Things to Keep in Mind
Keeping it Energy Efficient
Energy consumption in the built environment is one of the largest contributers of green house gases, leading to climate change. And we, here in Canada, are one of the heaviest users, per capita, of energy in the buildings in which we live, work and play.
Energy use in a building happens in two ways:
embodied energy is the energy that goes into the materials that we use. It involves the collecting of raw materials, transporting them many times throughout the process, manufacturing them, and the eventual installation of these materials. It also includes discarding of the usually excessive, and often unnecessary packaging.
operating energy is the the energy we use to run our buildings, from heating and air conditioning, to lighting, and all the things we plug in.
While we can’t directly change the procedures and policies of the manufacturers and suppliers, we can indirectly tell them how we feel by choosing materials that have a much lower amount of energy required to make them and get them to us. A good rule of thumb we use is to choose materials that look as close to the way they did when they where first harvested or collected. For example, it's easy to tell that a pine timber has less embodied energy than a steel post, and a straw bale has less embodied energy than a batt of fibreglass.
Designing a building to use less energy is where things need to start from. Too often, site conditions are ignored. Prevailing winds, sun and shadow, rainfall and ground water flows all play a part in the design.
Orienting a house to face south while minimizing the amount of north and west windows can allow winter sun to help heat the home. Sufficiently wide overhangs can block steaper summer sun from entering the building. Situating windows to take advantage of cooling breezes, while letting out summer heat can reduce or eliminate the need for air conditioning.
Renewable energy sources can supply a building with free or low cost energy. Solar electric panels, wind turbines, solar thermal collectors, geothermal heating can all be used to supply some or all of a buildings energy. And now with Ontario’s FIT and MicroFIT programs, you can earn money producing electricity to feed back into the grid.
Efficient use of Energy
Super insulating a home will drastically reduce the amount of heating and cooling we need. Installing energy efficient lighting and appliances also helps greatly.
There are a great deal of things we can do to drastically improve our status as energy hogs. And the majority of it doesn’t mean we have to drastically alter our lifestyles. With small changes in habit and intelligent design we can all have energy efficient homes and communities.
Keeping it Affordable
SIZE vs COMPLEXITY
It's an easy concept to understand: it costs more to build a bigger home than a smaller one. But complexity can have a much larger impact on construction costs than size alone can. Overly complicated roofs, or structural elements that don't align from floor to floor, such as bearing walls and posts, can add a great deal of cost and time to a construction project.
For example, a simple 3000 square foot bungalow can be quite simple to build while a 1000 sq.ft. 2.5 storey home with dormers and cascading roofs can be complicated and more expensive to build.
It's my job as an architectural technologist, to figure out how to achieve an interesting looking building form with great function, while also looking at techniques to keep the structure simple. It's a challenge that I love, and when you can make it all work, it's very rewarding.
Cost planning is the process of developing a set of plans based on the cost to actually construct those plans. It’s a collaborative effort between the homeowner, the designer, and the builder. If budget wasn’t a consideration, than simply designing based on a wish list would be great. However, most of us do have a budget to work from, so ignoring it in the planning stage invariably leads to an unpleasant “reality check” and costly redraws, along with delays.
The first step is to establish a rudimentary plan for the home, along with a general budget. The builder may then be able to do a cost analysis on this early set of plans, to see if we are on target with the budget. If we are, then we continue refining the design, keeping our eye on the budget.
If we are not within budget at this stage, we can back up and reassess where we need to adjust the design to keep things on track, financially. A great deal of time, money and emotion have not been invested in an unworkable set of plans.
Working this way provides great benefits for the homeowners, the builder and the designer. The homeowners are involved in the process and see the financial ramifications of decisions. They have a sense that they understand how the home will be built and why things are the way they are and why they cost what they do. For the designer/builder, a great deal of time and energy is not spent drawing or pricing a home that will never be built.
In our past, we acted as both the designer and the builder. The realities of the job site can inform our decision making on the drafting table. Our experiences on site help us to bring a keen sense of efficiency to the design table.
The materials that are used to construct a home and to finish the interior and exterior can have a significant role in the budget.
Keeping it Sustainable
We place careful attention to project finances:
We believe in frank discussions about money early on.
We recommend that you shop locally and use local trades or artisans wherever possible.
We recommend that you use materials that are harvested or manufactured locally wherever possible.
While designing buildings to suit our clients needs and wishes, we try to implement:
higher levels of insulation,
greater attention to details pertaining to air sealing,
greater attention to details pertaining to protection of the building from rain, snow, wind and sun,
mechanical systems that have higher efficiencies,
use of renewable energy systems where possible,
use of lower embodied energy materials,
use of natural materials and healthy materials - clay, straw, timbers, stone.
Reduced waste, by using more natural, local materials and using them in the most efficient way to minimize scraps.
Recycle packaging and construction wastes as well as divert unused materials to people who can use them.
Worker health and safety. We recommend you work with builders & trades who:
provide safe work conditions with proper safety equipment.
schedule safety training.
have weekly, documented “safety talks” on pertinent subjects related to current tasks.
provide a good work/life balance.
Employee local trades, artisans and shop locally.
Encourage job satisfaction for workers with fair pay and positive work atmosphere:
sustain a consistent workforce.
Keeping it Healthy
Indoor air quality (IAQ) is now recognized to be a major health issue and a large contributor to the high incidence of asthma, among other ailments. It has been said that the indoor air in a new home is worse than the outside air on a smog day due to all the chemicals that are introduced both during the construction and furnishing of a new home.
That is why we believe strongly in a healthy home design from the outset. A properly designed and balanced ventilation system in a home using materials and finishes with little or no toxicity to them is the key to a healthy home.
Another aspect to a healthy home is its comfort level and how it relates to our emotional health. A home that is well air sealed during construction is tighter, without the draughtiness we associate with older homes. And with a properly sized and balanced ventilation system, has a high level of indoor air quality with a temperature that stays where you want it without the swings. A home that is built solidly, and with craftsmanship, gives a sense of calm and security - it doesn’t rattle every time the wind blows.