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Save Money with Sustainable Design Choices

Posted on Sep 15, 2016 in:
  • Seattle Times HomeWork
  • Remodel
  • Maintain
  • Homeowners
  • Built Green

By Terry Phelan, Architect, Living Shelter Design Architects

Driven by increasing energy costs and a growing awareness of health risks associated with indoor air quality, there has been an increase in interest in sustainable home design choices. Studies show homeowners are willing to pay 4 to 7 percent more for sustainable upgrades, especially for those that create direct savings. Here are a few ideas you might consider that fit the bill:

Health and Ease of Maintenance

A healthy home can reduce medical bills and time missed from work or school. Improve indoor air quality with healthy building products, from glues to floor coverings. For finishes, choose easily cleanable and maintainable products made from sturdy non-toxic materials such as stone, tile, wood, recycled glass, and metal. Look for ecolabels on the materials and products you purchase.

Heating and Ventilation

Before adding the cost of a heating system upgrade or other technology to your wallet, be sure to improve the shell first—don’t put a new motor on a leaky boat! An energy assessment and a day sealing energy-wasting cracks is a wise investment for a remodel.

Heat from the Sun

Passive solar design can balance summer-shaded southerly windows with inside thermal masses, like a tile floor or stone fireplace. The thermal mass absorbs heat during the day and radiates it at night, flattening out temperature fluctuations. Even without a designated thermal mass, sun in a room can help save money on winter energy bills. Indoor thermal shades help keep heat in overnight.

An approach to outdoor shade that works well is a simple trellised deciduous vine. The leafless vines will allow the sun’s warmth in through chilly winters and the leaves filter sun in the summer.

Natural Light

Natural light can improve our mood and lower the amount of power used for electric lights. Tubular skylights are a nice way to light utility spaces like hallways and bathrooms; they are less expensive than rectangular skylights and are more energy efficient. Some find rectangular skylights more attractive, but they are hard to shade from summer sun, so use them judiciously. These offer the option of opening for natural ventilation and come in egress sizes, which can be useful for attic bedrooms.

Connecting to Nature

Everyone loves a view of nature and integrating the inside and outside expands living space without adding more square feet. Covered porches and low fences are gaining popularity, as are herb and vegetable gardens. Keep a sunny garden space in mind when planning a house or addition to increase your options for healthy, local food.

These ideas add value to any project, whether you’re building new or remodeling. The market demand for healthy, energy-efficient homes continues to grow and including these options now will protect your biggest investment. A little creativity goes a long way and comfort and human delight will never go out of style!


Terry K. Phelan is the president of Living Shelter Design Architects, a woman-owned architectural firm specializing in energy efficient custom homes, home remodels, cottage communities, and smaller community buildings. Phelan is a contributing writer to HomeMatters, a consumer publication of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

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