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Community and Q&A

Seeking an architect

wisconsin_john | Posted in General Questions on

My wife and I have are ready to build a modest home for our family of 4 in southwest Dane county WI.  Having spent an obsessive amount of time (for a non-professional) reading articles here and elsewhere I am firmly committed to building an efficient house and have a pretty good idea of what details are required.  We have a lot, a banker who’s on board, and a local builder with some experience in highly insulated, well sealed construction.  We lack an architect.  I haven’t been able to find a usable database of architects, much less one that tells you if they have experience with efficient residential projects.  Does such a list exist?  Does anyone have recommendations?  Better yet any south central Wisconsin architects reading this?


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  1. mrigney | | #1

    We recently finished working with Debbie Coleman. She is out of Mobile, AL but has designed passive solar, high performance homes for folks all over the country. She has a website ( She's not "full-service" and primary communication is email. But, my wife and I felt like the level of customer service we received (and the final product) was excellent. I know several of her homes have been featured in various "green" publications over the years...pretty sure there's a sampling of some of those on the website.

    1. wisconsin_john | | #3

      Thank you, we're hoping to find someone local first but if we can't I'll be looking further out.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    GBA maintains a resource called the Green Building Bulletin Board.

    If you visit that page, you'll find a listing for a Wisconsin architect (Tepper Architects, Madison, Wisconsin).

    1. wisconsin_john | | #4

      Perfect, thank you Martin! I figured there must be a list if only I could find the right search key words.

      Thanks also for your years of excellent journalism making this subject accessable to non professionals like me.

  3. walta100 | | #5

    I know you did not ask but before you design your dream home be sure you can finance it.

    If is very ease to fall into the trap of designing a dream home that you cannot get built so be real about what you can afford and finance. Ask you builder for the price per square foot for the last 3 custom homes he built and do not let the architect design more square feet than you can afford at that price. This will not keep you on budget but be close enough to be manageable.

    Yes you the bankers say they are on board. But understand they only care about money as they should. The rub is all the green and efficiency stuff we want bury in our wall and attic cost money that the appraisers put zero value on when they appraise your project. No bank will make a loan if at any point in the project the loaned amount will be more than 80% what they think they could sell the project for at that point. Without about 40% of the construction budget in equality when applying for your loan you stand little chance of the appraisal coming back high enough to get the loan approved.

    Do not rush the design phase of the project take the time to find the problems when a pencil and eraser can fix them.


    1. wisconsin_john | | #7

      Thanks for the wisdom Walter, it's appreciated. The Madison area has a very high price per square foot compared to the half dozen other places we've lived, but we love it here so that's the hand we're playing with. Building a small house doesn't help much, the price per square foot just rises. Talking to multiple builders over the last year, entry price seems to be about $200k @ 800sqft rising to $300k at our target 1600-1800sqft, not including land and site improvements. Materials are cheap, so we considered owner-building the 800sqft version unfinanced, but we're squemish about taking on a project of that magnitude with a full time job and two young kids. We've been going in design/budget circles for a year on our own trying to optimize our way out of this but it's not getting anywhere, hence the need for an architect.

  4. ssnellings | | #6


    I work in Madison residential design-build. I would recommend the same architect Martin mentioned, Tepper Architects.

    Additionally, check out:
    Design Coalition -
    Ross Street Design -

    If you have any local questions feel free to reach out.

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