Registered architects are obligated to inform clients of sustainable and/ or green materials and means of construction their building projects. In California, there are many Green Building Codes in place that ensure not only the safety of the consumer, and the installer but also that of the affected physical environment in which the material is placed. Materials that are found in nature or developed without a high level of processing can typically be considered sustainable.
Vinyl (though often chosen for it’s affordability) is not considered a green product. Not only is the manufacturing process extremely toxic, but phthalates plasticizers can leach or migrate into the environment. Humans are exposed to the dangers of vinyl migration through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal exposure.
In the housing market, vinyl windows ubiquitous. However, there are considerable alternatives on the market that are fairly competitive in price such as fiberglass or metal windows. In the long run, these alternates will add significant value and quality to your building project.
There are of course many green alternatives to vinyl flooring as well. Cork, linoleum tile and wood (preferably recycled or sustainably harvested such as bamboo) are a great alternative to plastic materials. Not only will the tactile quality and visceral ambiance of your home be enhanced, but so will your mental, physical and emotional health. As consumers, we vote for with our dollars. Let’s all choose greener materials when building to help, if nothing else, help reduce the affects of climate change.
Below is a home project that is to be built in Loomis using insulated concrete forms. A very unique project as directed by the needs and desires of the clients. This home is designed to be energy efficient using passive solar energy.
With so much overwhelm and complexity in today’s world, many are choosing to simplify their lives. The cost of living, the choice to live more sustainably as well the decision to spend time traveling or pursuing other interests can lead us to make the choice to live in a smaller physical footprint. The “tiny house movement” as well the Swedish activity of “death cleaning” are signs that there is an awareness away from the cultural bent towards consumerism towards a more mindful approach to living.
As a person with a bent toward Buddhism, I believe in the strength of the notion of the “middle path”—to not live at the extremes by being either excessive or too restrictive. As such, my personal choices (which I like to think are moderate, balanced, thoughtful, sustainable and practical) tend to bleed into my approach to building and designing spaces. With our lives busier than ever, with decision fatigue having an effect on us more than ever, making our choices simple and easy as possible comes as a huge relief for most of us. I ask: how are we able to maintain our lives as effortlessly as possible, to keep our burdens to a minimum while still being able to enjoy and live our lives to the fullest?
That said, below are some approaches for designing spaces a that can help us achieve a some of these goals:
- Keep unnecessary circulation (aka hallways) to a minimum. This may also include keeping doorways to the exterior of a home to a minimum. The more doorways, potentially the less useable living space there is that is taken up by circulation (unless the requirements of the home necessitate this, then, of course, go for it!).
- Avoid awkward spaces or excessive corners in a home that are difficult to vacuum or clean for obvious reason. Do you really want to have to clean under a clawfoot tub for example? Or, maybe the choice of the tub outweighs this chore?
- Create lots of organized storage areas. If your space is small, everything needs to have a place. Linen closets, wardrobes, pantries, medicine cabinets, coat closets are a premium for any living space, but especially for small living areas.
- Open plan living provides communality and can make a small living area appear larger. I like the idea of a kitchen that opens up to a great room, where the dishwasher can engage in a conversation or watch a movie. This is also why kitchen islands are so great.
All in all, the trend toward smaller homes is something that can be embraced gracefully and practically, making time for other engaging activities other than cleaning and over-working to pay a mortgage or rent. It is also important to recognize that our time here on the planet is precious: that it is vital to both be aware of how we utilize our resources now, as well as to acknowledge that the residue we leave behind does matter.
Once your home is out of the permit phase and heading toward the building phase, it is important to begin to have your finishes (tile, paint, flooring, final window types, etc.), appliances, hardware and fixtures picked out. Make sure you or your builder has the scheduled deliveries in a timely manner so that your project does not get slowed down. It is ideal to order and catalogue your selections as well as to have a place to store them so that your builder has access to them when the appropriate phase of construction requires them. Some big box stores, local hardware stores, builder referrals, and on-line resources are great places to look for your final selections.
Below are some ideas to get you to start thinking about how to select your finishes / fixtures / appliances:
- Look at homes locally, on-line or in magazines that reflect the style you are after and show your ideal images to the builder so that they know the trims and finishes you desire.
- Check out Lowe’s. Home Depot, and local hardware stores as well as on-line stores like com or lampplus.com for fixtures and finishes. For tile, go to local tile suppliers. Where I live there is Arizona Tile and Bedrosians. For paint, Benjamin Moore is the go-to for picking out color, but your painter will likely have his/ her favorite brand of paint.
- Make a list of all the items you need to select. Here are some examples: doors and windows, flooring (tile, wood, carpet, etc.), paint color and type, lighting fixtures, door and cabinet hardware, toilet, sinks, vanities, dishwasher, stove, refrigerator, dish disposal, tub, etc.…
- Additional details you would like such as: spice rack, medicine cabinet, and built-ins are ideal to have on the drawings during the design phase.
Once you have decided to build a project, it is never too soon to begin cataloging all the materials, finishes and appliances you would like to incorporate into your space. At that point, access, price and scheduling become crucial. Ultimately though, finish, fixture and material selection can be the most exciting part of the building process – because it is this aspect of the project that will make it unique to you.
I have studied and incorporated feng shui principles into my design practice for many decades now. Feng shui is a Chinese philosophical system that is intended to harmonize us with our environment. Some of the feng shui principles are common sense, others work at another level: the subconscious. You may have noticed that you feel comfortable in one space and not in another and yet are unable to figure out why that is. Many basic feng shui tenets are based on the “subconscious” or normally invisible forces that hint at why a space may not feel right.
In designing a project, I incorporate feng shui principles as best I can as it usually helps to create a strong and balanced space. There are some personal design preferences that I incorporate into a project as well for flow factor and for the ease of cleaning. Below are many feng shui principles, passive solar design ideas, and some of my own.
- Align the house so that the maximum window glazing is on the north and south of the home such that there is minimal (direct) sunlight from the east and west. Western exposure can be especially harsh and create too much heat in the home in the evening – though today’s low e windows tend to ameliorate this.
- Avoid putting the lowest riser to an upper floor stairway visible from the front door as this is said to cause an energy of “busy-ness” to become prominent in one’s life.
- Avoid aligning the front door and back door of a home as the “chi” or energy of a home will escape easily without having a chance to fill one’s home with beneficial energy.
- The door jambs are ideally lined up in a home. This is said to create less conflict between the occupants of the home.
- Both a beam over an eating area or bed and a door opening that is aligned with any portion of a bed or desk – these would be considered problematic in feng shui.
- Ideally, when you are lying down in a bed or sitting at a desk, you will be able to see all entrances to the room. It is much like sitting with your back to a door at a restaurant. If you are sensitive like me, this will inevitably make you feel uncomfortable.
- Ideally, there are more windows than doors in a space. Too many doors can cause confusion in a home without a clear sense of orientation from being able to view the outdoors.
- I tend to avoid putting in long, narrow hallways in homes as this tends to be costly and not a very efficient use of space. However, in large homes with many bedrooms, this is often unavoidable.
- I prefer the placement of the kitchen sink to be toward the interior of a room, on an island. This way, the dish washer can more easily engage with company or a media center. A kitchen sink installed in front of a window is a secondary option.
- My preference is for the least amount of corners and niches in a home as it is easier to clean a home. Getting the dirt out of too many unnecessary corners in a home can be tedious. That said, a few niches in a home can keep it feeling cozy and dynamic in some cases.
- Other factors to consider when designing a home is that one may not want to visually see the kitchen sink and dirty dishes upon entering a home. Moreover, a bathroom off of a kitchen is considered unlucky and may indicate one having to “waste” too much money on groceries.
- I am familiar with the “relationship”, “wealth”, etc. areas of a home in feng shui. These are important to keep in mind when developing a floor plan. For instance, I attempt to avoid putting a laundry room or a bathroom in a relationship corner of the home; otherwise, one may find oneself always having to work on one’s relationship. Alternately, a bathroom or laundry room on the western (also the water side) of the home is not considered beneficial and one may find plumbing issues occurring. Though some of these ideas might be considered superstitious, I have practical, real-world experience with many of them.
- The location of a pool or other body of water directly behind one’s home is considered maleficent. A hill behind one’s home is considered auspicious. Ideally, a home is located neither down in a canyon (it may flood) nor up on a mountainside (it is too windy).
- The shape of the home is critical as well. If there is a “corner” of the home that missing, this area of the occupants’ lives may be lacking “helpful people”, “knowledge”, etc. Not to worry though, there are often simple feng shui cures for these design issues.
My hope is that this gave you some basic design principles to consider when designing or remodeling your home. I have found that incorporating these ideas into your design can significantly increase the flow and harmony of your home.