I do things a bit differently from most architects.
The traditional architect-led design and building process can work very well for some types of projects but High Performance homes require a high performance process. A High Performance process requires an integrated team from day one…before the design sketches start to fly! Ideally, the builder becomes part of the team very early in the design process to help vet the design for cost, detailing, and buildability
What does the process look like?
Initial inquiry – Are you thinking of a new home or remodeling an existing home or are you simply stuck on what to do? Working with an architect can provide clarity, address feasibility and help define a clear roadmap forward. Design and Construction are complicated and expensive.
Determine feasibility. It is important to determine if the goals can meet the budget and if not, will that render the project unrealistic? Or is that the time to redefine expectations. This is an initial conversation that needs to happen before design and before construction. We prefer having this conversation up front before writing a proposal to provide services and taking on the project.
A proposal outlines what you want to do, which is called the scope of work, and it gives an idea of the overall process, perhaps even including typical meetings that will need to happen along the way as well as an expected timeline. The proposal outlines the services that this firm will provide for your project based on conversations up to this point. The proposal defines architectural fees and payment terms as well.
Assemble information This may include documentation of existing conditions such as measuring and photographing an existing structure. A client may also be asked to provide a site survey, septic plan, soils test or other information necessary at the beginning of the design process.
DESIGN! The fun begins. This is where the client starts to see plans and layouts, sketches, computer models, and other information to guide the process of decision making. There is a lot of back and forth during this phase. It’s much more intense than you would expect!
Get the builder involved! On most projects I recommend bringing a builder on board with a preconstruction agreement to provide costing and construction expertise throughout the design process. This often means matching the client with a known builder or helping to interview or recommend another builder. With the builder as part of the design team, a trusting relationship between everyone most involved in the project can be established before construction starts.
Design Development At this point we should have a pretty good idea what the project will cost and what the unknowns are. Architectural work continues with more refined drawings and specifications. There needs to be some breathing room built into the schedule for the client to process and think. Construction involves a significant amount of money and a rushed decision making process is discouraged.
Construction Documents Define all the decisions made up to this point and identifies what decisions have yet to be made or can be made during construction without undo ramifications. The document set represents the set of instructions the builder needs to construct the project and provide necessary information to others involved such as electricians, plumbers, roofers and other subcontractors who will be involved with the project.
During Construction We provide construction observation and administration services. This means site visits at appropriate points to check to make sure that construction is progressing as expected and to answer any questions that the client or the contractor have about the design or construction details. This may also mean reviewing proposed changes or reviewing shop drawings from subcontractors.
What is a high performance home?
1. Low energy use both during construction (materials and methods with low Embodied Energy) and during operation (low monthly bills)
2. Energy modeling and third party verification (Energy engineer and certifications) to insure #1
3. Appropriate size – go for function and feel over square feet to help achieve #1
4. Durability and maintenance – how easy is it to live there? How can we minimize monthly/seasonal/yearly maintenance.
5. Is there a manual? – You should get a manual and continued support.
6. Maximize air quality and interior comfort. – Always breathe fresh clean air – no mold, pollen, allergens. Also, thermal comfort is prioritized.
7. Universal design – Design for a wide range of occupants, thinking both about the cycles of life (aging in place) and who is going to be living there over the next few centuries?
8. Beauty and Simplicity – Will you LOVE it!?
Helpful resources for more information:
Pretty Good House – more detail on what a High Performance House is and how to achieve it.
Energy Star Homes – A basic, better-than-code certification program with excellent support in Vermont
Passive House - The gold standard for energy use. Many local builders are trained in construction techniques to achieve this standard.
Living Building Challenge – the Really Really gold standard for energy use and a lot more. Part of the International Living Future Institute
Hers Rating – A good metric for comparison
Residential Energy codes – Here is a link to Vermont Codes but remember that a house built to code is the worst house you can legally build!