Selecting an Architect to Design Your Green Home

September 9, 2009 By Jeremy Bonin

Picking the right person to design your green home is an important first step. A successful green project begins with the relationship between the homeowner and the architect. Understanding what an architect is capable of bringing to a specific project helps to define the relationship.

The role of the architect is not just that of a designer. The architect is often the owner’s representative and primary point of contact, providing services such as project administration and management, bidding and contract negotiation, and construction administration. Building codes, life safety codes, zoning and environmental impact issues are researched and interpreted for your specific project. An architect can even offer assistance and representation at public hearings when required. Add the tasks of coordinating other consultants (landscape architects, engineers, and interior designers, for example); managing the project budget, bidding, and cost analysis; coordinating materials selection; and ensuring documentation, and you can see there is an obvious need for a strong, trusting relationship between owner and architect.

Sometimes the most difficult step is not selecting an architect, but finding several appropriate ones to choose from. The architecture firm you select should reflect your green vision, understand your goals, and be familiar with the type of project you are building. The American Institute of Architects offers search options online to find local architects by criteria such as distance from a selected zip code, services offered, and building type. LEED Accredited Professionals can be located through the LEED Professional Directory.

The Internet is a valuable resource that allows you to research the history of a firm, read its mission statement, and learn more about the qualifications of principal firm members. Word of mouth from builders, contractors, and other industry professionals can also steer you in the direction of a firm that will meet your needs for a green home.

Before you select an architect, carefully consider your project idea. As the homeowner, you bring the desires, aspirations, and resources to see the project to fruition. The architect provides the vehicle to develop and manage the project from idea to paper and from paper to reality. Take your vision of the project, define it, and evaluate it; then discuss it with prospective firms to gauge their level of interest in your specific project type. Visit prospective architects’ offices or have them visit your site if possible. Speak to the architect about your budget and construction time frame. Ask to see a portfolio of completed projects and to visit projects both completed and under construction. Finally, ask for names of previous clients you may contact for testimonials, as they will describe not only the end result (your green home) but the firm's quality of service during the design and construction process.

Another item to consider is the size of the architectural firm—some are sole proprietorships while others have upwards of 100 employees. (The average firm has close to 10 employees.) Residential projects may be handled by any size firm, but more often it is the sole proprietor or the average-sized small firm that works to the client's advantage in this type of project. The size of the architectural firm does not ensure success. Be sure to meet the people with whom you will have day-to-day contact and who will be directly responsible for your project.

Speaking with the architect and project team will ensure that the chemistry is good for what sometimes can be a project spanning a year or longer. If the architect has preferred consultants, ask for a list of those firms as well. Confirm that sufficient staffing will be available to meet your anticipated schedule. The more research you conduct and the more professionals you meet, the better.

A successful project is the homeowner's and architect’s end goal. Choose an architect in whom you have confidence and who you feel will ask the right questions to bring your priorities and vision to light. The result will be an efficient home that will limit negative impact on the environment, and that your family can enjoy for years to come.

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