Sustainable Design

We have grown to realize the vast impact that buildings have on our environment, and it is a driving force behind our work.

We have always had an awareness of the energy and resources that go into making buildings, and an appreciation for the richness that comes from adapting old buildings for new uses.

But over time, our focus has widened with the recognition that energy consumption is of equal, if not greater importance in buildings. Thus we have developed a list of priorities that guide us in our practice:

Top Priority: Energy Efficiency

Reducing our dependence on non-renewable energy is our first concern. Buildings currently account for over a third of our U.S. energy use, and some estimates put this number closer to 50% – this is significantly more than we use for transportation. For us, a green building is one that is designed to minimize its own energy use. Significant energy reductions can be achieved with thoughtful design and only moderate increases in construction cost. Our strategies include building orientation, appropriate window sizes & placement, daylighting, shading, and insulating beyond code requirements.

Design for Durability

How long should a building last? Some of us are still living in the houses built 100 years ago, so we think that is a good target. Significant resources and energy went into those buildings — the longer we can keep them around, the better. Upgrading these older structures is also critical, both for efficiency and to meet our current needs. As for new buildings, let's design them to outlast our grandkids, at least. Durable buildings will need fewer repairs, which is good for the environment and for our budgets. We like Ruskin's quote: "When we build, let us think that we build forever."


Strive for Beauty

We find that people take good care of beautiful things, buildings included. Designing buildings to be handsome and timeless is our stealthiest green building strategy. Plus, it makes our job more fun.

Minimize Toxicity

Building materials have a major impact on indoor air quality, and must be considered throughout the design process. We favor materials that are naturally derived, and which do not contain toxins or chemicals (e.g. VOCs or added formaldehyde). In addition to limiting the sources of toxicity in our buildings, we also stress the importance of providing sufficient ventilation and filtration so that occupants get a steady supply of fresh, clean air at all times. We are also well-versed in strategies to mitigate radon, which may be found naturally on your building site. Our strategies for durability and ventilation are also helpful in creating healthy buildings, by minimizing the possibility of mold and mildew in buildings. Ultimately our goal in material choices is to to create a healthy environment for building occupants and construction workers, while also minimizing the impact on the larger environment.

Consider Embodied Energy


Embodied Energy = The total energy that went into extracting, manufacturing, and delivering materials to the building site. By choosing materials with high recycled content, we can reduce the embodied energy of our buildings. Opting for regionally sourced materials is also preferable for energy reasons, and supports our local economy.


Minimize Water Use & Water Heating

On even the smallest projects, we can recommend efficient plumbing fittings and design floor plans such that water heaters are close to plumbing fixtures (to minimize heat loss). On larger projects, we can recommend strategies such as greywater reuse or rainwater harvesting. We will also be looking to minimize site and watershed impacts caused by runoff from paved areas and roofs.

Economic Sustainability

Sustainability has become a catchphrase associated with the environment, but also applies to our own personal economics. Most of us cannot sustain a lifestyle that requires escalating utility bills.Our response: design to make our buildings "future proof" — Energy is only going to get more expensive, so it makes sense to design for low energy use, yielding homes and buildings that are affordable to operate regardless of energy costs. Planning for site-generated electricity (e.g. solar, geothermal) can be a part of this strategy, but our preference is to maximize efficiency first.