Sustainability in Design + Building

9 Min.

The Jewett Farms + Co and Northshore Home Magazine Boston Design Week discussion was aptly named Beyond Sustainability but the conversation went far deeper. Moderator Nancy Berry, editor of Northshore Home Magazine put together a group that had so much to offer the conversation, it was an honor to be on the panel. For those of you who missed it – here’s a short recap of some of the main points that were discussed.

Before we could dive beyond sustainability, we first had a to establish what sustainability means. As soon as a new build or remodelling project begins it immediately creates waste, uses resources and requires space. So how do we take those negative environmental effects and balance them out into something that can be sustained by our environment?

Architect Andrew Sidford believes the first step is to take a hard look at your project goals and find the most efficient way to meet those. For example, if the goal is more living space, then the answer may not have to be an addition and could be found in a re-design of your current space.

Architect Steve Baczek’s view focuses on a sustainable lifestyle, that is designing a home that requires no ongoing maintenance, that can power itself and allows people to enjoy and stay in their homes longer.

Tad Cunningham, General Manager at Carpenter & MacNeille discussed the importance of quality materials and workmanship, taking the time to ensure that a home is built using materials that will not wear out easily, and are installed using techniques that ensure the full life of the material. Michael Gray, a Senior Architect at Carpenter MacNeille, emphasised that on top of the building science, the design must be aesthetically beautiful and functional.

At JF we see sustainable building as a combination of standards. First, the product must be created using materials that do no harm e.g. responsibly forested timbers, water-based finishes, reclaimed products. Second, the product must be created in an environment that does no harm, facilities that are safe, where employees are fairly paid and steps are taken to ensure environmental responsibility. Third, the product should be made in a way that protects both the longevity of that item and the tradition of the way it was made.

Given the depth of skill and quality materials that are needed to meet these sustainability standards, the biggest question that was raised was, is it cost-prohibitive to build sustainably?

The resounding answer from our panel was No! However, as Michael Gray from Carpenter MacNeille brought up, there’s never going to be a project where the budget is not part of the discussion, it is our job as professionals to lay out the costs both short-term and long-term, and this is where the cost benefits of sustainable building start to become very appealing.

Andrew Sidford’s philosophy is that sustainable choices are really the only choices that make sense for his design. It’s not about comparing products so much as it is making the best choices within the budget while using materials and techniques that are inherently sustainable. From a JF perspective we feel the same way, while there are always options that help save money, they are never based on reducing quality or altering our production methods.

Steven Baczek firmly belives that sustainable building can be attained by all budgets, while sometimes the benefits are most clear in the long term, he has seen many instances where the cost distribution is almost equal between standard choices and more innovative ones. For example, a design that includes highly insulated (expensive) windows, can use a far smaller (less expensive) heating system. Where cheaper windows will require more heat to be pumped into the house, needing a larger (more expensive) system. This is why it’s so important to choose the right professional for your job folks!

To that point, one of Nancy’s questions to the group was “Do clients come to you looking for sustainability? Or do you find that it is your job to educate them?” 

Michael Gray and Andrew Sidford both agreed that sustainability tends to come up organically within discussions with the client, they may not enter the project thinking that it is a priority, but they see the value as the design progresses. JF clients are typically similar, they often don’t know the lengths that we go to, to provide a sustainable product, so we educate. On occasion, we have clients who are specifically looking for environmentally friendly options, but often this is because of personal health issues, rather than a great desire to protect the environment.

Steven Baczek has designed several net-zero energy homes, including a multi-home development in the southwest, he’s known for his skill in this area. Many clients seek him out for this purpose so he finds himself educating both clients and other professionals on the bridge between architecture, building science and sustainability.

The reaction of clients when they learn the benefits of making sustainable choices is overwhelmingly positive, which leads us to believe that we, the skilled architects and builders on the panel, and other professionals have a duty to continue educating our clients to make these choices, for their own benefit and that of the planet.


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