates a more comfortable indoor environment.

You can lessen temperature swings in houses in all climates by using dense materials in key areas. Siting a house thoughtfully can make these areas inviting rooms.


Find other ways to let in light.

Not every room in a house can have generously sized windows that admit natural light. Rooms at the interior core of a house as well as those facing north sometimes get shortchanged.

Open floor plans allow light from skylights and windows to penetrate deep into a house. Skylights over stairways, for example, can bring light into the center of a house.

Skylights are a simple way of introducing light to rooms right below roof level. Both fixed and operable skylights are available.

Angled (splayed) walls broadcast the most light, and placing skylights near a wall creates a pleasant light-washing effect on the wall surface.

Skylights have a negative trade-off, however: a high potential for energy loss because even the best have a higher U-factorMeasure of the heat conducted through a given product or material—the number of British thermal units (Btus) of heat that move through a square foot of the material in one hour for every 1 degree Fahrenheit difference in temperature across the material (Btu/ft2°F hr). U-factor is the inverse of R-value. (lower R-valueMeasure of resistance to heat flow; the higher the R-value, the lower the heat loss. The inverse of U-factor. ) than well-insulated walls and ceilings.

Skylights also can produce unexpected glare and uncomfortably warm indoor temperatures unless they have shades. With this in mind, in most climates it is wise to limit skylights to north roof slopes. At least consider the path of the sun throughout the day when picking skylight locations.

Tubular skylights incorporate a plastic, roof-mounted dome, a highly reflective rigid or flexible tube, and a light diffuserIn a forced-air heating/cooling system, the diffuser is a register or grille attached to ducting through which heated or air conditioned air is delivered to the living space. In a tubular skylight or an electric light fixture, the diffuser is a cover plate through which scattered light is delivered. mounted in the ceiling. As long as there is good attic access, a tubular skylight can be easily installed in most existing homes. Tubular skylights are expensive replacements for lightbulbs, but they offer natural light over artificial light, and you won't waste energy if you leave the "light" on. They’re a good option for dark interior spaces like bathrooms.

Ridge skylights, dormers, and clerestories can add natural light to interior spaces where windows are not an option or where more natural light is desired. A clerestory—a band of windows installed between the ridge of an upper shed roof and the ridge of a lower shed roof—can throw light far into a room. Operable windows improve air circulation.

Light shelves, located directly below skylights or clerestories, bounce light back toward the ceiling and provide good indirect lighting to a large room. Light shelves can also block glare from overhead sun when skylight placement options are limited.

Consider interior colors, too. Light colors reflect light more easily than darker shades. Interiors painted in light colors will feel larger and brighter, and make it easier to use daylight as task lighting.


Place a house on the site so that light is managed easily.
Let light in by angling the house properly, using trees or awnings to shade the windows during the heat of the day, and sizing the overhangs to admit winter light while blocking the hot summer sun.

To balance light, shape the house so that light can enter every room from at least two sides.
Four-square styles are a traditional way of evenly admitting light. Adding a courtyard, atrium, or skylight can illuminate an interior from above. Also, an H- or C-shaped house offers many rooms that can let light in from two sides. There are trade-offs to consider, however; H- and C-shaped houses are less compact, and therefore less energy efficient, than compact rectangular houses.

Where light from a second side isn't possible, provide light from above.
Skylights and clerestory windows are two ways to sneak light in from up high. There are many ways to bounce that light around to dim corners such as light shelves and flared skylight shafts. Remember, though, that skylights are a weak link in a home's thermal envelope, and should therefore be used sparingly.

Shape and locate each opening to suit both the climate and the room.
Does the space need bright task lighting or warm ambient light? Are the windows more important for lighting or solar heat gainIncrease in the amount of heat in a space, including heat transferred from outside (in the form of solar radiation) and heat generated within by people, lights, mechanical systems, and other sources. See heat loss.? Would large windows be a liability in an otherwise well-insulated space? Such questions that require careful evaluation of the site conditions and the home's needs.

Excerpted from Fine Homebuilding magazine

Image Credits:

  1. Martha Garstang Hill/Fine Homebuilding #172
  2. Joseph Kugielsky / Fine Homebuilding 166
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Integrated Design

Integrated Design: Treating Designers, Builders, and Subcontractors as a Team

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Designing together means fewer problems to solve

It’s safe to say that most houses are built the old-fashioned way. It goes something like this: A designer or architect draws up floor plans and elevations for approval by the owners; the plans are turned into detailed construction drawings that can be passed along to a general contractor; the general contractor hires specialty subcontractors, or augments his own crew with subcontractors, and builds the house.

Tab 1

Set your green goals

Everyone is different, so we all have different priorities. For people with asthma or chemical sensitivity, high indoor air quality may be most important. For those on a fixed budget, affordability and energy efficiency may top the list. Still others may make choices based on the ability to grow old in the same house.

While green building and remodeling addresses all of these goals, it's up to the green team to prioritize them appropriately.

The way you plan and design affects the way you build and ultimately live in a home.

Tab 2

Finishes, fixtures, materials, and appliances

Green building is about process first, products second. But the process of building involves myriad products and materials. Green choices offer ways to improve indoor air quality, water and energy efficiency, durability, and comfort.

Paints and finishes on floors, walls, cabinets, and ceilings should be low in VOCsVolatile organic compound. An organic compound that evaporates readily into the atmosphere; as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs are organic compounds that volatize and then become involved in photochemical smog production.. Natural or recycled materials such as wood and tile can provide years of service while looking great. Efficient appliances can save energy and water, and natural lighting lowers the need for artificial lighting.

Know what to avoid in the way of building materials that contain potentially hazardous materials, such as high levels of urea formaldehydeChemical found in many building products; most binders used for manufactured wood products are formaldehyde compounds. Reclassified by the United Nations International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2004 as a “known human carcinogen." or carpet cushion made with brominated flame retardants. Older houses should be tested for lead, a common paint ingredient until 1978.

Look for interior finishes that resist stains. Not only will the house be easier to keep clean but there will be less of a need to use harsh cleaners and sealants that are potentially hazardous, especially to children.

Keep indoor humidity at a safe level. Relative humidity greater than 60% can encourage the grown of mold. Dust mites can thrive when the RH reaches 50%. Very low humidity can be tough on flooring and furniture. Generally a range of 30% to 60% is best. A dehumidifier or air conditioning is one sure way of controlling humidity.

Tab 3

Building is a process

Critical gaps in energy efficiency, air quality and durability happen where one trade ends and another begins.
Builder Al Rosetto, of Lancaster, NH says "Indoor air quality begins at the footing." He means that ground water can affect air quality in a basement and not planning for a dry basement when you're pouring the footing can mean a dry basement will be hard to attain. Most concrete contractors don't realize that their work is so important to indoor air quality.

Every trade contractor can improve or diminish the performance of a house.


To be green, keep it small
No single factor has more of an effect on residential energy use than house size. The smaller the house, the less energy it will use over its lifetime. Using less energy is good for the planet and good for the owners' pocketbook, so a green designer always strives to keep a house as small as possible.


David Johnston, a green-building consultant and co-author of "Green From the Ground Up," recalls a design charretteMeeting at the beginning of an integrative design process that sets the stage for cooperation and collaboration among all participants, including the design team, engineers, contractors, clients, and any others involved in the project. Early involvement of the entire project team is fundamental to the successful use of a systems approach to green building. he helped organize for a house project in Colorado. The owners had a child with asthma, so the architect gathered key trades together to talk about how they might work together on indoor air quality issues. It was a new experience for many of them, but in the end they found an economical way to switch from fiberglass to cellulose insulationThermal insulation made from recycled newspaper or other wastepaper; often treated with borates for fire and insect protection.. In the same meeting, the plumber suggested a very modest change in floor plans that saved a few thousand dollars in labor and materials. In three hours, Johnston says, the group cut $10,000 from the construction budget in addition to solving the original clean-air problem. That’s the idea behind integrated designBuilding design in which different components of design, such as the building envelope, window placement and glazings, and mechanical systems are considered together. High-performance buildings and renovations can be created cost-effectively using integrated design, since higher costs one place can often be paid for through savings elsewhere, for example by improving the performance of the building envelope, the heating and cooling systems can be downsized, or even eliminated..


LEED for HomesLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. Up to 3 points for integrated project planning (ID1) and 3 points available for durability management (ID2), which is a critical aspect of integrated planning.

NGBSNational Green Building Standard Based on the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines and passed through ANSI. This standard can be applied to both new homes, remodeling projects, and additions. Under Ch. 4 — Site Design & Development: 4 points for knowledgeable team, clear roles, written mission statement (402.1); 3 points for training on-site team (402.2); green development practice checklist — 3 points (402.3); up to 10 points for density of development (403.12); up to 15 points for home size < 2500 sq. ft. (601.1 in Ch. 6 — Resource Efficiency).


When the parts fit together, the house is better

The regular way to build is a linear approach that moves neatly from one step to the next. The only problem is that it’s not guaranteed to produce the best result. How come?

Key players may not share common objectives for the project, may not understand how their work affects the work of others, and aren’t looking collectively for ways to make the house more efficient and less costly to build and operate. Have you ever seen a drywaller slash a vapor barrier with a utility knife to make drywall installation easier? Or huge gaps in the wall sheathingMaterial, usually plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), but sometimes wooden boards, installed on the exterior of wall studs, rafters, or roof trusses; siding or roofing installed on the sheathing—sometimes over strapping to create a rainscreen. that "will be covered by siding"? This is where the regular way of building breaks down.

A number of builders who specialize in sustainable design are trying something different. It’s called “integrated design” or “whole-building design,” a collaborative approach that treats the group of people building the house as a team rather than as independent freelancers.


Get the gang together before you start

On large public projects, integrated design can be a time-consuming and expensive process that involves members of the community as well as project planners, engineers, landscapers, and various trade subcontractors.

In residential construction, it can be much simpler. But no matter what the scope of the project, the principles are basically the same. HVAC(Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Collectively, the mechanical systems that heat, ventilate, and cool a building., plumbing, lighting and wiring, site planning, framing, insulating and other key parts of the project are viewed as interrelated parts of the whole.

When you're challenging conventional methods, the group has to work as a team
Teamwork is especially important in green building because getting a high-performance house often requires that builders challengeA U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program to promote the construction of “better than Energy Star” homes. A home must have a maximum HERS rating of 70 to meet Builders Challenge requirements. conventional ways of doing things. Integrated design can include what builders and architects call a “charrette,” a meeting or series of meetings bringing together the designer, builder, and subcontractors to discuss the project and swap ideas.

The word is French, meaning “cart.” According to the National Charrette Institute (, its use in this context derives from the practice of collecting work from students at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris in a rolling cart as they worked feverishly at the end of a project.

How a charrette works
However obscure the connection, here’s an example of how a charrette worked on the design of an office building in Pennsylvania, as described by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Designers of the building had proposed using triple-glazed, double low-eLow-emissivity coating. Very thin metallic coating on glass or plastic window glazing that permits most of the sun’s short-wave (light) radiation to enter, while blocking up to 90% of the long-wave (heat) radiation. Low-e coatings boost a window’s R-value and reduce its U-factor. windows, an upgrade costing $15,000. The developer balked until it was also shown that better windows would allow the elimination of a perimeter heating zone, a $15,000 savings, and downsizing heat pumps for another $10,000 in savings. In addition, smaller equipment and ducts meant more space in the building could be rented, adding $5,000 to building income.

The framing is connected to insulation, and insulation to HVAC

On a residential project, huddling up early in the process can lead to proportional savings and better building efficiency. For example, framers thinking ahead to energy efficiency might be more open to advanced framingHouse-framing techniques in which lumber use is optimized, saving material and improving the energy performance of the building envelope. techniques that eliminate unnecessary structural members and leave more room for insulation. More insulation and a tighter building envelopeExterior components of a house that provide protection from colder (and warmer) outdoor temperatures and precipitation; includes the house foundation, framed exterior walls, roof or ceiling, and insulation, and air sealing materials. may allow the HVAC installer to put in smaller equipment. These things are more likely to happen when people talk with one another.

A Systems integration example: building envelope, interior framing and HVAC

On the right is the duct/equipment layout and duct schedule for a high performance home. Note the level of detail, the nice short duct runs with few turns, the coordination between framing and duct runs. This is systems integration of the building envelope, interior framing, and HVAC. How does this happen?

It happens because the architect (or the designer/builder if there is no architect) and the HVAC engineer (or the HVAC contractor/energy efficiency guru on staff, if there is no engineer), believe it or not, actually worked it out together. Neither completed their work alone or in one step. They each refined the systems for which they were responsible based on information the other provided along the way.

The steps involved look something like this:

  1. Architect: Preliminary design includes:
  2. Floor joist layout and type
  3. Proposed locations of mechanical equipment and HVAC distribution system
  4. Foundation, above-grade wall, and ceiling/roof assembly components, including insulation levels
  5. Window locations, dimensions, and performance level
  6. Building orientation
  7. Rough plumbing configuration (hot water distribution)
  1. Engineer: make a gross level assessment of the HVAC: location of equipment and distribution system. The engineer may also do a first level energy budget analysis.
  2. Architect: design/specification refinements based on engineer’s comments.

  3. Architect: deliver plan set to engineer, including specifications for building envelope performance attributes:

  4. Wall framing layout
  5. Window dimensions and specs
  6. Air sealing details
  7. Engineer:

  8. Run first cut design load analysis (ACCA Manual J) to get system sizing for costing purposes. (Optional) Run energy performance analysis with sensitivity analysis on items above, plus HVAC system performance level (REM-Rate, Energy10, EnergyPlus?)
  9. Architect: finalize design attributes.

  10. Engineer:

  11. Run final design heating/cooling loads analysis, providing HVAC equipment and distribution system sizing requirements (generally based on principles of ACCA Manual S and D), and including mechanical ventilation
  12. (Optional) Run final energy performance analysis.
  13. Architect: Design/specification refinements. (Including changes to accommodate ducts, venting, equipment placement)

  14. Final:

  15. Architect: Final floor plans showing framing and duct layout
  16. Engineer: HVAC documentation delivered to HVAC contractor for review and sign-off.

The architect or designer needs to fully articulate the structure, including interior floor framing layout and specifications (i-joists, open-web trusses, etc.) and the HVAC designer needs to fully specify ducts and equipment. If floor framing is left to the framing contractor and duct sizes and runs left to the HVAC contractor to figure out on the job site, the chances of achieving high performance are low, at best.

The result of this systems integration is a high performance home: energy-efficient, safe, and comfortable.

Keeping central goals in mind
“To me, integrated designBuilding design in which different components of design, such as the building envelope, window placement and glazings, and mechanical systems are considered together. High-performance buildings and renovations can be created cost-effectively using integrated design, since higher costs one place can often be paid for through savings elsewhere, for example by improving the performance of the building envelope, the heating and cooling systems can be downsized, or even eliminated. has to do with the planning process and the way you lay out the design for the trade partners who are actually going to do the work,” says Michael Chandler of Chandler Design-BuildCompany that handles house design and construction. Since both services are provided by the same firm, integrated design can often be more easily achieved. in North Carolina. “We integrate the engineering and the HVAC design and the durability design and the space planning and the social planning inside the house and the beauty of the house all into an integrated process.”

The other half of Chandler’s company is his wife, Beth Williams, who is an architect. Together they build three or four houses a year in the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, area. Chandler concentrates on the building science and Williams designs the spaces.

Seven discussions of a good charretteMeeting at the beginning of an integrative design process that sets the stage for cooperation and collaboration among all participants, including the design team, engineers, contractors, clients, and any others involved in the project. Early involvement of the entire project team is fundamental to the successful use of a systems approach to green building.
Because the firm is relatively small, and because they tend to work with the same cast of subcontractors from job to job, Chandler doesn’t use a formal charrette. But, he says, they always start with the same seven elements, what he calls “seven from the start,” that guide the design and construction process:

• Site design
• Resource efficiency and durability
• Energy efficiency
• Water conservation
• Indoor air quality
• Homeowner education (how the house works)
• Global impact

What about builders who don’t have any experience with integrated design? “Be infinitely curious about what makes houses work,” Chandler suggests, “and solicit feedback from your team.” Energy StarLabeling system sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy for labeling the most energy-efficient products on the market; applies to a wide range of products, from computers and office equipment to refrigerators and air conditioners. and green building guidelines can become catalysts in the process, a place to start.

Chandler also discovered that feedback can be a powerful reward for subcontractors. For example, sharing results of duct testing with the HVAC installer proved to be an incentive to do better on the next house, especially when the “report card doesn’t come with a penalty clause.”

Complex relationships for team and building systems
Eric Doub of Ecofutures Building Inc. in Boulder, Colorado, explains the benefits of integrated design in his company’s “manifesto” this way:

“The complex relationship among building systems and materials in high-performance homes is mirrored in the relationships among the team members. All team members must be able to communicate well with one another, share a common design philosophy, and respect the input of other branches of the team. This high level of teamwork, however, requires a deep commitment from the client to adhere to the integrated design/build process and retail all key players throughout the duration of the project.”

So an explanation of integrated design also can be a pitch to prospective clients on the benefits of choosing Ecofutures as the builder as well as the designer.

“In short,” it adds, “we ask that our clients recognize that we are always acting in their best interest to achieve the best possible outcome: a high-performance, beautiful, healthy home. And since we are the organizational leader in the design/build process it is in their best interest to retain us for the entire duration of the project.”

Keep the Gang Together As You Go

Green design doesn’t end at the charretteMeeting at the beginning of an integrative design process that sets the stage for cooperation and collaboration among all participants, including the design team, engineers, contractors, clients, and any others involved in the project. Early involvement of the entire project team is fundamental to the successful use of a systems approach to green building. ; communication must be consistent throughout the project among all team members. While this can be complicated on a large construction project with many team members, it’s relatively easy at a residential job site. Even small homes benefit from close attention to detail — attention that keeps costs down and quality up.

The charrette process is referenced in many residential building resources and standards, including:

  • Canadian Standards Association S478
  • ASTMAmerican Society for Testing and Materials. Not-for-profit international standards organization that provides a forum for the development and publication of voluntary technical standards for materials, products, systems, and services. Originally the American Society for Testing and Materials. E 2136
  • USGBCUnited States Green Building Council (USGBC). Organization devoted to promoting and certifying green buildings. USGBC created the LEED rating systems. LEED For HomesLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify.
  • NAHBNational Association of Home Builders, which awards a Model Green Home Certification. Research Center’s Durability by Design

One way to improve communication between team members is by using Web-based quality management tools (see links below under "Further Resources"). They don’t necessarily call themselves QM tools, but they all foster quality improvements by:

  • establishing one place for everyone to go to get all information on a project;
  • making project information available 24/7;
  • making it easier for the entire project team — or for just those involved in a particular aspect of the project — to collaborate;
  • making it easy to track actions and assign responsibility for those actions; and
  • establishing schedules.

None of these Web-based tools is the magic bullet. They all require commitment by the whole project team, won’t work without a true champion of the system, take time and effort to implement, and are better suited to some types of projects than others. But they can save valuable time, reduce hassles, and be used from pre-design all the way through warranty.

Listening to Industry Leaders
Two leading home building professionals — Paul Eldrenkamp of Byggmeister Design Build, a remodeling firm in Newton, Mass., and Matt Golden of Sustainable Spaces, a home performance retrofitting company from San Francisco, Calif. — have been using Web-based QM tools for several years in their green homebuilding work.

“There is no shortage of these tools on the Web,” says Eldrenkamp. “No system is perfect — many of the ones listed below have their own advantages. Look for systems that are easy to use, have ‘writeboards’ for collaborative work, milestones with assigned ‘ownership,’ and easy upload of all files — including photos, to-do lists, and a calendar.”

According to Matt Golden, “I like to think of these tools as collaboration tools. We use a much more granular, custom tool for actual project management. But Basecamp does a good job reducing our planning and meeting costs. It’s inexpensive and very simple, and all of our teams actually use it.”

To design, specify, and build quality homes, you don’t have to use Web-based QM tools. But they can be very effective at integrating all of the professionals that can make or break your green project — architects, engineers, interior designers, project managers, trades, even the client.

In addition to the tools listed below, another tool that facilitates communication between building professionals, subcontractors, and clients is My GBA from


Design Matters Blog
"The First ... Charrette?"
"Ready, Set, Go"
"Pensive About Process"
Pondering the Sorry State of Green Building
Integrating Systems for Green Design

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Background on Design Charrettes with Several Case Studies (PDF -- opens in new window)

BC Green Building Roundtable:
Roadmap to the Integrated Design Process (PDF -- opens in new window)

Quality Management Tools

  • Building America Best Practices Series

  • Image Credits:

    1. Don Mannes/Fine Homebuilding 161
    2. Charles Miller/Fine Homebuilding
    3. Roe A. Osborn/Fine Homebuilding
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