Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hiring a ‘Green’ Architect

Well, we decided to buy the red Vermont Castings wood stove! Our good friends in Maine—and their family—are going to help us with pick up and storage. Thank you! I should note we can only afford this model because we are buying it at half price. (We ARE on a budget!) And now I must drag you back into the past these next couple posts, because it took a while to get to the point of picking out wood stoves.

Because of the green design we had in mind, we couldn’t hire just any architect. We required a professional who was well-versed in the latest green building practices in order to build our home the right way.

As luck would have it, a friend of a friend was a nationally-recognized leader in sustainable design. His architecture and planning firm is dedicated to re-establishing the balance between natural and built environments. What’s more, he has worked on more than 100 LEED projects around the nation. (More on LEED at a later date.)

As you may have guessed, working with such caliber wasn’t inexpensive. And it’s probably the first time we realized that building on a budget could be limiting—in terms of the amount of services we got from the architect and what aspects of our dream house we’d have to scrap.

Fortunately, our architect was willing to work on an hourly basis at a (much) lower fee than he typically charged well-to-do commercial clients. I can only assume he took pity on us and possibly even found designing a sub-2,000-square foot home on a budget to be challenging—in a good way.

In our first meeting, we received some great constructive criticism regarding our original small, open concept house plan (drawn by hand on grid paper!).
We were a little sad to scrap our vintage house plans...

In our subsequent meetings, our architect suggested a lot of green aspects to add to our ideas. Among other features, we kept our home to four walls (another consequence to building on a budget), strategically placed windows along the south side for optimal solar gain, positioned light tubes and interior transoms where windows weren’t an option, and incorporated roof pitches with such precision that they would allow sun in during winter months (when the sun hangs low) and shade the windows come summer (when the sun sits higher).

For our fee, we received:
  • Four face-to-face meetings;

  • Three plans- we combined what we liked from all three to come up with our final plan;

  • Final plans and specifications designed to meet LEED certification;

  • A booklet for our builder to reference regarding how to build green;

  • Rushed services (at the time, we were aiming to qualify for the 2009 First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit)

  • A contact when questions arose down the road;

  • A wealth of “green building” knowledge.
If you’re working with an architect now, or will be soon, I have some advice:

1. Look for green building experience. Can you flip through a portfolio or talk with references?
2. Verify green building research. Are there books, pamphlets or samples of green products in the office? Does the architect have subscriptions to green resources?
3. Don’t take anything for granted. Check in regularly and ask lots of questions during the design phase.
4. Make sure he walks the walk. Is there recycling in the office? Are green building practices (i.e, lighting, flooring, etc.) apparent?
5. Build green concepts into the contract documents. Specifications are considered a legal document. Have your architect explain the specs to make sure they cover all the bases.
6. Communicate effectively. Make sure your voice, ideas and requirements are heard.


  1. oh its hard not to be envious of your house! we just spent all week on the coast, we lovedddd it. we found a cool green building supplier in maine!

  2. I'd love to see your final floor-plan plans...or do we have to wait until it's built? Jamey is scheming about how we can put one of those wood stoves in our house. Keep writing, girl!

  3. Wow, those friends of yours in Maine sound really cool - do you think we know them?

    At the rate your blog is growing and with the info it contains you could put together a really comprehensive guide in book form for 1st time green home dreamers! Nice work :)

  4. Yeah, they're all right. ;)

    Thanks for the compliments on the blog...that's the plan!!!