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The Cost of Polishing a Turd

by Nic Darling on December 16, 2008 · 45 comments

in architecture,Design,Green Programs,LEED,Philosophy

In an interview a few weeks ago I was asked what our premium was for building LEED Platinum. The reporter had done some research and found that the highest level of LEED for Homes usually carried a 15-20% markup and wanted to know what the added cost was for our project. It was a difficult question since we don’t have a non-LEED version of the house with which to compare, but eventually I said, “Um . . . I guess . . . negative 5%” (an estimation of my interview articulacy). I went on to explain that, with the average new home built in Philadelphia coming in at a minimum of $125 per square foot in hard construction costs and our, admittedly more sparse, home hitting $100 psf, I figured that number was defensible.

The next question of course is why? Why do production home builders and established developers, people who have been building homes for many years, have to spend 15% more to get to LEED Platinum while us rookies are getting there at a discount? It was a question I had no concise answer to until a few days ago when an acquaintance, who wishes to remain anonymous, gave me a piece of her grandmother’s wisdom in explanation . . . “It is because they’re polishing a turd.”

OK, so it’s a bit harsh. Turd is, maybe, an unnecessarily rude word to use to describe what are often pretty nice homes, but the concept is sound. Most of the builders and developers reporting high premiums for pursuing LEED are still trying to build the exact same home they have always built. They are simply adding features to make that same house energy efficient, healthy and sustainable. This addition gets expensive.

Builders, successful ones anyway, often have a basic home that they build over and over. They know how it goes together. They can build it quickly and inexpensively, and most importantly, they know it will sell. When they are suddenly faced with the need to “go green,” they are understandably reluctant to make significant changes to the design of their proven house. Location, interior fixtures, numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage and window placement are all tested and successful specs. The familiar methods of construction they use are easy for them to estimate and well known to every sub-contractor and laborer on the site. There is, in their minds, less management and less risk.

So, they polish the turd. Rather than redesign the house that has been successful for them in the past, they add solar panels, geothermal systems, high end interior fixtures, extra insulation and other green features. The house gets greener. It gets certified, but it also increases significantly in cost. Since the features are add-ons and extras, the price rises as each one is tacked on.

To avoid these extra costs, one must start the home design process with affordability and sustainability factored into every decision. One simply can’t, in most instances, build the same home in the same place using the same techniques and expect to accomplish those goals. For example, one can’t:

  • build on arable land 20 miles from the nearest amenities.
  • build a 5000 square foot single family home.
  • have more windows than walls, particularly on the north and west side.
  • add a garage.
  • have giant spa tubs in each bathroom.

And so on . . . Of course, one can do some of these things and still get a LEED certification, but it is going to take some expensive turd polish.

Well, all that said, I am nothing without the wisdom of your comments so . . . What do you think is the single biggest stumbling block for established builders trying to move toward affordable green? Why is there a premium on LEED? What process would you recommend to a developer trying to make the change to sustainable building? Who would you suggest the developer involve?

My apologies to the linguistically sensitive among you for the prevalence of a certain scatological aphorism throughout this post. You may scold me for that in the comments as well.

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

There also isn't much conversation to be had here . . . at least not with us. So come on over to the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our new(ish) digs and crazy ideas. We will be sure to tell you what we think of your opinion.

{ 6 trackbacks }

Polished Turds, Economic Opportunity, Golden Era, + GSA Green Buildings | Eco Friendly Mag
December 21, 2008 at 5:45 am
Quote of the Day: Building Green Houses is Like "Polishing a Turd" | Only Hybrids
December 22, 2008 at 10:40 am
Quote of the Day: Building Green Houses is Like "Polishing a Turd"
December 22, 2008 at 11:20 am
Quote of the Day: Building Green Houses is Like "Polishing a Turd" | Eco Friendly Mag
December 23, 2008 at 5:46 am
The Cost of Polishing a Turd | 100K House Blog
January 10, 2009 at 1:29 pm
The Flourishing Green Construction Market | Miracle Dream Homes
February 15, 2012 at 4:32 am

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 lavardera December 16, 2008 at 1:25 pm

The 100k house contains design decisions that go beyond a stylistic minimalism. Most buyers won’t willingly make the jump from a familiar traditional romanticism to something as rational as your project, never mind loosing bedroom doors and reducing floor to floor privacy. I don’t know if the “turdiness” of these status quo houses rests so much in those factors, but certainly more so in their other excesses. A good status quo friendly green house can be done at market rates, if not a higher unit cost for a smaller house netting out at a similar price. The change in the state of mind that wants green features will accept a smaller physical footprint along with their desire for a smaller environmental footprint in insulation, hvac, etc..

2 Eric December 16, 2008 at 3:13 pm

The prototypical American home has been usually designed in a vacuum with no reference or design strategy focusing on the local climate and environment. This requires most sustainable aspects of the house to be add-ons, thus more cost than incorporating these green attributes from the beginning of design.

Contractors will usually complain about constructing a house in a new method that may contradict what they’re used to, but the good ones realize that the profession is in the midst of a shift towards more sustainable friendly practices. In a tough economy one of the best ways to get more work is to differentiate yourself from the pack, and having the ambition and experience of working on green architecture is a great way of doing that.

lavardera makes a good point about how most home buyers not wanting something totally different than the status quo, but I feel as though there aren’t a lot of choices out there for home buyers. A big house with a neo-traditional motif is usually their only option since most developers default to this type of design. Buyers probably don’t want something that’s reminiscent of the Case Study homes from California in the 1950′s and 60′s, but I’d be willing to bet they desire something that’s much better than what they have today.

3 moderns-r-us December 16, 2008 at 4:30 pm

Can I get the green home reminiscent of the Case Study Houses?

4 Eric December 16, 2008 at 6:48 pm

moderns-r-us… I would love to have the opportunity to design for you a green home reminiscent of the Case Study Houses.

5 chad December 16, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Cool site Eric. Where are the project photos? This sounds like a good fit for potential future architecture competition we are kicking around to create the next version of the 100K House… Hmmm.

6 Eric December 16, 2008 at 9:47 pm

I’m actually in the process of getting my project photos on my site as I’m writing this. It may be another few days until I get them up.

Definitely let me know if you have another 100k house ready to move forward.

7 icewater December 16, 2008 at 9:51 pm

Recently, I listened to an interesting podcast in which the researcher/presenter discussed breaking through the supposed law of diminishing returns for adding on efficiency.

For example, insulation pays back less ROI as you progressively add more, but at a certain point you’re able to scale back or even eliminate some mechanical systems, resulting in a payback that more than compensates for the additional incremental expense.

The podcast I heard is here:

http://www.uctv.tv/search-details.asp?showID=15123

The presenter’s site is here:

http://rmi.org/stanford

Take a look at the video, or the PDF slideshow, for the “Buildings” lecture.

I’ll be in the market for a house here in Connecticut soon. I’d love to build a small, modern, efficient place on 2-5 acres, but it always comes down to cost. I wonder what the current market will do to affordability? Bring construction prices down, or just put construction firms out of business?

8 Scott Sanders December 16, 2008 at 10:47 pm

Nic,

While I do not have a problem with use of the “scatological aphorism”, I am a bit concerned that you are setting false expectations for homeowners who see this post, don’t dig very far, and then berate their builder to build them a “green home” for 15% less than the typical price.

You “rookies” are not getting there at a discount. I am not sure how thorough Chad has been in his record keeping, but I would be willing to wager a significant sum that if you totaled all of the hours that the team has spent at meetings, doing research, and will spend in “sweat equity” and assign a fair market value to it, you would quickly find yourself above $125 a square foot.

I completely agree with the purpose of your post: that it is much easier to go sustainable and high performance from the start and not add on at the end, but I do not believe that your cost comparison is fair and can be compared to the price of a home built by an established, financially sound builder.

9 Glenn Gleason December 16, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Turd is a tough term – but not far off from the level of thinking the building industry has used for the past 20 years in addressing sustainability for production homes. I guess there are numerous parts of the equation that need to be addressed in your post.

First -Dewey Homes believes the cost for doing LEED on a production basis will only be about $5-$10K above the cost of a standard code home we are required to build in most townships. The unfortunate part of our industry is that most builders operate on a net margin of less than 7% and $5-10K is pretty significant in real hard dollars to many of them. Few are willing to cross the chasm of fear and doubt to figure out how to still build the same home but make it more durable, healthier and greener (that is just being complacent) That being said – few if any of them are approaching whole house design in their efforts to deliver a product whose design matches consumer lifestyles and deliver the green specs we know has to be built into homes going forward.

The major driver for LEED acceptance and pricing in the builder community has to do with suppliers (products and trades) being able to have cost effective choices available to builders while still building a home the consumer can afford as well as like (knock the burbs all you want – but people are not lining up to live in the city).

The other part of the equation is that groups like the NAHB and others have positioned LEED to be a expensive and limited choice to their members – we have found the exact opposite. We have made the choice to go Energy Star as a standard in 2009 and are working to make LEED certified our standard in the not so distant future – why? We think it is very well thought out, addresses excellence in building and is the gold standard going forward for Green.

We are building a LEED Silver home, a LEED Certified home and a LEED spec home to demonstrate and educate consumers, trades, townships and suppliers what green is and how to incorporate it into a home (Education is key to Green Success).

Last – Many of the houses you describe as turds as are peoples’ “Homes”. They raise their families in them, live, work and leave their footprint on the world in those homes. Our job as a company is best described in our company’s core purpose – To create communities that leave a positive legacy and enhance the Human Experience”. It is not building turds. Our mission is to make that life better and it may have taken us 20 years to get there – but we are finding ways to build these homes cost effectively and still deliver a great experience to the buyer.

The challenge will be how many builders actually want to take on this challenge or remain complaining about cost. We (like yourself) stand on the challenge side of building communities full of homes – not polished turds.

10 chad December 17, 2008 at 1:16 am

Scott,

While you are correct in the fact that we have done a huge amount of research that we are not putting a dollar amount to, I think you are missing the point a bit.

For one a large builder could pay an experienced consultant to tell them what to do to improve their energy efficiency to Energy Star and LEED standards on the same budget. The fact is that most simply would not listen to them. Glenn’s company above is one of the few that is going this route.

We are trying to do many things besides just building a more energy efficient home. Hence the research. We are not trying to simply reach a 20% reduction in energy usage that Energy Star requires over code. I lost sleep because I am not happy with the 50% reduction we are shooting for on the first home. I have problems…

The Postgreen team or any competent energy consultant could redesign a traditional turd of a home to drastically improve the sustainability of it in about 10 minutes on the SAME budget. You probably wouldn’t have to go beyond orientation, windows, caulk and slightly less square footage. The problem is, who would listen?

Lastly, your right, a financially sound builder can not be compared to our building costs. They are already doing things much cheaper than us because of economies of scale and efficiencies in their processes.

In my opinion the problem is that builders in the burbs are too much builder and not enough developer. Developers keep up with the trends and change proactively to keep the business strong. Builders tend to prefer to react and wait until a model has been proven out to the nth degree. There is nothing wrong with either, but in this tough economic time, there is a stronger need for a proactive business model. What a traditional builder thought was safe in the past, is now risky to stick with. We need change and we need it now.

11 Glenn Gleason December 17, 2008 at 1:21 am

By the way – I think this is a great discussion

12 Nic Darling December 17, 2008 at 10:43 am

Scott brings up an excellent point, and I will expand on Chad’s answer a bit.

First, there is a great deal of upfront work going into designing our current homes and that work will continue as we refine our process and keep pushing our expectations. However, if we were to quantify that labor in hours and cost, we would not load that additional expense into our current homes. We are, we hope, in the process of creating a production model house and the intense research and design work will not be necessary on every future iteration. Thus, our current labor will be spread over every project we do for the rest of our run in this business.

Second, I am being somewhat unfair to builders. As I have talked about in other posts, there is a significant amount of education needed on the consumer end. Houses need to be judged on more than just square footage and the number and amenity of bathrooms. Consumers need to be taught to quantify the actual cost of a home.

That said, the builder that takes the time and makes the effort to design a home (even a suburban one) that is energy efficient, attractive to the consumer and equivalent in cost (not necessarily less) will put themselves in an excellent position in the coming years. Think of it as more of a challenge than a threat.

Chad is correct. With very little work, the energy efficiency of the average house design can be drastically improved without increasing cost. There are basic things that are not done in most homes out of habit or ignorance. However, to get where we need to be it will take some serious upfront effort and investment. It will take creative thinking in an area where, on the whole, creativity is not the norm.

13 Mike December 17, 2008 at 11:45 am

Great discussion!

14 Nic Darling December 17, 2008 at 11:51 am

Glenn – I did say, “Turd is, maybe, an unnecessarily rude word to use to describe what are often pretty nice homes . . . ” so you have to let me off the hook on that, right?

One thing I want to make clear, in a sort of indirect response to your comment, is that I do not have a blind prejudice against suburban development. I have a well reasoned and extensively thought out prejudice against it :)

Suburban development, particularly the tract model, has been somewhat irresponsible and short sighted. Built on arable land, miles from work, shopping and entertainment, arranged for maximum lot division and curb appeal rather than solar considerations and notorious for large, chemically protected and unnaturally irrigated lawns, this style of home building eats up a wide variety of resources. Regardless of the efficiency of the homes, the basic premise of the development style has significant flaws.

This is not to say there isn’t a way to build responsibly outside the city. I think there is, but no one is really working to find it. There is a collective mentality that says, “this is what people want,” while giving them few other options.

People are actually lining up to live in the city in greater and greater numbers, but there are still, of course, a great number of people who look to the suburbs for a variety of reasons. However, I have never heard one of these suburbanites say that they live out there because they love being tied to their car.

Your company is doing some great things Glenn and I definitely support the efforts. I particularly applaud your adherence to LEED in the face of growing pressure from watered down green certification programs. However, I will say that there eventually has to be some sort of shift at a more basic level in our approach to building suburban communities. This will not be easy as there are years of errors to overcome, but someone will find it and in the end, the suburbs will be a better place.

15 Kevin D December 18, 2008 at 1:12 am

The RMLUI has written a draft development code:
http://law.du.edu/documents/rmlui/sust-com-dev-code.pdf

The outfit who I believed coined the term “people, planet, profit” is SLDI: http://www.sldtonline.com/content/view/269/50/

So there are folks working on better new burbs. However, as long as there is room for urban infill redevelopment, “sustainable new subdivision” is an oxymoron.

16 Glenn Gleason December 18, 2008 at 9:20 am

Forgot to mention – we also believe in sustainable infill development. below are the links to two recent projects where we were recognized for smart growth initiatives:

http://www.2.montcopa.org/…/The%20Montgomery%20Awards/2007%20Montgomery%20Awards/

http://www.marejournal.com/Voorhess.pdf

we are also working on the redevelopment of the Franklin mint property with 3 other partners in Delaware county as well as another smart project right next to Great Valley corporate center.

You are right – the opps are out there – you just have to look for them

17 Eric December 18, 2008 at 5:29 pm

The typical suburban house doesn’t seem to have evolved much during the last sixty years. Sure we use more insulation, greener building materials and stronger connections better preventing the structure from falling apart during an earthquake or tornado, but the design of the house is essentially the same.

There will be a need for much more upfront effort in designing our homes with the emphasis on sustainability and the need to begin the integration between technology and the house. Someone needs to do it so I’m glad you guys have taken the initiative for moving this ball forward.

Suburban infill could be a very lucrative strategy in the near future. Can you imagine the largely void parking lots of shopping plazas filled with medium density residential units. In one move you would be able to create a dense urban environment that contains housing, shopping, services, and becomes a node for mass transportation. Suburbia is a mess (generally speaking), but it’s definitely possible to fix what’s broken.

18 Kevin D December 18, 2008 at 5:40 pm

Nic,

Even LEED is promoting infill through LEED-ND. This from the draft that was just released:

“The existing LEED for New Construction Rating System has a proven track record of encouraging developers or builders to utilize green building practices, such as increasing energy and water efficiency and improving indoor air quality in
buildings. It is the hope of the three partner organizations that LEED for Neighborhood Development will have a similarly positive effect in encouraging developers to revitalize existing urban areas, reduce land consumption, reduce automobile
dependence, promote pedestrian and bicycle activity, improve air quality, decrease polluted stormwater runoff, and build more livable, healthy, and sustainable communities for people of all income levels.”

Anyone can make public comment on the draft document at
http://www.usgbc.org/LEED/LEEDDrafts/RatingSystemVersions.aspx?CMSPageID=1458

Let ‘em hear what you think!

19 Dan December 22, 2008 at 11:19 am

I like the article. I have long been a proponent of a LEED. I do notice that you mention hard costs. I would be interested in the hard + soft costs as I’ve noticed that generally most of the cost differential is in the soft costs. Mainly in extra (proper) design time. Though I have no experience in LEED for homes, only the other LEED systems.

20 guy December 22, 2008 at 1:53 pm

well perhaps environmentally efficient design is the way for designers to regain the power and profits we’ve handed over to developers over the years?

site and context specific design is not something developers are good at…

21 chad December 22, 2008 at 3:48 pm

Dan – Check out this past post for some insight into this issue. – http://www.100khouse.com/2008/03/21/leed-for-home-basic-process-and-fees/

22 Anon. December 26, 2008 at 5:52 pm

I work with consulting engineers everyday (though not one myself) and there is very much a premium on time and money. It takes less time (and thus money) to tweak an existing proposal, report, etc. than to create one from scratch. So, when designing a project, I suspect tweaking (adding solar panels as well as the other additions you mentioned) comes more readily than starting over. Less time spent, less money spent, same (or more) amount of money made.

Besides, starting over would, in some respects, mean forsaking long-held business partnerships. Those partnerships helped them become successful in the first place; abandoning them for some green start-up isn’t appealing. The markup noticed may be attributed to paying these engineers to forge new relationships with different vendors (and all the legality involved with that.)

Further (and finally), I think that *some* of the more experienced engineers may be viewing “becoming green” as a fad. The mentality may be that “greening” is just repackaging their product to remain marketable in the current market…and the market will change. Their old reliable design will again become desirable because “it all comes down to money” in the end. Times are tight but hopefully won’t remain so forever. Given this, I suspect the rationale is: “You can have a tried-and-true quality home designed by ~experienced~ engineers OR a ‘green’ home for a bit more.” They are betting folks will go with the cheaper option and be wooed by their experience. This allows them to maintain the status quo as well as train the entry-level folks in *their* way of doing business, and thus perpetuate their business. …I’m just guessing because, as I said, I’m not an engineer but am basing my guesses on observation.

If my last point is flush with reality, please continue being a green builder and then make a business out of it. Develop those business relationships with the green start-ups (who are overlooked by the ~experienced~ engineers) and you will have a marketable difference from the “tack on the ‘green’” variety of engineer. It’s a gamble but only you can decide if the risk is worth it.

Best wishes. And remember me when you’re rich. ;)

23 Eric December 26, 2008 at 11:47 pm

And I don’t think “starting over” means forsaking current professional relationships, but rather approaching the strategy of design with a new mindset that promotes the evolution of the design and construction profession. You want to work with people that will help spur this growth, so working with someone (architect, engineer, contractor, client) who is complacent with the status quo and believes the old way of doing things is the only way of doing things is probably not going to work for the more progressive. In that regard some professional relationships will dissolve.

If you look at the entire history of architecture you can make the argument that buildings built before the industrial revolution were in most part sustainable by using local materials and designed for the local climate (of course there were always the more extravagant structures for very important individuals that imported building materials from distant lands, but even some of those structures have lasted over a thousand years). So with that in mind you could say that constructing buildings that are completely dependent on technology and ignore local culture and climate (i.e. most current architectural designs and construction methods) are a fad and that “green” architecture is a step back to a strategy that has worked for thousands of years.

24 tom toolbag December 28, 2008 at 8:29 pm

Leeds is creating a box, instead of working or thinking outside of one! It’s a gimmick/fad, just as most marketing ideas are.
Let’s look at the average house size now, compared to say 20 to 50 years ago. Do people REALLY need 3-4 bathrooms,1-2 walkin closets, and a 3000-5000 sq/ft houses, considering the size of families has shrunk? At roughly $100-150 per sq/ft that is a lot of money waste, and it is on credit to boot! Has the size of beds increased? How about toilets……has their size increased? It disgusts me to see people build the same old crappy house(2×4 envelope) and put $5000.00 granite countertops in them! What a joke! Numerous windows, vaulted ceilings, expansive entryways, wet bars………….. the list goes on, and its at a high price per/foot!
What about trying to build a house that has no furnace, or such a small need for one that it can be heated with a space-heater/cooled with a small window air-conditioner? Why are conventional tank type water heaters still being used?
We need to change our thinking and building styles or methods, not just putting a new name on them!
I COULD NOT AGREE MORE WITH YOUR ARTICLE!!!!

25 lawless December 30, 2008 at 3:05 pm

I tend to agree with tom toolbag. LEED is a good reference but is more of a bullet point to put on marketing materials. Site specific design is much more important than hitting the LEED bullet points in my mind (ie, using free passive solar vs. active solar).

I totally agree that efficiency must be built-in from the start which is a big problem in most construction. If you design with the concept of overall cost-of-ownership and not just the initial buy-in price, it’s easier to justify some higher quality options that may push up the initial price but will offer better long term operating costs (insulation, windows, tankless water heaters, etc.).

26 Nic Darling December 31, 2008 at 11:26 am

tom and lawless – When we first began our project I had similar ideas about LEED, but going through the process has definitely changed my mind. I am not denying that it is a useful marketing tool, but we have found other, potentially more important, benefits as well. Here are just a couple:

1. LEED promotes the exact team-oriented, ground-up design concept we are discussing. It is an excellent tool for getting the entire team (builder, sub-contractors, architect, developer, etc.) on the same page from the very first meeting. A concrete goal with set parameters required by an outside party is a very useful thing during the design phase.

2. The program is also very useful during the day-to-day building process. Rather than tell a sub they need to follow a certain unfamiliar methodology because you want them to for some reason they find abstract or unimportant, you can point to the LEED docs or checklists. LEED provides a clear rule book, and while some of those rules may seem foolish or irrelevant, it makes it easier for us referees to ensure a clean game.

3. LEED is good for consumers. Again, I understand that the program isn’t perfect. It misses things and requires others that seem to make little sense, but it is still a decent standard by which to judge a project. As a third-party verified certification and a verifiable pain in the ass, homes that receive a LEED rating are more likely to actually have the sustainable and efficient features they claim. We have seen too many other houses claiming to be Green by this or that watered down standard (or simply by virtue of their bamboo floors) to put much trust in the signs hanging from their poorly insulated walls.

There are more smaller benefits I could mention, but I’ll leave that for another conversation. Essentially, I just want to make it clear that we believe LEED to be a useful program from both a marketing and building standpoint. We will continue to go above and beyond LEED requirements, but will probably still find the program useful.

27 robert green January 3, 2009 at 12:25 pm

hmmph. lots to chew on here. my wife and i have been in the midst of a renovation/extension of our house in LA for the past 1 1/2 years and we decided to go for LEED certification. we are in the program and though we’ve given up on getting platinum we likely to get gold. the house will be very high end (per some of the points above, we are definitely “polishing a turd”) and will have all the features people with money expect to have, as we may have to sell the house in order to recoup what we’ve put out.

i take issue with two things in the piece: one, the metaphor is incorrectly used, even for what is trying to be said by the author. polishing a turd would suggest that the original house is, literally, a piece of shit, and all the accoutrements of green are merely covering up said shitness. but the point is rather that it is not the best use of resources to green up a house’s shell (essentially) when the house’s fundamentals are never going to be green (it’s in the exurbs, it’s facing the wrong way etc etc). that doesn’t mean it’s a turd. it’s a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. and even that isn’t quite right. the point is, i know this is a blog and all and we aren’t supposed to have editors and care about this stuff but this needs a rewrite.

now on to the actual meat of the post: i guess my question as someone who decided to redo green instead of start from scratch–should i not have? would the world have been better off we me leaving my north/south axis house as is for someone else to live energy-wastefully? given the actual existence of high end houses in LA, what should they look like? i believe the 100/sq ft house AND the 400 sq/ft house should both be using principles of building that are similar if not the same. i like that LEED allows for such a thing to happen.

the above are genuine questions: what should high-end housing look like? or should it simply cease to exist? what is the place for the 4 or 5 or 6 bedroom house in a real green marketplace? is there one?

blah blah blah. thoughts welcome on all this.

28 House hunter January 3, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Good concept, an inexpensive (relatively) “green” house, but why do they have to look like futuristic cell blocks ?
Sorry, but I happen to want an energy efficient design, combined with an English Cottage look.
I happen to like the look of old homes.

29 Thomas Jefferson January 4, 2009 at 12:07 am

I work in the architectural field and the main reason or incentive for contractors to make the buildings more expensive is that they money off of “greening” the homes. It’s all BS. It’s been my major argument since LEEDS was first introduced. it’s all BS. they never once talk about what really needs to be done. Like you stated in your article, the concept of the basic house has to be completely redesigned from the ground up.

no builder in their right might will want that. they will lose money and their profit margin will decrease.

what really needs to be done, no one will do unless forced.

we live in a green washing world. Until the government mandates new rules for the construction of homes, the contractors will continue to polish a turd to make the new home owners feel all green and fuzzy inside.

the home owners are equally at fault. they want the green without the change.

whether people like it or not, change, major change, not Obama change, is coming and it’s all going to hit us like a gigantic sledge hammer.

30 tom toolbag January 4, 2009 at 2:38 am

Nic,

I hope that you don’t feel as I was denigrating your efforts, I feel as though you are honestly trying to implement the LEEDS certification as it was originally intended, that is to make a new standard. It just seems that it is being exploited(as many things oftenly are) as a marketing fad. I’m glad that someone such as yourself is trying to prove that it can be applied realistically and under a cost effective situation. Actions always prove more than calculations.
I have come to realize that I need to educate myself more on the whole process of certifcation. Without an independant certification, the criteria/standards would mean nothing.
There is another set of guidelines/criteria that I have found to be impressive. It is called passivehaus, and it was started in Germany. You can find some info and a web-site by doing a search for: passivehouse us. The guidelines and building ideas are being put to test in actual houses, and the feedback is scrutinized. They have some pretty good “cost-effective” building ideas.
Anyway, good luck to you.

31 lavardera January 4, 2009 at 11:22 am

Why do they have to look like “futuristic cell blocks ” as opposed to looking like a “pathetically romantic delusion”?

As a marketing and business decision building a house differently is reinforced by building a house that looks different. Witness the success of the Prius, dedicated hybrid platform, over the hybrid Civic, conventional car with hybrid powertrain. Prius owns the mindspace of hybrid car.

32 Dan January 5, 2009 at 10:20 am

Robert, I don’t think this discussion was aimed at greening existing homes. In fact greening existing buildings is going to save more energy than building new green buildings anyway simply because there are more of them, so kudos to you for what you are doing. Now, your other question about whether 5 bedrooms homes is another discussion. And it makes me think of yet another: what do we do with the exurbs. Unless there is some big catasrophe they will continue to exist. And if we radically change them now it will be to the short/medium term detriment of those who live there. I think that mostly the market will drive this and that it will be relatively slow.

33 chad January 5, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Dear House hunter,

Thanks for your comment. We address this question in our FAQs as we get it relatively often. Lavardera makes our point for us, but basically we have decided that our company, Postgreen, will focus on modern architectural development in Philadelphia.

We understand and agree that there are other styles of homes that people will like more, it just isn’t the niche we have decided to go after. In these times, we feel carving a niche is necessary to succeed.

Having said this, we will be exploring modern interpretations of more classic architectural styles such as the Cottage style you mentioned. This may be down the road a bit, but it’s on the ever growing list…

34 chad January 5, 2009 at 3:46 pm

FYI – The term is LEED, not LEEDS. Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design.

I’ll let Nic address the other questions in the comments here.

35 Nic Darling January 5, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Robert – First, excellent comment. And now my reply . . .

I don’t think the “turd” idea is that far off in the context of my argument. Though the word was used in the title of the piece to grab attention as much as anything else (effective, no?), I think I will stand by it.

Let’s keep in mind, I am not talking about renovations here. The effort to repair and “green” an existing home is admirable. If done right, it is fixing what would otherwise be a turd. If done poorly . . . well then you might actually be doing some polishing.

The “turds” of which I speak are new home designs that are inherently flawed. The builders, rather than tossing these flawed designs out and creating something less turd-esque, attempt to polish it up by tacking on green features. Homes become defined as turds when they are consciously crapped out onto our landscape despite the evidence of the wastefulness inherent in their conception.

So, while I appreciate a good editor as much as the next guy, I’ll go down with the ship on this one. In terms of sustainability, the homes I am talking about are turds.

As to the end of your comment, I think there is definitely room for high-end green homes. In fact, I would love to be able to afford one some day, but I think they probably look a lot different than the high-end 5 bedroom exurbs model that you are talking about. I imagine them more modest in size but higher in over-all quality. Materials and technology making up the bulk of their extra cost rather than seldom-used space and amenities.

As to your own renovation, go to it, and I wish you the best. I would love to hear more about what you are doing. There are plenty of homes out there that need similar fixing.

36 House hunter January 8, 2009 at 10:13 am

I appreciate the need to fill a “niche” but energy efficiency must go “main stream” as fast as possible – we need to leave fossil fuels before they leave us.
That means architects and designers have to put their minds to energy-efficient buildings that appeal to the broadest number of people possible – not just the “hip and cool”.
Houses are meant for living in – you can’t compare them to priuses.
I don’t want to live in a place which is all cold angles. I have a productive garden – fruits and vegetables. I want to be able to integrate the garden into the home design (in a permaculture sense).
I don’t see that as “romantic” – I see that as “survival”.
Many homes built more than 100 years ago used sun direction and placement of windows to help heat and cool before the advent of central air.
On top of that they have a character than has, IMHO, stood the test of time.
Faddish building designs are just that – they’ll be obsolete next year, like last year’s iPod.

37 lavardera January 8, 2009 at 10:50 am

There is nothing stylistic that precludes your desire to garden or survive. The inability to detach the issues is symptomatic of the muddy thinking that has made the housing industry so successful building lousy houses.

In the end if we succeed in changing the way houses are built in the USA you will be able to get your green sustainable energy efficient house in any shade of style you wish. Until then the house needs to make a statement that it is different, and in the course of doing that there is nothing wrong with serving the thousands of people who prefer modern and can’t find one in every town, city, street in america. If that preference is a fad, so bet it, I’ve been living a fad for my whole life.

38 gelizle January 18, 2010 at 10:39 pm

There is nothing stylistic that precludes your desire to garden or survive.

39 Joanne January 18, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Delightful discussion! Some real clear thinking.

As a humble interior designer, I read (with interest) all the comments – waiting for some mention of the interior designer’s role in participating in real green efforts. Is the interior designer forever fated to be the handmaiden of the architect?

IMHO, our role is to help design near environments that support the way humans live… in function and form. Nic, what do you see as the residential interior designer role in making green buildings livable, from the inside aesthetic?

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