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  - - Featured Articles - - : Building Articles
Choose the Right Architect to Help Plan and Build a Beautiful, Practical Green Home

Rancho Escarpado, Wimberley, Texas
Burleson Design Group, Inc.
Rick Burleson, AIA, offers practical, inexpensive strategies that will give you the most sustainable impact for the least amount of money.

See how your new home can be beautiful (and green) with greater comfort and fewer energy costs.
Interest in Green Building continues to grow, stemming from a greater awareness of the environmental impact of our lifestyle choices, as well as concerns about the increasing cost of energy. Certain strategies can be employed in the design of your new home that will create a win-win situation, lowering your energy costs as well as reducing the impact of your home on the environment through reduction in the use of resources.

What is Green Building? As applied to a new home, Green Building refers to a comprehensive approach to the selection of the home site, design of the home, selection of construction materials and methods, and finally the operation of the home over its life cycle to increase efficiency and reduce its impact on the environment. This approach includes better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal. Emphasis is on increasing the efficiency with which buildings use resources - energy, water and materials - while reducing building impact on human health and the environment.

Rancho Escarpado, Wimberley, Texas
Burleson Design Group, Inc.
There are many new building systems and technologies now available to the Green Building market, some of which can be quite expensive when compared to standard building techniques. But there are also many practical, inexpensive ways to make your new home more sustainable.

For instance, the home in the photo below has an elongated configuration similar to that used in haciendas built by Spanish settlers in the region. This allows the placement of operable windows and doors on two sides of most rooms, enhancing natural ventilation and daylighting.  This is a good example of the use of thoughtful architectural design to incorporate passive solutions requiring no additional investment to make a significant difference in energy cost and comfort levels.

Twin Springs, Georgetown, Texas
Burleson Design Group, Inc.

Here are some practical, cost effective, and ideas with impact:
1. When considering purchase of a property, make sure that the home can be properly oriented. The house should be oriented such that the front and back face north and south, and should be elongated such that the ends facing east and west are minimized - wide and shallow is best. This orientation and shape will minimize the exposure to solar gain.
2. Reduce the size of your home if possible. This can often be accomplished with creative floor planning that focuses on efficiency of space. An open floor plan with strong relationships to the outdoors feels much bigger than a larger compartmented design. A smaller home uses fewer resources during construction, and requires less energy to heat and cool.
3. Protect windows from direct sun in summer. Place most of the windows on the south and north walls. Use overhangs that are long enough to shade the southern facing windows during the summer. Minimize the number of windows facing west.
4. Place windows such that the home is not reliant on conditioned air for the entire year. With proper design, the home can be heated by the sun on many winter days, and cooled by natural ventilation on many spring and fall days.
5. Use a metal roof. Most of the heat gain in our region comes from the roof. The use of a semi-reflective metal roofing greatly minimizes heat gain compared to darker-colored roofing.
6. Insulate the attic. Use foam insulation applied to the underside of the roof deck. This places all the air conditioning ducts and equipment within conditioned space, allowing them to operate more efficiently.  There are many other practical benefits to a sealed attic.
7. Use native limestone instead of imported stone or brick. With the many varieties of limestone available within this region, it makes little ecological sense to import masonry from long distances.
8. Use native plants and turfs that thrive in our limestone hills without requiring much water.
9. Consider installing a rainwater collection system instead of drilling a well.

My feeling is that these strategies should be applied before considering expensive and more exotic technologies and building systems. Otherwise you could be just "putting lipstick on a pig."  For most people, budgetary constraints prevent them from doing everything they would like to do. Starting with these practical, inexpensive strategies will give you the most impact for the least amount of money.

By Rick Burleson

in Central Texas