Planning Ahead

When Should I Start Planning?                                                                                                       

When it comes to planning an addition, remodel or new construction, the mantra should be “plan ahead!”  This simple idea applies not only to the actual construction of the project, but also to the multiple steps that precede the actual ground breaking for the construction of the project.  The amount of time that’s required to plan for a particular project varies depending on the scope of work proposed and the scale of the project; the larger or more complex a project is, the longer the planning process will take: some things to consider in advance; pre-planning (before you hire an architect), finding the architect, designer or design-build Company, financial planning, time of year in which construction is to take place.  Aggregating the time it takes to think through all the various considerations required to plan a particular project will result in a well-considered timeline which in turn ought to garner a planning and construction process that flows smoothly from one phase to another while reducing the potential for delays and added costs that result from construction occurring during challenging weather conditions.


Planning Prior to Design Process:                                                                                                   

Before meeting with an architect, designer or design build firm, it is worthwhile to consider as many aspects of a project as possible.  This would not only include the most obvious question of identifying what the goals are for the project, i.e. remodel a kitchen, bath, or create an addition, but would also include issues of style, materials, color and the like.  Many designers like to see their clients collect pictures, paint swatches and other material samples that help guide the designer start.  Having these materials from the beginning can make for a more efficient use of time during the design process and shorten the period of time required to make the design decisions.

An added benefit to investing a little extra time up front to identify the scope of work and a palate of materials is that it enables the professionals that you hire to begin developing an estimate for the cost of the proposed project.  With additional information as planning becomes more detailed, estimates can be refined and made more accurate, however these initial planning stages are crucial for determining whether the project is within financial means before proceeding too far into the drawing and planning phase of the process.


Financial Planning:                                                                                                                           

With rough estimates for your project, you can determine whether you will have enough money on hand to complete your project.  As many project, even simple interior remodels can prove to be more expensive than most people realize, this is a critical step to realizing your goals.  This is also one of the most difficult steps in the process as it involves much more than simply accounting for the dollars and figuring out where they are going to come from; a mix of savings and borrowing in all likelihood.  Other factors when working through the financial aspects of the project dwell on personal questions related to tolerance for added debt, the value of your home, the value of your home relative to that of other houses in your neighborhood, the long term planning for your house and how long you plan to occupy it, whether you plan to retire soon and if you plan to retire in that house, whether that home will provide an environment conducive to aging in place.  There are many more questions and issues related to planning you future in a house; these are just a few.  Not all problems need to be solved before a project can be considered, however the more issues that can be brought to the table for the purposes of planning for the project the better the outcome long term.


Design Process:                                                                                                                                 

Unless you have an idea regarding which designer you are interested in working with, it is worthwhile to allot a certain amount of time to the selection process.  Some thoughts regarding the selection process can be found in a previous blog post “Finding the RIGHT architect…”.  Once you find the architect or designer you are interested in working with however, it is important to find out how long it might take to get on the schedule with that company.  Some firms have a backlog of clients waiting to start work.  If you are in a hurry to start, it may be advisable to start looking for an architect at the beginning, before you have started to consider the nature of the project.  Given that some architects are backlogged as much as 18 months or more, it is possible that you may be able to complete the pre-planning work identified in the previous section well before your chosen designer is prepared to take the project on.

Once the design project begins, it is also necessary to be prepared to make decisions regarding the design.  Typically, there is more than one design solution for any given project.  So you will need to be prepared to review the options and make decisions regarding which direction seems best for the particular situation.  The more time needed to make decisions obviously affects the amount of time required to work through the design process.


Bidding and Estimating:                                                                                                                   

After a design process is complete, the architect will have produced a set of drawings and specifications needed to describe a project for the purpose of construction and estimating.  These documents, referred to as “construction documents” provide the road map to completing the construction.  The timing of this step is of particular importance as it will determine how long it may take to get estimates back from a contractor.  Of course, if you are working with a design build entity, estimating is likely taking place along the way over the course of developing the design, so the bidding and estimating period may not be separate from the design process but would be taking place simultaneously and perhaps guiding the design along the way.

It is important to consider the time of year and the type of project for which you are hoping to obtain feedback from a contractor.  If your proposed project is largely interior, it may be wise to consider approaching contractors with the documents in late summer or early fall.  They will be busy working projects that require good weather but will have an eye on the cold winter months ahead when it is desirable to have interior projects lined up.  Similarly, a design process that takes place over the winter months in which construction documents are completed late winter to early spring is conducive to getting on a contractor’s schedule early so as to allow a homeowner to get on the contractor’s schedule for the approaching summer months.  Of course, these are generalities; work is done all the time in a wide range of weather and environments and contractors are often creative in finding ways around obstacles that result from working in off seasons.  However, those solutions can come with a price tag and with some pre-planning some major costs can be avoided.



Hopefully, if all the planning is done and the bidding and contractor selection is done in a timely fashion, the project will be ready to start when the weather is most amenable to the type of project proposed; this is the primary focus of the planning and design process.  Careful planning should help to avoid oversights, delays, starting projects at a time of year that adds to the cost of construction and a whole range of issues and problems not addressed directly here.  There are always difficulties inherent to construction and the types of difficulties also vary depending on the nature of the project.  Planning ahead can only serve to avoid the most typical and expected kinds of issues that come up during construction but cannot insulate a homeowner from all problems.  However, the severity of the issues encountered are also likely to be greatly reduced with a little forethought.  The benefit of hiring an architect or designer is that you have a trained, experienced professional who will act as your advocate when steering you through this process and well as guiding you during construction. 


Bottom Line:                                                                                                                                                                                  

1.       Pre-planning: initial design decisions

a.       Style

b.      Scope

c.       Aesthetic Considerations

d.      Functional Considerations

e.      Financial Planning

2.       Choosing a professional: different options depending on personal preference

a.       Architect

b.      Designer

c.       Design-Build Partner

3.      Design Process:

a.       Development of a plan based on preferences and scope identified in pre-planning

b.      Drawing Construction Documents and any required engineering

c.       Write Specifications for products, finishes and other aspects of the construction process.

4.       Construction:

a.       Nature of the proposed work may suggest a time of year to begin this process

b.      Interior Remodel: plan for doing the work in the “off” late fall / winter season

c.       Exterior Remodel / Addition: plan for doing the work in the spring, or summer


Hopefully this framework can act as a guide to starting your planning process. If nothing else it should give you a good basis for starting a dialogue with an architect, designer or design build professional to kick start the planning for your next project.





What Do Architects Do?

There are a wide range of tasks involved with the creation of “architecture”.  Aside from the obvious, the “design process”, which itself contains a number of sub-tasks; the creation of a final product in architecture involves management of people, money and time.  It requires knowledge in some sub-sets of law; zoning and land use as well as the understanding of contracts, liability and copyright.  Additionally, it requires a basic understanding of engineering, not to the extent one would require to perform the engineering of course, but to be able to participate in the problem solving process of an engineer and have the ability to make productive suggestions both during the design process and during construction.  An architect also has an understanding of the various trades involved in construction; engineering and trades are in some ways opposite faces of the same coin.  Ultimately one of the most important skills that the architect must master is the ability to communicate ideas clearly and succinctly to a wide range of audiences.  Communication is a key component of the design process: there is an element of education that the architect is providing to their clientele; informing people who have never engaged an architect before and explaining the process.  Listening however is the most important communication skill; the architect must decipher client goals, listen to and track their requests as a first step toward creating a design response.  Even during the construction process, the ability to communicate clearly and listen remains important to the success of a project; the best of design intent can be undone during construction without clear guidance from the architect.

So, the short answer to the question regarding what an architect “does” is that the architect produces the design, administers it and makes sure everyone involved in the process understands what’s going on and is happy with the product.  But what about this design process?  How does that work?  The answer to this question is as diverse as the range of people practicing today.  However, there are some basic characteristics that can be said to define a typical design process.



Before the design process can begin, the architect must first understand the “problem”.  I put that in quotes because it’s not so much a problem as it is a challenge or goal for the design, but it’s often referred to as a problem.   So, in this phase of work, it’s important to collect information about the client’s needs, goals and learn how space is currently used, how space can be used better and other considerations of aesthetics and style.  This step can be critical for evaluating the design later; without a clear road map, you can’t determine whether the space fulfills the specific needs for which it was designed.  Though this process may look slightly different depending on whether the project in question is an addition or remodel versus new construction, the issues are essentially the same.

Additionally, it is important to review applicable codes or regulations to verify that the proposed work would be allowed per state and local ordinances.  There are many issues that could potentially stand in the way of completing a project in a cost effective way; it’s best to discover those as soon as possible.


Schematic Design:

Once there is a baseline understanding of the goals for a given project, it’s possible for a series of simplified plans to be drawn.  Schematic design represents the initial attempts to graphically represent the project and also represents the phase of work that likely varies the most from one architect to another.  The architect might use diagrammatic plans in conjunction with images of similar projects, pictures of materials or colors proposed in the new work, they may choose to produce a quick 3-D model, or a hand-drawn sketch to illustrate their concept.  An architect with a more artistic style might produce hand drawings while others may rely on the computer.  In any event, these are likely to be the least “precise” drawings or renderings.  They illustrate a concept which attempts to reconcile all the issues and ideas identified in the pre-design and bring it together into the drawing.  It is assumed that this drawing, once presented to and reviewed with the client will go through a rigorous process of refinement in the subsequent design process.

In my practice, I will typically produce a series of schematic plans, elevations and 3-D studies that illustrate my client’s idea as to what they are looking for.  I usually provide variations on those ideas as a way of testing assumptions and exploring options.  Typically, the end result is that there are elements of each scheme that stands out.  These elements are identified and brought forward into the next design phase to be integrated into one plan.


Design Development:

After the “SD” phase the architect will refine their work and bring additional detail and precision into their work.  Further thought is put into issues of “style” and aesthetics; beyond questions of how the proposed work will function, there are issues related to how the proposed work relates to its environment.  In the case of an addition, the question is will it match the existing style, or will it contrast with it?  Similarly, if the project calls for the construction of a new home, how will it relate to the neighborhood?  Will it attempt to blend in, or will it be of a contemporary style and if it is, will it respect its surroundings in another way?  If it’s not blending with its surroundings, how will it differ?  As these questions are addressed, the selection of finishes, paint colors, fixtures for the bathrooms and kitchens becomes easier as fixture designs and paint colors are often suggestive of a period, or style.  So, coming to conclusions regarding what some may consider more “esoteric” questions of aesthetics is critical to enabling the wise selection of materials that will be consistent with the concepts initiated in the schematic design phase.


This phase tends to be relatively short in my practice.  The timeline in the life of smaller projects tends not to be clearly delineated.  Often, more work is done in the schematic design phase than is typical as there are critical issues that need to be resolved before the project can comfortably move into the next phase.  As a result, the design is better developed when it enters design development than is perhaps typical for larger projects.


Construction Documents:

This is likely the phase of work involves the creation of a document that is most commonly known as the “blue print”; this old method of document reproduction was similar to that of photography.  The drawings were done on translucent film which was placed on top of the “photographic” paper and run through a machine which exposed the paper through the drawing.  The paper was “developed” by running it through a second, ammonia based process; this turned all the parts of the paper exposed to the light blue.  The pencil markings on the film protected the paper from exposure; these areas came through the process as white lines.  Thus, we had a blueprint.  These documents are the most complete and precise of all the drawings provided by the architect.  Though the focus is on drawings which include floor plans, ceiling plans, interior and exterior elevations, sections cut through buildings and walls as well as details that focus on window jambs, foundations and other elements of construction, they aren’t necessarily the only documents in this package.  Drawings can also be supported by specifications which essentially are a written description of materials and products to be used in the project.  Additionally, the specifications might provide a “prescription” for how work is to be completed, how the performance of the final product is to be measured, instructions for bidding, schedules for construction, etc.  A small residential project may not have a separate specification, but information that is typically be contained in one is often placed within the drawings themselves as a way of streamlining documentation.


Though the construction documents represent the most rigorous and “cut and dried” phase of the work provided by an architect, the product varies greatly from architect to architect.  I strive to provide documents that strike a balance between detail and clarity.  Because of the challenge of translating a drawing into a built assembly, I work to make my drawings legible, concise and precise as I can.  The better the contractor understands the intent of the design, the easier it will be to execute the plan and therefore the most cost effective result with the fewest changes and mistakes down the line.


Construction Administration:

Though construction documents represent the culmination of the design process, they are ultimately just a representation of the final product.  The project isn’t done until the contractor turns over the keys to the homeowner; only then can we say the project is complete and judge whether it’s a success!  Though the architect’s involvement is minimal through construction, it can often be at critical junctures during the process.  Mistakes occasionally occur, or unforeseen situations arise as a result of the construction.  The architect’s involvement can serve to resolve these issues.  Armed with the knowledge of the entire project since pre-design, it’s possible for the architect to resolve conflicts that come up during construction in a way that is consistent with the design intent.  This assures that the final product lives up the homeowner’s expectation and followed the construction documents; essentially making sure that the homeowner “gets what they paid for”.  If someone went  to a tailor to have an outfit custom made they would be upset if they showed up to pick up their new clothes only to find that the tailor substituted polyester for the wool and all the buttons were replace with zippers.  An architect’s involvement during construction is of course optional and for the most part, a homeowner may work as their own advocate.  However, a second set of practiced eyes is valuable, especially in the course of larger and more complicated projects.

Generally speaking, architecture constitutes a combination of art and science.  The art is required to translate the abstract ideas of aesthetics and the pragmatic considerations related to space planning into a working plan.  The science is mating those expectations with the structural and mechanical demands imposed by the reality of the built environment.  Not only is the architect rigorously trained to deal with both these aspects of construction, but they deal with these issues on a daily basis and learn from experience; I have found my on-site experience at least as valuable as my educational background.  Having an architect on your project provides you not only with sophisticated design skills, but also provides you with an advocate in the field who will represent your best interests until the project is fully realized.

Glossary of Terms:

Contractor: A company, or individual licensed, insured and bonded to provide construction services directly, or collectively though collaboration with other contractors subcontracted by the primary provider better known as a “general contractor”.

Design-Build Contractor:  A company that provides design services in addition to the construction services typically provided by a contractor.  The costs of design services are often included in the overall cost for completing the construction work.  Though the design costs may not be quoted separately, there is nonetheless a cost for the design work.

Designer:  A person or company that provides residential design services that might include interior design work, or remodeling work the scope of which might be similar to that of an architect.  There is no licensing requirement in the State of Minnesota for a “designer” to provide residential design services though some designers may have the “CID” designation or Certified Interior Designer which indicates proficiency in project management, cost analysis and other services in addition to their design skills.

Architect: Architects in the State of Minnesota are required to have a Master’s Degree in architecture and to have worked three years in the profession before they are qualified to sit for a series of exams.  Upon completion of all these requirements, the architect can serve in a multitude of capacities for their clients; project management, construction administration (oversight of the project under construction), interior design and of course the design of the project and production of documents required for that work to be completed.  The architect is the advocate of their client throughout the design of a project through completion of construction.  The involvement of an architect can help maintain the integrity of the project and potentially avoid added costs, delays or mistakes.

Finding the RIGHT Architect...

Once you have moved beyond the question as to whether your project warrants the participation of an architect, the next issue is picking which one.  Some have compared finding the right architect to finding a spouse; it’s important that you find an architect whose design “philosophy” is in keeping with yours; that is to say that there is something about the architect’s work, their flexibility in how they work with their clients, their design process, and their overall style that resonates with you, the homeowner, so you will be comfortable working with them over the course of the design process and construction.  Given that timelines for projects can be measured in weeks and months, it is important to find an architect that you are comfortable with and you feel confident will address your needs as you see fit.

The question of flexibility is a reference to the architect’s willingness to work with a homeowner to tailor their process to your needs.  Most firms are capable of providing the full spectrum of design services; however some may not be willing to provide less than their full service.  There are potential issues of liability and quality control that come up when an architect agrees to limit their involvement in a project as a means of reducing the costs of their services to a client; the more work that an architect is contracted to perform, the more control that architect will have over the process and the more likely the finished product will be consistent with the quality represented in the drawings.  However, in smaller projects, it may be possible for a homeowner to take on more responsibility for the finished product as a means of controlling design costs; it will be a matter of finding an architect who is willing to relinquish some control to enable the homeowner to take on this challenge should the homeowner wish to do so.

Another area of the work that can have cost implications would be the “design process”; simply put this is the means by which an architect comes up with the design concepts and develops them into a build-able solution.  Design processes, though follow some basic outlines, are about as individualized as the people engaged in them and may call for the construction of physical models, computer models, drawings, sketches, or more artistic renderings and the like.  The purpose might be to simply visualize and demonstrate how the final product might appear, or it might be to stimulate ideas toward finding an appropriate aesthetic to develop into a final solution.  Whatever the reason, these visual tools will mean additional fees.  As such, the homeowner is encouraged to find an architect whose work is likely to provide the kinds of visual feedback they need to feel comfortable with the resulting ideas.  Any disconnect between architect and client in which these visualization tools are used too much or too little can be a source of conflict.

Finally, there is the issue of style.  Style is a loaded term, but essentially what I am referring to in this context is the identifiable “look” that a given firm may have after years of practice.  There are architects throughout history who have cultivated a style and with study their work can be identified readily.  This can also be said of a number of residential firms in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.  This style comes to represent the firm in a similar sense that a logo can represent a brand, or a company.  Homeowners should not be discouraged from choosing an architect on this basis; however, it is important to keep the firm’s style in mind when doing so.  This particular issue comes to the forefront when considering an addition to an existing home.  A homeowner may wish to blend the old and new elements to make them seamless, or it might be interesting to create an addition that starts a dialogue with the existing structure; contrasting styles that form a symbiotic whole.  In either event, it is important to find an architect that can fulfill the desire to take either of these directions.

Though finding the right fit with an architect is a little more complicated than finding a handyman or finding someone to provide any number of home maintenance services, the payback for the effort is the opportunity to resolve issues you might have with your current home or finding that resolution in an entirely new home built specifically for your needs.


Hiring an Architect: When do I need one?

For most people, hiring an architect is probably more daunting than finding a new doctor.  By the time we are in the position of searching for a doctor, we have already had a lifetime of experience working with one.  Though there are on-line services that purport to provide useful reviews for the purpose of finding the best company for “the job”, there are a whole range of designers, architects, builders and everyone in between that seem to provide very similar, if not virtually identical services, where do you begin?  There are some situations that might call for a designer, a contractor, or an architect, while there might be others that might call for all three plus engineering services!  All these providers have a specific role to play in the completion of project; the keys to identifying which is most appropriate for yours is first to define some basic parameters of the proposed project, nature of the project, scope of work, the scale of work and the degree to which you, as the owner are willing to be involved in the design process and completion of the work.  So, how do you determine to whom you should turn?  It depends on a number of variables; here are a few to consider.


The Nature of the Project:

Deferred Maintenance

Home-ownership is, at times, a frustrating responsibility.  There are constant issues to deal with, many of which are time-consuming, labor intensive and none too glamorous.  Yes, I am referring to basic maintenance; these are issues that aren’t necessarily much “fun” but are necessary for the long-term value of the home and for the prevention of secondary, and potentially more costly issues in the future.  Often it feels like one’s home is absorbing a lot of money without a lot of return on that investment, so there is a tendency to defer this maintenance, especially if the budget for other needs is tight.  Depending upon the period of time over which basic maintenance is deferred and the nature of the work that’s required, most homeowners need only to consult with a contractor to address these kinds of problems.  An example of the kind of maintenance I am referring to might be simply replacing shingles on a roof, replacing old windows with new ones, repairing stucco on the exterior of you house; the list is endless! 

In some instances however, in the process of renewing your home, you may find that the maintenance requires aesthetic changes, for example if you were considering a new color for your house.  In this case, it might be worthwhile to consult a designer.  Designers, like architects, can be quite knowledgeable about architectural styles and eras.  Though not registered as an architect would be, designers should be able to make recommendations based on your parameters; historic considerations, fitting into the neighborhood, or finding a match to your favorite pair of shoes!  Of course, an architect can assist you with a project of this type, but a designer might prove to me a more cost effective approach.  A good rule of thumb would be that as proposed work grows in complexity, the more likely you are to benefit from the participation of an architect.



When it comes to the remodeling of your home; again, questions regarding the scope and nature of the work can help you to determine which service suits your needs best.  A typical situation might be one in which you simply swap out old for new; for example, the replacement of bathroom fixtures.   In the event that you are not moving fixtures, changing walls, moving doors or windows, it may be that a contractor can serve your needs; especially a “design build” company that has designers or architects on staff.  However, if there are aesthetic considerations, for example you are trying to create a space that is consistent with a certain architectural “period”, or era; it may be worthwhile to hire a designer separate from the contractor, or an architect to prepare the plans in advance.  As before, if a remodeling project becomes increasingly complex, working with an architect can be to the homeowner’s advantage.  An architect can consider all the variables of a project; code requirements (these can become an issue with bathrooms and bedrooms in particular), structure and aesthetics.  While a good designer should be able to serve in this capacity, it is not a given that a designer will have the background for more complex work as there is no licensing requirement that can assure a baseline knowledge in the way that an architectural license can.



In the case of an addition, it is less likely that the situation is appropriate for a designer rather than an architect, or design-build company.  Again, it depends upon the specifics of the situation.  If the addition considered is well within the site of the existing house, it may be quite straight forward and pose little conflict with setbacks or with issues related to the percentage of the site that’s covered with buildings and sidewalks.  An experienced designer may be equipped to deal with these issues, but again, it will depend on the experience of the designer; without a licensing requirement, there’s no way to compare the credentials of one designer with another without simply looking to their past work as a means of comparison.  As design-build company on the other hand, may have architects on staff to perform their design work.  In that case, hiring a design-build company is similar to hiring an architect with an important exception.  The architect, as part of their professional ethics, represents the interests of the home owner when dealing with the contractors.  As a result, they are the owner’s best advocate when it comes to oversight of the construction process, maintaining quality and assuring that the design intent behind the drawings is maintained during construction through completion.


New Construction:

No doubt, in the case of new construction, assuming that you are looking for a home customized to your specific needs and style, your best option would be to work with an architect from the beginning.  Though design-build companies, as stated above, do have staff architects who can work with clients to create a custom home, often, their goal is to customize existing plans to suit specific client wishes.  On the surface, this might seem to be a nuance, however, there is potential for the builder to “sell” their client on ideas that may better serve the builder’s bottom line; exchanging one material for another of “equivalent” quality, or sticking with standards that simply lower hidden costs for the builder without producing equivalent savings for the client.  Without a fully independent architect working for the client, it’s difficult for the inexperienced homeowner to discern whether their best interests are being protected.  Of course, many builders are quite skilled at their craft and are trustworthy; however, when taking on a large, complex challenge such as building a house, having an architect on your side can be a valuable asset.



Beyond the obvious design considerations, one of the most powerful advantages of hiring an architect is the ability to “bid out” the project with the construction documents and specifications produced as a result of the design process.  Because all the contractors are using the same documents, assuming the documents adhere to a basic standard of clarity and completeness, the resulting bids provided by competing contractors should be comparable.  This gives the homeowner an opportunity to solicit bids from a variety of contractors and the ability to compare the results on whatever criterion is deemed most important; cost, quality, schedule, etc.  Additionally, the architect is qualified to assist in the process; administering the documents, setting deadlines for submission of bids and can work with the homeowner to select the appropriate builder based on their qualifications, costs and homeowner preferences.

So, when considering an architect it is important to keep in mind these basic questions related to the scope of proposed work, the complexity of the work, your willingness to be involved in the process (or your desire to be hands-off for that matter!) as well as your budget and your understanding of construction.  In the event of increasing complexity, increasing scope of work, or simply a wish to have a "turn-key" approach to the work, it may be desirable to hire an architect.  It is recommended that homeowners research architects, develop a list of potential providers and interview the architects to determine who best suits the needs for the proposed work.  Though it requires a little more work at the outset.  Long term it will be to the benefit of both parties that the homeowner find an architect they can be comfortable with.



Sustainability: A Primer

There are a number of various terms in standard use these days that refer to an approach to construction and living that strives to minimize human impact on the environment.  These terms, including "Green" architecture and sustainability though familiar to many can still be obscure.  So, what does it mean when we purport to create a sustainable approach to our built environment?  The most well-known measure of "greenness", is LEED which stands for Leadership in Energy, Environment and Design.  This system of "metrics", or simply and means by which the level os sustainability of a given project can be quantified, created by the United States Green Building Council, or USGBC, breaks the criterion for sustainability into five categories.  These areas of focus range from the expected, such as energy efficiencies and water conservation, to the unexpected, such as the creation of warm, inviting, light-filled spaces that will enhance the quality of the the experience of life spent indoors.  In short, creating a sustainable environment does not equate to trading our "old fashioned", cozy, well-lit homes for a life under layers of clothing in dimly lit rooms.

Here is an outline of the major LEED categories and a description of the intent of each in advancing the purpose of sustainability.


1.  Sustainable Sites:

Emphasis on the wise use and selection of a building site. Addresses issues such as pollution, zoning, heat island (the tendency for a highly built environment to retain heat), rain water control, light pollution and open space.


2.  Water Efficiency:

The focus of this category is fairly self-evident; the efficient use of potable water in sanitary systems for household use, and reduction, or elimination of its use in irrigation through the use of water reclamation systems and rainwater cisterns.


3.  Energy and Atmosphere:

The goal is to provide optimal performance of heating and cooling systems while maintaining quality in terms of comfort and air quality.  The focus is on the selection and careful use of each mechanical, electrical and plumbing system in a holistic way that considers how they work together; it is a mindfulness that these systems can occasionally be operating in opposition to each other.


4.  Materials and Resources:

Materials and the movement of materials, new, used and those slated for disposal, reuse or for recycling, entail the use of energy.  The wise use of new materials, for instance the selection of materials that can be obtained locally, or the reuse of materials that are already on-site such as existing kitchen cabinets that can be refinished, can reduce the "embodied" energy use of the materials in the finished project while enhancing the quality of the design.


5.  Indoor Environmental Quality:

Safeguarding indoor air quality begins before construction when choosing material which do not contain volatile organic compounds, or VOC's.  It continues through construction in the form of the protection of materials and duct-work from becoming contaminated  by dirt and mold and thus becoming a source of problems once the project is complete.