In Peter L. Pfeiffer's view, too many architects get caught up in using newfangled products and technologies to create energy-efficient houses, but in his breakout session, "Sustainable by Design: The Golden Rules Behind Green Construction," the principal of Barley & Pfeiffer Architects showed attendees at residential architect’s Reinvention conference last week how they can achieve efficiency with simple, common-sense solutions.
In his presentation, Pfeiffer, FAIA, offered a multitude of straightforward tactics architects can use to green their houses. He began by telling the audience they should not underestimate the value of discussing the obvious with their clients. In many cases, the client will get the message, but the architect has to be the one to explain the issues to them.
"Think of where you are before you use certain systems and strategies," he said. Solar panels are fine, but they're expensive and have a long way to go before they become financially viable. Instead, look for places to save energy first. "Saving energy is better than producing it," Pfeiffer said.
"Go green by design rather than green by device," he continued, reminding the audience that 90% of the opportunities for a high-performance house occur in the first 10% of the design process. He advised attendees to reduce consumption, improve health, and reduce environmental impact.
For saving water, Pfeiffer said xeriscaping is one of the cheapest things you can do. Additionally, dark exterior colors absorb more heat, so he advised architects to avoid them in warm climates; excessive ceiling heights, meanwhile, require more air to heat and cool and, thus, more energy. Instead of integrating the garage into the house, Pfeiffer recommended a detached volume with a breezeway connected to the main house to provide a buffer from the sun and to promote better air quality in the house.
Shorten the length of your ducts to reduce energy, and be sure to understand the direction of the vapor flow in a house, he continued. Concentrate on air barriers with foam insulation and select a good housewrap.
For sheathing purposes, Pfeiffer recommended using plywood instead of OSB, as it tends to be more water-resistant. Avoid dark roofs in warm climates, and use metal when possible. Use a radiant barrier on the roof to reduce heat gain and design the roof assemblies to stay cool. "Venting an attic is not a good idea," he said. "Instead, seal it with foam insulation and vent the roof deck instead" by installing metal roofing on sleepers.