Question

What do you think of websites that offer green home blueprints?

Asked by Marcus Moore, North Hollywood, CA

I am a South Carolina native who plans to move to the South Bay area of Los Angeles. Because I have long been interested in having a green home built, I thought this would be an excellent time to do it. I would like to know if there are any good websites where I can purchase blueprints and see various designs of green homes. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Answer

Marc Ojanen & Shen-I Chiou

Answered by Marc Ojanen & Shen-I Chiou

San Francisco, CA

Ojanen Chiou Architects, LLP

May 13, 2009

A quick search reveals that there are numerous websites offering house plans. Prices range from nearly free to a cost significantly lower than the expense of hiring an architect or home designer. In today's economic and political environment, no company with an interest in survival offers a product or service without mentioning the "g" word, so, predictably, many of these sites claim to offer green building plans.

My advice on shopping for floor plans is to look for a model that is suited to your climate, expect to make modifications (for a fee), and find a reputable green builder to implement your chosen plan.

Choose a plan that is suitable for your climate and your site

In order to be truly green, a house needs to be adapted to its environment. Examples include earth-sheltered homes in extremely cold environments, rammed-earth and straw-bale in climates with extreme temperature ranges, and dogtrot houses in hot and humid climates. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Los Angeles, with its Mediterranean climate and relatively narrow temperature range, invites a more open floor plan that integrates interior and exterior. Well-known examples include the homes of Rudolph Schindler; those developed by Joseph Eichler, Streng Bros., et al.; and the Case Study Houses. While not necessarily green by today's standards, these examples do serve as models of homes well suited to their climate, a fundamental characteristic of sustainable design.

So when shopping for floor plans, look for a model that is suited for your environment and the particularities of your site. Consider where the sun is at different times of day and in different seasons to take advantage of passive heating and cooling; situate the house to take advantage of the predominant wind direction and encourage natural ventilation; understand the natural site features and proximity to neighbors to maximize view while maintaining privacy.

Be prepared to make modifications to your basic design

The ideal house design may be out there, but it is more likely that modifications will be necessary to meet not only the fundamental criteria listed above, but also local planning regulations such as floor-area ratio, setback requirements, height limits, and neighborhood design guidelines. Many companies that sell house blueprints provide changes to their designs for a fee; otherwise you may need to hire a design professional to adapt the plan to the conditions of your site and jurisdiction.

Choose your builder carefully, and specify green materials and systems

No matter where you source your plans, it is essential to find a trusted builder with a commitment to building green and the credentials to back it up. And once you have a plan that meets all your needs, you will want to make sure that the specifications for materials and systems are up to par with current green building standards—from fly ash in the foundation to a high-solar-reflectance roofing material.

When shopping for plans, specifying materials, and installing systems, here are some basic features that will contribute to general comfort and a "darker shade of green" (not to mention resale value):

  • Openings are oriented to take advantage of prevalent breezes, natural light, and views.
  • Overhangs or shading devices control solar gain in summer while allowing passive solar heating in winter.
  • The floor plan is open and ceilings are high with thermostatically controlled skylights to promote natural light and ventilation.
  • Windows are double-pane with low-E (low emittance) glazing.
  • Walls and roof are well insulated.
  • Systems (water heater, furnace, air conditioning, plumbing) are highly efficient.

For more information:

FreeGreen is a recently launched company that appears to base their products and services on a genuine commitment to sustainability. Definitely have a look.

Fernando Feldman's "Can you help me find affordable blueprints or designs for a green home?" offers a builder's perspective on the search for environmentally sound home blueprints.

Tagged In: passive solar, strawbale, summer energy

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