How Green Are You?

This is a tough question. We’re neither militant nor religious about it, but we truly believe that it is possible to have a better life with a smaller footprint.  We’re most interested in the overall impact of a project, which can be difficult to measure. An energy hogging building that is located in a walkable neighborhood, such as many old buildings, can have a much more positive overall impact than the latest LEED Platinum Building located a thirty minute drive away*. We love green strategies that double as healthy strategies, such as indoor air quality and comfort. We explore the “free” green strategies, such as more efficient floor plans, better solar orientation, optimized glazing rations, and strategic landscaping. On a planning scale we promote reuse of existing buildings, mix-use and infill developments. But sometimes we invite special factors to overrule what the energy model recommends. Those factors could be adjusting to the neighborhood for privacy, connectivity, and openness, or simply honoring the beauty of a specific view. In those moments we are making informed decisions, and recommend compensating with measures such as additional shading or efficient building systems.

We also work with a number of developers that are constrained by various market realities that make it hard to go “all out”. While we work hard on promoting a market that values greener buildings, we are excited when we are asked to participate in a development where  we can “move the needle” a little bit at a time.

My answer on a more personal note: I love the walkable and transportation supported lifestyle I grew up with in Europe. But I fell in love with the openness of Montana, and the incredible landscapes of the West. I love that my car can get me and my family to those beautiful places. My family hunts and fishes. My everyday life is a hodgepodge of what you may call green and not so green. I walk and bike more than most people around here. We garden, recycle, and buy as local and organic as we can afford. But I’m still fairly dependent on my car, fly a good amount (conferences, family visits, vacations), and we use mind-boggling amount of disposable diapers with our kids.

*the irony of the new EPA Office Complex story, observed by Jeff Speck in his amazing book “Walkable City”.

We found a plan we like, can you just stamp it?

Finding plans you like is a great start, and can be one of many things we consider as part of our process. If you are pretty sure that that plan is exactly what you want, find out how much they charge for its usage right, so you avoid copyright issues and cost surprises. Your location may make changes to those plans necessary, including details related to your lot, climate zone, and solar orientation . To find a builder, check out your local Home Builder Association for a listing of builders. Make sure you like them and their previous work, and check a couple references to set you up for a successful project.

Lifestyle Economics?

If you’ve ever read a book about habits you may recall what a powerful factor a move can be. No matter where you move to many everyday habits get stirred up until they eventually settle back in.

A house can impact your life on many factors.The location might determine hours in commute, things you can do in the neighborhood, schools, safety,and your average daily steps (if you’re counting)). The house  itself can support your life from having a space to be yourself, with your partner, or with your family, providing indoor air quality that promotes respiratory health, down to lighting that helps with a good night’s sleep. Designing for privacy (acoustical and visual), views, as well as for places where you can engage in community (front porch) can support relationships inside and beyond your house.

How Long Does It Take?

We reserve six months design time over client. Some move a lot faster, while others seem to need more time. Rushing the process can cause costly changes in construction, and a less than ideal end product, while taking too much time Matt take the momentum out of the process. While we work with you we like to do weekly or biweekly meetings (online or in person) to keep moving forward.

Can I prepare before we start working together?

Yes! Collect inspiration, declutter, and test drive any new lifestyles you may envision.

How can I collect ideas and inspiration?

Pinterest and Houzz are great tools that allow you to collect information from online research, and adding your own categories and comments to it. Magazines such as dwell, builder, …, can also be a good starting point.  Beyond that start thinking about which places you may have lived at or visited that had features you really liked.   Is there any way to gather pictures of those? They may not look very special, but they might have had just the right size to fit your needs.

How do I get started decluttering?

I’m a book nerd, and every time things start to accumulate and I need a little motivation I visit some decluttering books. A friend recommended Marie Kondo’s books, and they have helped me a lot by building better awareness of my relationships to stuff, taking better care of the things I decide to keep, and also being a more patient shopper to make sure what I buy does in fact spark joy. Another option is working with a personal stylist, and some of them are amazing and affordable, and can save you money by knowing exactly where to look for those few missing pieces. You end up with your own curated wardrobe, and they help making those difficult decisions of what stays and what goes.

How much can I finance?

It’s a good idea to meet with your bank to get a framework for how much you could borrow. Be aware that anything slightly unconventional will be harder to finance, which means you may have to put a bigger portion of the cost down up front.

Why? Banks lend based on appraised values. Appraisals traditionally reward living next to expensive properties and huge square footages. Sustainability features such as higher performance are often undervalued, and the monthly utilities savings and reduced gas costs are completely ignored. Thus doing cool little infill projects are harder to finance than a big house in suburbia.