Location: San Francisco

Principal: Jonathan Feldman

Date founded: April 2003

Company size: 16

Little-known fact: Jonathan prefers funky colored converse sneakers; crossword puzzles are a daily lunchtime activity; and we have double-decker bike racks in our kitchen for the bike-commuters.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from the eco+historical project?

The air source heat pump is something that the client researched and wanted to use. It was our first experience with it and we loved the outcome. It's quiet with a small outdoor unit that takes ambient air temperature to pre-heat or pre-cool the air which is then boosted to the right temperature with an indoor electrical heater. It's very energy efficient, affordable and perfect for mild climates like the Bay Area.

What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals?

Water conservation can happen on many different levels of financial investment and end-user training. Low-flow fixtures, recirculating hot-water systems with occupancy sensors, and dry wells can save energy and water and are completely automated. Clients concerned about additional water conservation can install rainwater and greywater systems which can range from a simple rainwater barrel tied to a downspout for watering the garden through a drip irrigation line to a more sophisticated system that uses rainwater to flush toilets and greywater from showers and clothes washers to water the landscape.

What is your firm's philosophy on sustainable design?

Our firm believes that every project should be designed to be as sustainable as possible, and it is a discussion point with clients early on.  For us, it's not an all or nothing equation; we try to push each project and each client to be as resource conscious and sensitive as possible. We make choices to minimize environmental impacts within the constraints of the client's programmatic goals, site conditions and budget. 

What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your firm? What are the baseline standards your firm aims to meet with every project?

Some of the green strategies that are embedded in our fundamental design process include: orienting buildings, windows, and shading devices to maximize daylighting; passive heating and cooling strategies which will reduce or eliminate the need for heating, daytime lighting and air conditioning; making sure the building's envelope is well insulated; sourcing healthy and sustainable materials and mechanical systems; and of course, keeping the projects small to use fewer materials and energy. We also push for green construction practices on every job that include minimizing jobsite waste, efficient framing techniques and other practices that minimize the amount of resources that go into each building. Not every project will incorporate alternative water systems or active solar arrays, but all will at least push for sound energy strategies and material sourcing.

What are the top energy-saving features you put in your projects?

Top energy saving techniques we've used in projects include rammed earth construction & exposed concrete floors for thermal mass to passively heat and cool, geothermal heat pump connected to a radiant floor system for active heating and cooling, and solar PV and solar thermal systems.

How do you think these types of innovative green solutions, products, and strategies, might become standard?

Raising sustainability standards can come from two directions: codes that are enforced by local jurisdictions or by consumer-generated demand.  California has required energy modeling for many years and recently passed CALGreen, a green building code. Many jurisdictions in northern California require meeting sustainable standards above the state mandate.  Designers, clients and builders who are willing to test innovative solutions or build to a higher standard are also gaining momentum. Already we are seeing responsiveness in the industry, from entrepreneurs who are filling a new market niches such as construction waste recycling to well known brands updating product lines to meet more stringent standards. Another way to affect change is to show how beautiful green strategies can be. We've tried to do this with green roofs, building integrated solar arrays and water catchment systems that become design features.