skip to Main Content

A Green Home – It’s Just Good Design


What makes a Green Home green? Is it the bamboo floors? Maybe it’s the low-e windows or the extra insulation in the walls? What about a high efficiency heating and cooling system? Or maybe it’s a plaque by your front door that says, “I’m Green!”?

How about all of the above and then some? What about the word Green? Is that really the most accurate one to use, or is it too broad? How about Energy Efficient, High Performance, Net-Zero, or Passive?

If you can’t decide on your own, there are always the many green building certification programs to help. You may be familiar with LEED for Homes, but what about ENERGY STAR, EarthCraft House, National Green Building Standard, Environments for Living, or Building America Builder’s Challenge.

All of this can be about as confusing as going to a coffee shop. Decaf? Skinny? Whip? Foam? Make it a Double? Do you want a scone with that?

green-homes-its-just-good-design-cup-of-coffeeHow about just, “a cup o’ coffee”? Period.

What would the equivalent be in designing a green home? Could we remove green, have all homes just be designed and built well so that green features are just part of the design? While studying Environmental Design in College, I heard a quote referring to incorporating green or sustainability in to our projects as “it’s just good design.”

So then, what is ‘Good Design’?

Well, with as little Architecture, building science or green jargon, (and, especially “no whip”!) I’ll give you my view on what I consider good design. In the end though, what is good to me may not be good enough for you. So, mine is just a definition, not the definition. Like when someone writes about the Civil War, the title should be “A History of America’s Civil War”, not “The History of America’s Civil War.”

Good Design: A definition

Good design begins and ends with the house as a system. But, not only based on building science basics that the link I just provided discusses. The house system includes many parts and functions, and all of them need to be considered. Incorporating the best practices of building science, energy efficiency is just one of those parts, and this is at the heart of what good design is. Every part plays its role and needs to be given its due respect. A good example of what I mean is how a centipede walks. All the legs look the same, and are just as important as the next leg to effectively and efficiently get the insect where it needs to go.

The best designed homes are complete systems where every part works together to make a home everything it needs to be, including functional, efficient, durable, and beautiful. The reason these homes are considered to be designed well is because everything about the home, from aesthetics to performance, is considered during the design as a whole and not separate parts. For example, if something is efficient and not functional, or durable and not beautiful, the design is broken and the home fails to live up to its purpose.

Good design considers and integrates every part (finishes, mechanicals, fixtures, accessibility, windows, etc.). Nothing is independent.

Good design makes sure that the exterior wall assemblies are designed to provide the best thermal and moisture protection, but not without considering what kind of windows and how they will be installed in that wall to maintain the thermal and moisture protection. And, that window will also be located, sized and shaded to allow the appropriate amount of light to the interior space. Good design also ensures that the structure will work with the heating and cooling equipment and its delivery system, but not without considering the interior design details, the location of a stair, and the occupants habits and comfort levels.

In good design, there are no islands.


Green Home photo by nickname and Coffee photo by crestedcrazy from, used under a Creative Commons license.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. I like that! “In good
    I like that! “In good design, there are no islands.” 
    Thanks architect dude!

  2. Thanks, Les! 
    Thanks, Les! 
    That doesn’t mean that good design can’t be ON an island, of course.

  3. “The best designed homes
    “The best designed homes are complete systems where every part works together to make a home everything it needs to be, including functional, efficient, durable, and beautiful.” 
    The trouble is that this rarely happens. Homes are often a mix of different work done at different times. ‘Being green’ is more than simple function, it’s a mindset. Awareness of what’s going on in your home obviously helps 🙂

  4. UK Tool Centre,  &lt
    UK Tool Centre, 
    You are absolutely right! Being green also depends on the behaviors of a building’s occupants. Educating the homeowner must be a part of the design process. If they are not prepared or willing to contribute, the system and the design will fail. 
    The same goes for builders, engineers, and anyone involved in the design and construction processes. That’s why team selection is so critical to the success of a well-designed and built home.

  5. Respectfully, this falls
    Respectfully, this falls quite short of green building. Yes, good design in the aesthetic as well as systems performance are critical, but it goes much further than that. Green building is about understanding and limiting the total environmental impact of the materials and process employed to create the home. It is about impact on infrastructure and the community it is located in. It is about people; protecting those on site, in the factory, and ithe quarry. Health of the occupant and the laborer, placed on the same line.  
    Great design acknowledges and brings us closer to nature. Building science and energy efficiency are the easy part, the rest requires real work. Oh, and the plaque… It has value because in my industry you can count on nothing other than directions not being followed.

  6. Thanks, Michael. I appreciate
    Thanks, Michael. I appreciate your input on a topic that I know you’ve given a lot more thought than most. 
    Good point about green building and great design involving comprehensive consideration of the buildings impact beyond the property line.  
    On a larger more global scale, some of lower hanging fruits, I agree, are building science and energy efficiency. And, while they are undoubtedly just as important to a well-designed building as the greater impact on the local and global community, we need to consider the entire chain that makes a building happen…absolutely! 
    Perhaps a follow up article is warranted to address what IS “beyond the property line”. 
    Finally, great point about the value of a plaque. One of the main reasons for certifications in this industry is to hold everyone to a higher standard. If we rely on good faith alone, we’ll only go back to our old broken ways. 
    Again, thanks for your feedback. 

  7. As long as the plaque means
    As long as the plaque means something.

  8. I agree, David.  &lt
    I agree, David. 
    So many things go in to earning one of those plaques, but one of the most important is third party verification to ensure compliance with the high standards of the program that awards it.

  9. > many things go in to
    > many things go in to earning one of those plaques, but one of the most important is third party verification 
    That was my point. Some green building certification programs don’t have verification. I’m thinking about programs run by certain city or county governments. These tend to be based on a points or check-offs, with energy efficiency demonstrated by nominal R-value or SEER rather than process and performance. In other words, no diagnostics and no verification, other than what may be obvious to an untrained inspector, assuming he’s even paying attention. In other words, the honor system. The people who develop these programs mean well. Sigh.

    > That was my point  
    Absolutely, and I was agreeing with you.  
    If only good intentions were worth anything, we’d have a perfectly green world!  
    I do feel a lot of progress is being and has been made, because I see standards raised all over the world sans green building programs. Competition is among the things spurring on a more green approach.  
    What will be looking at 10 years from now? I can’t wait to see. Will the bar be so high that current versions of these programs will be considered child’s play? We’ll see…

Comments are closed.

Back To Top