Designing with Green in Mind

Designing in today’s world is quite different than when we were designing five years ago. The prodigious amount of cable shows that are promoting green building and how to be eco-friendly is multiplying like rabbits. For example, Ed Begley’s HGTV show returned this season and is greener than ever. Season two showcases Ed and his green celebrity friends like Jackson Browne, Daryl Hanna and Bradley Whitford. These celebrities take Ed on a tour of their homes and then Ed takes them on a tour of his home. Ed has a nice way of showing the stars how not-so-green they really are.

Now that favorite Hollywood stars have decided to go green, regular homeowners are getting more comfortable with the idea of designing green into their projects. But what shade of green will they be able to afford remains the underlying question.

Designing green for your client is not difficult; it just takes time, patience and commitment. For instance, if you are designing a room addition, one of the first questions is what type of foundation will you propose to the client. Depending on the client’s requirements it could be a full basement or a crawl space. If the client doesn’t care which type of foundation, or is looking to reduce the cost of the project, we often suggest a pier foundation. Choosing piers will reduce the amount of concrete, reduce the need for large earth-moving equipment that could impact the existing site and greatly reduce the amount of labor and material costs.

If your client wants to enclose the exposed area under the addition, you may want to consider using plastic lumber for the frame, concrete board to be used as sheathing and then parge the concrete board to create a foundation wall appearance. Be sure to add the proper number of vents to allow air to move across the enclosed space and provide a minimum of 18 in. from the top of grade or rat slab to the underside of the floor joist. Also include a vapor barrier on the garage below the addition. When building a green structure, the last thing you want to do is create a Petri dish project and grow a pretty color of mold!

Designing within the green movement has caused designers and builders to re-examine their designing and building methods. And making a change to use new products is a risky business decision. One bad decision in today’s dollars could wipe out a company in a New York minute. Taking a risk today is an expensive proposition due to the high cost of labor, materials and lawyers, but with taking risks comes rewards, and critical information. As a group of design and build professionals, we need to share this information that comes with taking a risk to better understand what really works as green design and building practices, and what does not.

Green building is here to stay and it will be the standard practice of designing and building in the near future. We are in the beginning stages of transitioning to green and it will take time, patience and commitment to do it right.

Joseph Dellanno is the founder of my Design/Build Project, a Web communication application for design and build teams, and president of my Design/Build Coach, providing design/build business training exclusively for residential designers and building professionals. He is also president of Design Solutions Inc., a national design firm providing professional design/build companies award-winning design services. Dellanno can be reached at (781) 648-5548 or Read his past columns at Read Joe’s blog on Look for Blog Zone and click Dellanno Docket.