We meet folks at a junction. Before we’ve met, the options available to them are defined by the thinking that produced the homes of the past. We know better. What follows is a letter to someone poised at a fork in that road. Maybe you, or someone you know would value the same guidance.
AN OPEN LETTER TO A NEW CLIENT (& YOU!)
As you have discovered, we approach the design and construction of homes differently than most. I’d like to explain how that difference applies to the project you are planning and the opportunity that exists at this moment to create a decidedly better building and home than you might otherwise construct.
As you know, we are trained in the Passive House method of design and construction. While this particular approach provides a robust set of design methods and tools to create homes that are exceptionally energy efficient, comfortable, healthy, and durable the result is more broadly described as a “high performance, low-load” (meaning very little energy required) home. Because these homes require so little energy they are uniquely qualified to also be completely powered by solar energy. Homes that do this are referred to as Net Zero Energy Homes.
People are drawn to this approach to building for a variety of reasons. Some are attracted to the logic of a design method that relies on highly optimized engineering based on building science (we do the math). Others recognize the desirability of creating buildings that produce as much or more energy than they consume without burdening the environment (these homes aim to be carbon neutral). For those who want to see a project “pencil out” the up-front investment in sustained energy savings makes financial sense. And at the end of the day, there really is no comparison between the comfort, health, and durability of these homes vs. the status quo.
So if this is so great, why isn’t every home being built this way? We wish they were. Here in the land of steady habits one reason is a building industry that doesn’t know any better and, as long as no one else does, is not motivated to change. Why? Because to build this way requires everyone, from architect to plumber, to unlearn a lot of what they’re experienced in doing and view their piece of the building process in a new way. It’s a lot easier to keep doing what they have always done.
HOW ITS DONE
Designing and building a high performance home is not hard, but it is different. It requires every decision about how the home is built to be considered as a whole before the work begins. It is not a pick and choose menu of materials and technologies that can be pasted on as you go. It’s more like a carefully followed recipe where every necessary ingredient is baked in.
Beside the technical knowledge we employ to build this way, we also apply some important design principles. Since we are aspiring to be conscious of energy use we always pay attention to the size of the building. We call this “right sizing” and this starts with being clear about who and what the building is for and making sure that the spaces being planned will be useful. We want to be sure that every square foot matters. We ask important questions that help us answer, “What is the right size for this home?” We also pay close attention to solar orientation and shading, as well as key features of the site that will influence the placement and sizing of windows and their effect on the building’s energy “load.”
THE LEGACY WE LEAVE
Of course we want the finished spaces to be beautiful, inside and out, so attention to materials and finishes, architectural form and detail, and practical function are just as important as the performance we engineer. We consider the opportunity to design and construct a new home (or remodel an existing one) and the investments that requires to be an effort worthy of great care and consideration. The choices we make will last for a very long time. Our hope is that future owners of the home will conclude that we chose wisely.