Working with a (green) architect

A non-toxic kitchen built with Forestry Service Certified (FSC) wood, no-VOC finishes, and a no maintenance, no-VOC Quartz countertop

A non-toxic kitchen built with Forestry Service Certified (FSC) wood, no-VOC finishes, and a no maintenance, no-VOC Quartz countertop

Have you been thinking about remodeling your home but don’t know where to start? Do you need an architect? Do you want to make a more energy-efficient and healthy home and at the same time get more space and improve its look and flow?

You may need an architect. Or you may not. You may not need an architect if a) your job is small and straightforward, b) you have a good contractor who is happy to work without drawings or is willing to do drawings himself and c) you or your contractor have an aesthetic eye. All possible. I know a few local contractors who have a great eye for design and are willing to do the drawings required for permitting. There are also design-build firms that do drawings and building for any size job. However, for substantial jobs in which you are using a general contractor, the contractor will want a set of drawings and you will need to hire an architect or an architectural designer.

So how do you find an architect? Architects are like other professionals (lawyers, doctors, etc), and often you are best off asking friends or acquaintances for recommendations. Or do a Google search for architects in your area. If you have a specific type of job in mind, try searching for architects who specifically concentrate on what you are looking for. For example, do you want modern or classical design? Do you want a small renovation or a large new home? Are you looking for a healthy, green home? All of these things will help you filter your search. Most residential architects are multi-talented as far as style and the size of the job are concerned. Look at their portfolios and see if one architect’s designs are more appealing to you than another’s.

Green living
If you are very concerned with having a healthy home or a very energy-efficient renovation, you need to look for architects who specialize in that. I equate it with going to a holistic doctor. Green architects tend to bring a more holistic approach to the entire process. They will know all about the most cutting-edge technologies and products to optimize health and energy efficiency. They will look at the whole house with an eye toward integrating energy efficiency, health, nature, the sun, and how your family lives, for starters. They will also monitor the sustainability of the materials, windows and equipment the house will use to greatly lower your carbon footprint. Green architects also tend to work collaboratively with green builders from the onset of a job to help ensure you will get what you want and make sure the process is smooth sailing from start to finish.

Remember, putting an addition on your home or building a new home are the most stressful projects a family can embark on. Not only will such an undertaking cost a lot of money, but it is a somewhat complicated and long-term process. Not everyone in the family will agree on what they want. Compromises will have to be made. Working with an architect can be both exciting and extremely disappointing. Choosing the right team with which to work and knowing that everyone has the same end goal will reduce stress tremendously. You might even have fun! 

This article was originally published in the Green Building column of by Elizabeth DiSalvo on April 8, 2015