What I wish every architect knew about green building

| by Melissa Baldridge
What I wish every architect knew about green building

I get heartburn when I drive around and routinely see lost opportunities to make homes and buildings more energy efficient. They're missing specifications that can be easily folded into a new home or remodel at the beginning of a project.

These things can have a huge impact on how the home will feel when you’re living in it, and what the utility bills will look like. Most of these are simply a matter of specifying the right feature at the right time. BEFORE construction begins, have your design professional loop in the specifications you want. Cost? Vigilance upfront on their part, and YOUR intention.

  • ELECTRICIANS & INCANDESCENT LIGHT BULBS – I run into very few residential electricians who bother to install high-efficiency light bulbs like LEDs. Most slap in
    by Chris Fertnig from Getty Images 
    incandescent light bulbs because they’re cheap. But those crummy bulbs cost YOU, owner, a lot to use. Multiply them by 30, 40 or 50 light fixtures in a home, and your energy bills get big quickly.
    • ACTION – Have your design pro specify that your electrician bring ONLY HIGH-EFICIENCY LIGHT BULBS ONTO YOUR JOB SITE. NO INCANDESCENTS.What gets placed tends to stay forever. There are often utility rebates in your area to help offset the cost of better bulbs. And lighting upgrades usually pay back in two years or less.
  • BURY WESTERN AND SOUTHERN WINDOWS UNDER SHADE – Windows without shading, especially on southern and western orientations, get pounded with sunlight, and once heat is inside, it costs money to cool down.
    • ACTION – Have your design pro bury west-facing windows under awnings, overhangs, porches or pergolas – at least three feet deep or more. This is especially true on southern and western exposures. If you need to skip a side, north is it.
  • TILT AS MUCH ROOFTOP TO THE SOUTH AS POSSIBLE – Hands-down, this is the biggest burr under my saddle, and I see it all the time – rooftops tipped with no thought for
    By the author. Rooftops angled north. What a waste.
    solar systems. I get it – architects have to build boxes within a “bulk plane” – a bigger invisible box that contains a house. You may not opt for solar, but designing for this gives someone later the chance to snap it in.
    • ACTION - Angle as much rooftop to the south as possible, and have your builder run a solar “conduit” – basically a PVC pipe from the roof to the electrical panel. If someone wants to add solar later, the design and system guts are there.
  • TILT ROOF ANGLES CLOSE TO YOUR LATITUDE – Also part of planning for solar is to have your designer provide roof pitch as close to your home’s latitude as possible. That provides a perpendicular angle for sunlight to hit the array and thus, maximize solar production.
    • ACTION – This also can work with flat roofs as the solar arrays must have some tilt anyway. When you’re designing the house or remodel is the time to work this in.
REAL ESTATE IMPACT – If you make a home “solar-ready” but choose not to go solar yourself, MARKET THAT when you sell. It’s a cool feature that is hardly routine, and it can differentiate your property. Plus, you may snag a buyer who cares about solar. The fact that you’ve done the intrusive, dirty work will earn you bonus points.
  • FRAME 24 ON-CENTER – Builders have traditionally built 16 inches from stud center to stud center, but this limits the amount of insulation that can go into wall cavities. Most framers don’t like building 24 “on center” because they have to do additional field calculations to shore all loads.
  • ACTION – Have your design pro specify 24 on-center, and make sure your general contractor and framer understand this. Not only does this provide for a better-insulated building, it costs less to build because less lumber is needed.
REAL ESTATE IMPACT – Some architects don’t like framing 24 on-center because, they say, sloppy framing shows through half-inch-thick drywall. A lot of builders are now using 5/8-inch drywall with 24 on-center. Don’t let sloppy framers harsh your desire to make your home better. If they need to use thicker drywall, that makes your home even more efficient. 
  • INSULATE HOT WATER PIPING – Know how you turn on the shower, and brush your teeth while you wait for hot water?  Insulating hot water lines is one of the cheapest, easiest things you can do in new construction, and it reduces water wait times and heat loss.

    • ACTIONMake sure your GC knows you want this done while walls are open. Have your contractor photograph insulated pipe runs if you can’t see them yourself.
  • COOL ROOFGone are the days when black flat roofs, like commercial membranes, are standard. Black membrane roofs can be as much as 50 degrees (F.) hotter than white ones. That heat transfers to building interiors. White roof membrane is at cost parity with black, and it’s a no-brainer for non-shingled roofs.
    From CallsRoofing. 
    • ACTIONTell your design pro you want white roof membrane. If they balk, reach out to me, and I’ll help you find a provider in your area.
  • INSIST ON REBATE PROVIDERS – Not all mechanical and appliance contractors offer utility rebates for their products.
    • ACTIONInsist that your design pro specify on rebate-providing contractors. Utility rebates can help you pay for upgraded efficiencies at low or no added cost. It’s free money – ask for it.

Building green affordably is often a matter of design and intent. Get it right from the gitgo, and it’s a whole-lot easier and less costly than it is to add it in later.



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Melissa Baldridge




Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Cost of Ownership, Going Green, Home Design & Plans, Lighting, Rebates / Tax Credits, Solar Power, Thermal Envelope, Water Heaters

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