Joe Thompson of Minuta Architecture advises to research a number of architects before committing to one. “If you’re starting off looking for an architect, the same way you go about getting several different opinions from medical doctors, that it is a good idea with architects as well,” he says. While there are initial consultation fees, they are minimal in context of the cost of renovation or building, he says.
Those looking to build and renovate have many options to weigh, like whether to choose a LEED AP. When building or retrofitting for sustainability and energy efficiency, finding someone who keeps your interests in mind and has a background in the field is paramount, says Robin Andrade, RA. That person doesn’t have to be a LEED AP, but should know the ins and outs of eco building. “Being a LEED AP means you know a lot of factoids. It doesn’t mean you have the experience doing the project and working with sustainable materials,” she says.
Carla Seddio of Homework Architecture agrees that LEED is a good benchmark, but says, “The architect’s profession and role is to do these things whether or not they have some other certification next to their name.”
For architects new to sustainable homes, or looking to learn about them, LEED is a great education tool, says Christina Griffin, RA. “When you become a LEED AP you’ll learn about all the many, many ways you can design a building to be LEED certified,” she said.
Thompson says that another option is to design a home within the parameters of LEED, but choose not to certify it. “A lot of times you can design [to] the LEED standard without going through the system,” he says. “It can be cost prohibitive for a lot of individuals.”
Some clients are looking for energy savings, some to incorporate sustainable materials, while others approach it fully and holistically, looking to maximize the efficiency and sustainability of their home. “There are a number of avenues and depending on the client I will assess where their budget is at, how green they want to be, versus how energy efficient they want to make their house,” Andrade says. “The two can play together but they can also be separate.”
For new builders, one of the best—and cheapest ways is to utilize the natural value of the site. “Starting at the basics like that can really make a big impact right from the start on how you think of the form of the building, its position on the site, taking advantage of whatever natural properties the site has to enhance the building,” says Seddio.
Rodriguez added that in addition to energy consumption, the provenance and manufacture of products need to be weighed. “There’s a lot of things that have to do with the embodied energy materials and the energy—not just the electric bill, but where it comes from and how it’s manufactured,” he said.
The benefit of a professional is their knowledge of the durability and quality of products on the market. “There are things that say they are green but aren’t,” Andrade warns. “You need an architect who knows. Also a lot of new products on the market are not time tested.”
Government incentives to build or retrofit offer the consumer an added bonus to lower energy bills through NYSERDA and other programs, like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Act gives tax credits to homeowners who install energy efficient windows, doors, roofs, heating and cooling systems, water heaters, and more. Those who install solar panels and solar hot water heaters can get 30 percent back on installment fees.
While the payback period for some credits may be up to 10 years, the bulk of the initial cost will eventually be returned, all while the homeowner is spending less on energy bills. The focus, economically, is on the long term.
“The benefits personally, in their pockets, will come,” says Seddio. “As much as it might be a little difficult in their immediate future, when trying to decide we go with the slightly more expensive but best solution versus something with a little more of an immediate satisfaction.”
Carlos Rodriguez Infanzon, RA added that for some clients, building is about making deliberate economic and environmental decisions. “People are building less and they’re trying to build smarter,” he said. “They do realize that if they build something smarter, the payback period is not as hard as it once was.”
Check out our digital edition of this article to view our LIST OF GREEN ARCHITECTS.