We believe in an architecture and sustainability harmonically intertwined. Our projects pursue this goal, employing the latest solar and energy efficient technologies available. We are constantly researching and using a variety of sustainable, recycled, and toxic-free materials to ensure our projects are healthier, require less maintenance, and use less energy than most buildings being built today. Listed below are strategies, technologies, and products that we currently utilize to achieve these goals.
We employ a number of strategies specific to each project and its unique site. These technologies are integrated into the project architecture at an early stage. Seamlessly combining solar elements into the overall design is paramount to the execution of each project. Below are some technologies currently being employed in our projects
Photovoltaics, commonly known as PV, convert sunlight into electrical energy with a system using almost no moving parts and producing no air pollution.
A PV system can be integrated into new construction or installed on an existing building. Typically, PV modules are mounted on a building's roof but they can also be mounted on the ground, on a nearby roof, or even incorporated into a shade structure.
By using “net metering”, the building supplies electricity to the local electrical grid during the day and in the evening and morning, when there's limited sunlight, the system works in reverse, drawing power from the grid. The system can be designed so that the electricity supplied to the grid during the day entirely offsets the usage during the evening and morning resulting in a monthly electrical bill near zero.
Solar Hot Water
A Solar Hot Water system can supply domestic hot water with significantly lower operating costs versus conventional systems (gas or electric)and therefore offer a better return on the initial investment. A solar hot water system can provide up to 70-80% of the annual hot water needs of a typical household using 2, 4'x8' roof mounted panels and a 120 gallon water storage tank.
Radiant Floor Heating
Hydronic (liquid) systems are the most popular and cost-effective radiant heating systems for heating-dominated climates. Hydronic radiant floor systems pump heated water from a boiler through below floor tubing. The temperature in each room is then controlled by regulating the flow of hot water through a system of zoned valves, pumps and thermostats.
Radiant heating has a number of advantages. It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts. The lack of moving air can also be advantageous to people with severe allergies. Hydronic (liquid-based) systems use little electricity, a benefit for off-grid homes or areas with high electricity prices. The hydronic systems can also be heated with a wide variety of energy sources, including standard gas- or oil-fired boilers, wood-fired boilers, solar water heaters, or a combination of these heat sources.
With a Geo- Exchange system, depending on the season, heat is either expelled to or extracted from the earth via a fluid filled ground loop. In the summer the relatively cool earth acts as a sink for heat removed from the building interior, while in the winter, the moderate earth temperature helps heat the space. The system is quiet and has no exterior condensing units. Compared to other heat pump systems the operating costs are 40-60% less.
An added benefit is the option of pairing the Geo- Exchange with an appropriately sized solar photovoltaic system. As no gas supply is required, this creates a fully sustainable and energy independent heating/cooling system. .
Roof Orientation / Shading
Through deliberate design, we can maximize the roof's southern exposure for solar systems and increase the effectiveness of PV and solar hot water collection.
Sunlight angles can be used to design southern roof overhangs that allow winter sun into the living space helping heat it, and eliminate direct sunlight in the summer. Furthermore, we can specify wall and floor surfaces to help capture some of the winter sun's heat. This captured heat will then be released slowly and warm the house throughout the evening. These same surfaces don't receive the summer sun, helping keep the inside cool while the outside temperature rise.
Natural Ventilation / Cooling
Much of the Summer cooling requirements in the temperate Bay Area climate can be met through placing operable windows in locations that allow cool breezes to enter at one end of the house and escape at the other.
Operable skylights can also be introduced to evacuate the hot interior air while drawing in cool air from shaded outdoor areas.
Every project has its own microclimate that must be understood prior to determining which passive strategies can be implemented. This approach adds little or no additional cost to the final design and construction and can be easily incorporated with some forethought during the planning stages.
In the ever-expanding world of green materials we are constantly researching and exploring new materials. As the builder on some of our projects, we gain true hands-on experience with these materials and each project benefits from the knowledge acquired on the previous one.
The building industry is a huge drain on our natural resources. We as architects need to guide the building industry towards utilizing more recycled and sustainable materials and fewer toxic ones. Listed below are some of the materials that have been incorporated on projects to date.
Insulated Concrete Form Unit (ICF)
Building a concrete home with insulating concrete forms (ICFs) saves both energy and money. The greater insulation, tighter construction, and temperature-modulating mass of the walls conserve heating and cooling energy more effectively than conventional wood-framing, thus reducing monthly energy bills. It also provides upfront savings by allowing the use of smaller heating and cooling equipment.
Spray Foam Insulation
Spray foam insulation has significant advantages over conventional insulation materials. It permanently and completely fills and seals all voids. It offers better overall thermal performance at nearly the same net cost as other products. Since conventional insulation materials can settle, they cannot effectively seal from stud to stud, around outlets or on horizontal surfaces, an issue that is overcome with spray foam insulation.
High efficiency windows are an important element in the thermal performance of a building. Depending on climate and location, we select windows that are suited to each particular project. We specify the highest thermal value windows, exceeding building code standards.
Energy Recovery Ventilator
To achieve high thermal performance, a house must be tightly sealed to minimize heating and cooling loss. An Energy Recovery Ventilator is therefore needed to circulate fresh air into the house and exhaust 'stale' air. Due to off-gassing of various elements in a house (ie; furniture, plastics, etc.), this is an important element of modern home construction.
Structural Insulated Panels (SIP) are used for roofs and walls. A SIP panel is a pre-fabricated sandwich of rigid insulation with plywood or oriented strand board on either side. These provide an extremely high insulation value and cut down on jobsite labor and waste.
Flooring - Bamboo / Recycled woods
Bamboo and recycled wood floors are employed not only for their beauty but also their durability and sustainability.
Recycled wood timbers / Engineered Lumber
We have eliminated all but 3% of our old-growth forests and must reduce the strain on this precious resource. We integrate recycled timbers, siding and decking into our designs where possible. The quality and moisture content of recycled woods is far superior to 'green' lumber.
Composite wood / plastics
In an effort to achieve durability and sustainability we also look for composite materials made from wood waste and recycled plastic. These products offer excellent fade resistance and minimal maintenance on exterior applications.
Paints / finishes
In the past, the interior of a home was literally filled with toxic finishes and paints. In an attempt to move away from this we incorporate the latest Low VOC and zero VOC finishes.
Carpets have been a source of unpleasant chemicals for a long time Our projects specify 100% natural wool carpets and recycled cotton pads that eliminate off gassing during the manufacturing process.