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Expert Advice on Sustainable Home Architecture: An Interview with Michael Peachey of MW Architects Inc.

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

MW Architects is a client based architectural studio led by Architects Michael Peachey and Wayne Stuart. Together, they bring over 45 years of experience in all aspects of the development process, including team building, project development and approval, budgeting and cost negotiations, and contractor coordination.

Their approach is collaborative. Rather than approach each individual project with a single theory or concept, MWA demonstrates options and helps the client make the most informed choice. They lead each client through every phase of design and construction, from napkin sketch to finishing touches.

MWA works with groups and individual clients in a participatory design process that emphasizes the building of dynamic connected communities. They maintain a good working relationship with a network of consultants who are experienced in the field of sustainable design. Along with these consultants MWA seeks to involve the contractor early in the process in an effort to optimize project team interactions and the contributions each project player has to offer.

MWA balances innovation with response to the siting and massing of buildings, their context and landscape. They look for creative ways to harness natural light and integrate it with the interior lighting. MWA believes in spaces, not simply plans. This philosophy requires critical attention to ceilings, the often-overlooked "fifth wall." They are committed to structurally sound, watertight, and durable construction practices. They work closely with clients in selecting materials, textures, and colors, and consequently with builders on details and craft.

MWA is committed to designing buildings that incorporate resource efficiency, energy efficiency, and healthy environments. They have included the following strategies in their designs; Passive and active solar space heating, solar heating of domestic hot water, energy crafted building envelopes, high efficiency appliances, water saving devices, improved indoor air quality via healthy building materials, superior venting and ventilation systems, preservation and restoration of landscapes, and use of local resources.

At MWA, cutting edge technologies including 3D modeling and animated walk-throughs are employed in an effort to enhance the client's ability to visualize the building and make further informed decisions. These progressive technologies help MWA to more clearly develop projects, choose materials, and present projects to a wider audience.

Can you briefly explain what energy efficient and resource efficient architecture means?

Energy efficient architecture speaks directly to the energy uses within the building, while resource efficiency speaks to the larger level of materials and services that make up the building as a whole. We take a look at the origin of material production to determine that the entire life cycle is as sustainably harvested and produced as possible. This includes taking a look at the way various materials are extracted, produced, packaged, shipped and installed in the final product, your home.

There is still an additional step in this process, the removal / demolition of material. This aspect is equally important and many manufacturers are expanding their program to continue their services beyond the point of selling their product. There are many manufacturers that now re-enter the picture upon removal of a product. It is taken back to their factory to be recycled appropriately, this can mean reused and / or downcycled into a new product. The concept is to divert as many products from the landfill as possible. Unfortunately, statistics show that the building industry contributes a significant amount of waste to our landfills. So it is with great significance that we take appropriate measures to recycle and to discourage needless depletion of our natural resources.

Energy Efficiency also includes proper project design. Siting the project is a key factor to developing long term energy goals by incorporating passive solar design. Improving the design of buildings to reduce the demand of energy is essential in trying to achieve net-zero energy requirements for new projects. Policies are available to allow for selling energy back to the grid. Energy efficient features include the following:

- Solar: Provide support for photovoltaic panels, orientation of roof is important.
- Energy Efficient Building Envelope: Increased insulation in walls, ceilings and floors. High quality windows, mini split heat pumps and heat recovery ventilators.
- PVC-Free: Eliminate PVC material as much as possible to increase the indoor air quality by specifying low VOC materials.
- Energy Efficient Appliances: High quality energy efficient refrigerators, induction cook ranges.
- Low Flow Fixtures: Water conserving design for fixtures, dishwashers and washing machines. Encourage grey water systems.
- Garden Programs Encouraged: Edible gardens and community gardens incorporate community and sustainability.
- Bicycle Share Program: Develop alternative means of getting away from driving the car.
- Encourage walkable communities by providing ability to commute with alternative vehicles.
- Encourage mixed use in commercial projects.

Resource efficiency also means simply being efficient with your materials. Rather than cutting from the center of your material and putting the rest in the recycle bin, attempting to configure dimensions that will maximize the use of your material when cutting custom lengths is resource efficient. Resource Efficiency Benefits include:

- Political - Local agencies need to focus on contracting with local resources and quit sending work to companies outside the area. Investing in its community reduces costs and improves the viability of its citizens.
- Reducing material and energy consumption boosts competitiveness.
- Reduce, recycle, repurpose and reuse of materials and existing properties. - Specify local materials to reduce transportation costs.
- Incorporate edible landscape into projects.
- Incorporate Low Impact Design principles to address storm water management, groundwater recharge and reduced water dependent planting.
- Locally sourced renewable materials, maximum distance 100 miles.

Why should clients consider sustainable architecture or green building design over "standard" residential design?

There are many benefits to residing in a sustainable environment. The primary benefits being the health and well-being of it's occupants (as well as those constructing it), a reduced carbon footprint, and future cost savings! The gap between sustainable/green design and standard residential design has been significantly reduced due to the new California Green Building Codes that have been recently adopted.

What are some of the most frequently used energy and resource-efficient features used in Southern California house design?

Sustainability can be incorporated into any location, but living in California lends itself nicely to incorporating many core principles of sustainability. I like to use the acronym DOIVM, this stands for Day lighting, Orientation, Insulation, Ventilation and Mass.

Day lighting reduces reliance on other means of lighting, therefore aiding in the reduction of energy usage. Studies show that natural day lighting contributes to a higher comfort level for the users and even provides positive results on employee and student productivity.

Orientation plays a big part in how the building functions with day lighting and passive solar heating and cooling. In Southern California we like to orient the building with the main living / entertaining spaces on the south side of the building where we can capture the most efficient daylight. This southern orientation allows us to size the southern glass to capture as much solar heat in the winter without over heating in the summer. Shade trees and other vegetation, roof overhangs, and awnings are also designed to assist this process and blocking the summer sun.

Insulation is an inexpensive method of reducing energy. Heat has a natural inclination to migrate to anywhere there is a cooler temperature. Therefore in winter, heat wants out - out of heated living areas into the colder walls, basements, and if it can get there, outside. In the summer it wants in, sneaking through walls, cracks, and holes into the cooler air in or under a building. Therefore, the purpose of insulation is to provide resistance to the flow of heat which should, ideally, increase the efficiency of our heating and air conditioning systems and end the drafts and uneven temperatures that are a by-product of heat flow.

Ventilating the home with the use of operable windows to capture the breezes, will re-circulate fresh air and push out old stale air. Window placement can be designed to maximize both cross and stacked ventilation, reducing the demand for mechanical ventilation.

Mass: Choosing materials based on their mass can aid both the passive solar design as well as the buildings acoustics. Materials with a high mass have the potential to store solar heat. This is used in the winter to keep the home warm, it is also used to cool the home in the summer.

What newer sustainable architecture trends do you think homeowners should know about?

Passive solar is the least expensive, most efficient principle that can have large effects on your savings.
Rainwater harvesting
Greywater use for landscaping. Pervious materials to allow for groundwater recharge. Bioswales and detention, disconnecting downspouts, reduce stormwater impacts and recharge basins.
Portable Farms, integrating greenhouse and aquaponic technologies to feed a household or community.
Ductless Heat Pumps.
Build smaller homes, allow for guest homes and encourage mother-in-law quarters to encourage family.
Recycle, Repurpose and Reduce.
Automated lighting controls, occupancy sensors, LED technologies.
Cool roof technologies incorporating a minimum solar reflective index of 75% reflectivity.
Moving closer to work, public transportation, and walkable communities.

How do the building costs and long-term costs usually factor into sustainable design choices?

Over the years, as sustainable materials become more commonly implemented (with green no longer on the fringe) in the building industry, the increase in demand eventually finds economic equilibrium. Costs seem to be nearing standard material prices whereas they used to be specialty items with a high price point. Items that continue to have a slightly higher upfront cost, when compared to their standard counterparts, usually even out in the end. As life cycle is a core principle in sustainable materials, the concept of continued maintenance is incorporated into the total sustainable value. These products generally require less maintenance and last longer, saving the end user the cost of ongoing maintenance and replacement.

Do you have any advice for people in Southern California who want to build a new home?

There are a number of strategies that help, and none of them on their own, are very complicated or expensive. Get all the players involved early in the process. Treat the building as a system and use a holistic approach. This allows each specialty to assist in the general planning phases which set the building up for maximized benefits from conception on. Orienting the building appropriately in the beginning has little effect on cost. However, taking a completed design and turning that floor plan on the site will likely require a complete redesign in order to incorporate these basic core principles. Let the players know you are highly interested in a sustainable home. Your design team can assist you in making decisions along the way; this includes weighing the long and short-term costs and their associated pros and cons.

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