How Low Can You Go

I read a tweet from Treehugger that proposes a very interesting and challenging problem.

Help the founder design a 420 sq foot apartment that falls into a set of criteria allowing him to live comfortably without using a lot.

Here’s my question to you: How could you cut back your square footage and still be comfortable?

I believe people should make a list of their top ten needs in a home and use this list as a blueprint when remodeling or building a new home.  One recommendation, don’t put a square footage in your needs, it limits you from looking at all your needs clearly.

What should you focus on?  Without specifically knowing what your needs are, here are some categories to consider:

–       Family size

–       Do you entertain

–       Do you plan to have guests stay with you often

–       Do you cook a lot

–       Do you want to live in a city or a suburb

–       Do you work from home

After you have your list and have narrowed it down to ten necessities you can sit down with your architect and builder and begin to design your new home.  Don’t be surprised if you don’t need the square footage you thought you did.  A benefit of using less square footage is it frees up money that would have gone into the extra space.

If you can cut out 500 sq feet, and use an average cost of $250/sq foot you’ve just saved yourself $125,000.  Use that money to upgrade your insulation, do a building performance test, add solar, use FSC lumber, upgrade your kitchen appliances, install a great home theater use Heath tile; or do all of the above.  Build the home you will love for a long time that is open and efficent.

Greener Moving

Over the last two weeks I’ve been in the process of packing up my old place, moving and unpacking at my new one.  Moving is never something I would say I love doing.  Although it is fun getting to a new place and looking forward to new adventures and experiences, the process of getting there is not the most enjoyable.

Thankfully, finding boxes to pack was a breeze.  My wife found a company called ZippGo.  Their customer service is fantastic. They are quick to respond to your questions and are accommodating with pickup and delivery. ZippGo will deliver as many reusable heavy duty 100% recycled plastic boxes as you need to move.  You pack and move.  Then they pick up the boxes when you’re finished and the process starts over for them.

Some startling news about cardboard boxes from the ZippGo website: The average move requires about 60 cardboard boxes…The typical residential move would use approximately 80lbs of cardboard. If just 100 people per month were to switch to using our delivered reusable plastic green boxes instead of cardboard boxes, then 4 tons less paper per month and a whopping 48 tons less paper per year would be consumed.

It’s a win win for you and the environment. The process is easy and it is more cost efficient than buying cardboard boxes. The boxes are sturdier than cardboard boxes so no worries about breaking your things, but do be careful about over packing, as we did on a few.

Next time you’re thinking of moving, I recommend looking into a greener more eco-friendly approach. I must admit it was really nice not to have to have the waste of empty cardboard boxes at the end of our move.

If You Were on an Island

This article from Fast Company inspired me today.

What would you change if you were on an island and had limited resources and area for waste?  In Honolulu they are tackling the second issue aggressively, recycle 60% of construction waste or incur fines.  Great idea.

How would you live your life differently if you couldn’t just throw stuff away without thinking about it?  How would you design and build your house differently?

Contractor Love

Do you love the contractor who you work with or have worked with?  Take a moment to think before you answer.

Don’t you think you should love your contractor?   You spend more money with a contractor than on most any other product or service you’ll ever buy.  Why wouldn’t you seek out a contractor who makes you feel good about giving them so much of your hard earned money, not to mention time and trust?

I’m not saying it’s always fun spending money on home upgrades, but you should never feel like you’re not getting more than what you pay for.  You should get something extra, the something extra you get isn’t visual.  It’s the same something extra Apple, BMW and Southwest give people.  The feeling that you are more than a dollar sign, you’re special, and they show by how you’re treated and how their products and services are.

You should feel this way about your contractor and the work they provide.  Find a contractor who makes you feel loved, and you’ll be left with a home you love being in and want to share with everyone.  How much did you love your home after your contractor left?

Comfort vs. Square Footage

All homeowners want to be comfortable in their home.  If your family grows or the space starts feeling inadequate, you feel the need to add more space or move.  This is where I see big opportunity.

Instead of just maxing out the square footage your lot will allow and designing from that mind set, why not seek an open floor plan that gives the house more of an open feeling?

Open floor plan design doesn’t require the maximum square footage a lot will allow to be comfortable; I’ve been in homes that are 2000 sq. feet that feel bigger and more comfortable than 3500 sq. foot homes.  The 3500 sq. foot homes were more compartmentalized; a sitting room, a formal dining room, a family room, a living room, and a kitchen all separated by walls and hallways.  To make these rooms comfortable enough to live in requires using a lot of square footage.  The 2000 sq. foot home took all of these rooms and combined them into functional areas; the kitchen, dining room and family/living room all used the same space with no walls dividing them, just one big functional, comfortably flowing space.

So why not sit down with homebuilders to find ways to open your home up.  It’s hard enough to finance remodels now in this current economy, so challenge builders and architects to be more innovative.  It is cheaper to knock a wall down, even if a beam is added, then it is to add 50 sq. feet onto a house. Both having the same end effect.


New Is Great, But What About Old?

People love new.  New car smell, new school clothes, new home.  New is great.  I’m not going to lie.  But new also requires more new things.  More parts, more packaging, more waste, more environmental impact.

In construction, new ran the game a couple of years ago.  New homes were easy to buy and readily available so people flocked to them.  With the downturn in the economy what was new is now old.  And the old weren’t built well to begin with.  Developers built with profits in mind and the quality of the home suffered, look at all the homes on the east coast built using contaminated Chinese sheetrock,

So what should be done with old homes?  Make them new.  Give each one a “green” remodel.  Insulate them properly, check the ductwork, check for air leaks, install energy efficient appliances and electronics.  Make it a better place for people to live in.  Make it a home that will last, not become a run down relic of a boom period passed.  This is easier than it seems and not as costly as a full remodel, and most importantly the end result is a new home.  Need proof.  Read this article from Jestson Green,

Current and future homeowners benefit and the construction industry can get back to work, doing better work this time.  Let’s start making old new.

Encounter With Passive House

Two weeks ago I went out to see the first passive house in the bay area.  It’s not a 3500 square foot custom home with an amazing view of San Francisco.  It is a great affordable housing home in Point Reyes.  Blue 2 as it’s known, is a 750 sq. ft. 1 bedroom, 1 bath home built with the community in mind.

I really like the fact that it’s truly affordable housing in that the cost to rent will be low but more importantly the cost of living in it will be really low due to the Passive House qualities of the home. For example, a heat recovery ventilation system keeps constant fresh air and regulates the temperature – the house will stay within 2 degrees of the interior temp the occupant selects at all times.  Solar water heating eliminates up to 80% of the electricity needed to get hot water.  No gas is needed for the stove, it is an induction stove.  Keeping utility costs low and constant lets the future owner live comfortable and on a budget.  Truly affordable housing.

Great design thanks to James Bill and great construction by Terry Nordbye.  If you get a chance to check it out before it’s occupied it really is incredible.

Where do I start with green?

Where do I start with green?
It’s a good question to ask. Reducing energy use is far more affordable than adding solar on your home. Right now people primarily associate green and sustainable with solar and renewable energy.  This is a great start; however, it is also expensive.

If you put solar on your house the goal is to reduce or eliminate the energy you need from a local utility.  The size and cost of the system is calculated based on your current and historical energy use.  Use a lot of energy?  You need a big solar system and it will cost you quite a bit.  Solar technology is improving but it is still a big-ticket item.

Here are different ways to think about reducing energy in your home, more
affordably. Some are easy, and for the most part you can do them yourself:
– Insulate your attic, walls and floors
– Put in fluorescent light bulbs
– Re-caulking around exterior and interior door and window trim
– Insulate heating ducts and make sure they are well sealed
– Get and install an aftermarket hot water recirculation pump
– For more examples check out:

All of these things will cut the amount of energy you use, and don’t cost tens of thousands of dollars.  More importantly, putting solar on your house is not as efficient, if you don’t make these changes first because you haven’t conserved any energy, you’ve only replaced the source of your energy and spent too much in the process.

Hello world!

Why should new and better quality have a prohibitive cost associated with it?

This is the question that lead me to starting this blog.  I am involved in “Green Building”, which I hesitate to say because it is becoming a marketing line for some and a misrepresented practice.  I think too many people see it as too expensive and limited as far as design.  A lot of great green projects have been shown in magazines, blogs and brochures in recent years, but the really cool ones are expensive and not everyone has the financial means these projects require.  Green can become the standard, people just need to learn more about it, see how accessible it really is and know cool doesn’t have to cost a lot.

I  feel construction, architecture and product design are in transition right now and the time to make them all better is right now.  By better I mean higher quality, more consumer focused and friendly, more efficient, more environmentally responsible and most importantly, more accessible.  Follow along as this blog seeks out buildings, architects, designers, products and ideas that are better.  Feel free to share with me as well.