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Green Building Curmudgeon

Green From the Start – Home Edition

Who are these old geezers? From left, the author, Architects Peter Pfeiffer and Alan Barley discuss the schematic plans. Due to our advanced ages, we still use paper and pencils.

A few weeks ago I spent about eight hours with Barley and Pfeiffer Architects in Austin, TX, working up a preliminary design for my new house near Atlanta. While I certainly increased my carbon footprint by flying to Texas for this meeting, having been around the design and construction industry for a while, I decided that I wanted to go with the most experienced architects I could find for my new, green home. Peter Pfeiffer has been a friend of mine pretty much since the day he attended a jobsite tour of a “green” renovation project of mine. Within minutes of walking on site, he began savaging me for all the mistakes I had made on the project, including unshaded west facing windows, south facing skylights, and inadequate cross ventilation – and he was just getting started. Once I suppressed my natural urge to choke the daylights out of him, I realized that his criticism was pretty much on target, and we have been friends ever since.

The Not So Small House

My plan is to create a modest house for myself, including an office, and a room for my college age daughter, on the lot where I currently live in a 700-square-foot shack ready for recycling.

Initially, I set a goal of a maximum of 1600 square feet, expecting that this would work in a 1 ½ story bungalow style. Well, just a few minutes into our schematic design meeting, it became clear that the house would need to be 2 full stories, primarily due to the tight spacing between existing old growth trees on the lot.

Then we started laying out the rooms, and the house began to grow. Right now it is about 2200 SF, and I am looking to trim it down to 2000 SF or less. I am struggling with some decisions that may affect that dreaded “resale value”. On one hand, I don’t expect to sell this house, so who cares? On the other hand, who knows where I will be in 5 years, so maybe I should think about what the next person might like.

Damn, I am behaving just like my old clients right about the time I tell them to just make a decision and go with it. Well, I’m not ready to make all those decisions yet, and, lucky for me, I have plenty of things to do before I have to. A friend of mine, sick of listening to me whine about the project, volunteered to be my client for my own house to help me make up my mind. I might have to take him up on that.

So far, so good

So far, the house is looking pretty good – nice open living area, centrally located mechanical systems, lots of natural ventilation, big screened porches, and carefully shaded windows to keep it cool in the hot Georgia sun. My various consultants (friends and family) have advised me to make some changes which will be considered as the design progresses.

A meeting with the city arborist is scheduled for next week. Getting approval to build near those nice old trees is my next big step. After that, I need to meet with a local landscape architect to get some direction on the site work and plantings.

I have reviewed the schematic drawings with the director of the local historic commission as I live in a historic district, and she responded positively, although I still need to go through a hearing before the full board.

Once I get direction from the arborist and landscape architect, I will move into design development, present more detailed drawings to the historic commission, and start preparing for permitting and construction. Even though I spent most of my adult life building and renovating, I still find it difficult to make decisions for myself, and I am already losing sleep over the project, a long standing habit of mine.

Stay tuned, dear readers, I will be sharing my agony about this project until it is finished. I hope it will be entertaining.

Here is a link to the current plans.

Seville Residence.pdf


  1. Richard Weaver | | #1

    New home
    As you always said " just do it".

  2. homedesign | | #2

    Been there
    Carl, I know how you feel.
    Somehow it is different when it is your personal home.
    Struggling with all of those decisions is tough.

    Sometimes when I have a very aggressive client that is pushing too fast... I give them a decision to make.. a choice between 2 or more options.... low and behold ...when the ball is in their court... the process slows down while they fret and fret.

  3. Rob Moody | | #3

    Hey Carl,

    Could you post the schematics that Peter's folks come up with. It would be great to see the fruits of the design process. Thanks.

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