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Green Basics

Green Design and Planning

Green Building and Remodeling Begins with Design and Construction Planning


Meet early and often

Every green home, no matter how simple, requires a design process. Owner-builders who manage to design and build a home single-handedly are relatively rare, so most green homes are collaborative efforts. The best results happen when designers, contractors, and subcontractors work together as a team.

Integrated Design involves all the stakeholders

Early in the process, a team meeting should set the tone for the project. Ideally, the team ethic will permeate the job site, which makes cooperation easier. This means that everyone stays on the same page with respect to the goals of the project, including recycling and minimizing waste.


Choose a rating system that meets your needs best

Some (but not all) green homes are enrolled in a green rating program. There are a few national rating programs, and many local green programs. In some parts of the country, builders can choose between four or more green rating systems. This multiplicity of parallel programs inevitably causes confusion, but can also offer flexibility in choosing between systems that better suit the goals of team members. Over the next few years, some programs may be sorted out as the marketplace picks favorites.


What Makes A Green Job Site Different?

Workers at green job sites follow principles that may be missing from traditional job sites:

They look for ways to reduce waste.

They look for ways to re-use waste on site.

They’re committed to recycling.

They’re committed to integrated design priciples which help them work as a team to achieve common green goals.


Bird’s-Eye View

Green homes do lots of things right Natural light pours through a stairwell which also serves as a ventilation stack, keeping indoor air fresh and clean.
Image Credits: Roe A. Osborn/Fine Homebuilding

The building lot sets the stage for savings

Integrated design teams look for opportunities to incorporate energy efficiency based on what nature can give them, but other opportunities typically appear as the job progresses.


Ratings are a scorecard, but they don’t make it green

You don’t need a green seal of approval in order to build or remodel green. In fact, many builders of successful green homes don’t bother enrolling the homes in a green rating program. However, most builders who use a rating system appreciate the marketing advantages of a green label. If the green rating program is well designed, it can also help designers and builders build better homes.

Job sites: leaner, cleaner, and greener

Green job sites generate less waste to begin with and incorporate recycling right into the work flow.

The end product—green homes—are healthy, efficient, affordable, and good-looking.

Key Materials

A fast foundation that’s already insulated. Insulated concrete forms are a great choice for remodeling foundations because they’re light, fast to set up and you don’t have to strip the forms. Also, you use significantly less concrete.
Image Credits: Justin Fink/Fine Homebuilding #170

Green Products and Materials

Green products don’t make it green. But at some point, you need products and materials to build a house, so you might as well make wise choices.

Specifying products inevitably involves compromises. For example, builders interested in minimizing the use of materials made from petrochemicals may still choose to insulate a basement wall with rigid foam because of its excellent thermal performance and durability when installed below grade.

Similarly, choosing between 2×12 rafters from a local sawmill and I-joist rafters made in a distant factory requires weighing the advantages and disadvantages of local sourcing versus logging practices that make efficient use of small trees.

Design Notes

Sometimes design by committee really does make sense. When architect, general contractor, framer and home owner work together to solve problems, the results work.
Image Credits: Daniel Morrison

Integrated Design

Integrated design is a collaborative approach that treats the group of people building a house as a team rather than as independent freelancers.

Anyone with experience in residential construction is familiar with examples of home designs that failed to consider the requirements of certain subcontractors. Classic examples include:

  • mechanical rooms that are too small to accomodate the necessary equipment (or so small that, once installed, the equipment is so crowded that maintenance is almost impossible);
  • designs without any provision for the location of ductwork (for example, structural beams that interrupt joist bays where ducts might logically be located).

Bringing trade contractors into the design process is an excellent example of integrated design. Done well, the integrated design process results in a better house.

Job Sites

Clearly marked barrels make recycling easier. Keeping job sites tidy is great marketing, customer service, and makes the work flow go smoother. Getting barrels with wheels on them makes it easier for folks to move them around when necessary.
Image Credits: Rob Wotzak

A green job site

A truly green job site requires the application of integrated design principles at every phase of construction, so that all trades work together to acheive a common goal. That goal should include minimizing job-site waste. Reducing potential waste and recycling as much as possible helps lower costs and reduce the environmental impact of construction.

Resource Savings

Save on materials, save on trash hauling. Not only is using less wood good for the trees that provide the wood, but it’s good for your bottom line.
Image Credits: Rob Wotzak

Using less wood and other building materials is good for everyone

Resource efficiency includes minimizing the use of materials and minimizing waste during construction. It also requires the design of a house that uses minimal amounts of energy and water.

Perhaps the easiest way to accomplish all of these goals is to build as small a house as possible.


Develop A Green Consensus

It’s hard for a design and construction team to work towards a common goal unless the team members agree on a definition of green building.

There’s no single definition of green building. It’s perfectly acceptable for your design team to have a definition that differs from that of other builders — as long as everyone on your team has the same basic goals in mind.

You can refine your own definition of green building by reading through our Green Building Primer.


LEED for HOMES 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. MR1 (Materials & Resources) offers up to 4 points for advanced framing. MR3 has up to 3 points for construction-waste reduction. Earn an innovation point (ID3) for outstanding diversion during deconstruction (existing building).

NGBS 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). Under Ch. 6 — Resource Efficiency: 7 points for construction waste management plan (605.1); 7 points for minimum 50% on-site recycling (grinding & site application) of construction and land clearing waste (605.2); 3 points for off-site recycling of 3 materials (additional points for each additional material recycled) (605.3); up to 15 points for home size < 2500 sq. ft. (601.1).

One Comment

  1. user-7660895 | | #1

    the link to "read this before you design..." gets me to this:

    Uh oh! We couldn't find the page you're looking for. Here's the homepage to get you back on track.

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