Sustainable and Green Solutions

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.

The Moderately-Sized Home

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:

  1. 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!).


  1. 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?


  1. 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.


  1. 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.

Selecting Materials, Finishes and Fixtures for Your Project

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 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.