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  • Writer's pictureTim Rhodes, RA., AIA

Top Architectural Considerations When Designing a Sustainable Home

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

Deciding to design your home from the ground up can be an exciting process. It can also be frustrating.

Chances are you’ve been dreaming for a while. You’ve searched through hundreds of floor plans. You’ve accumulated a stack of magazines several inches high. Your pinboard on Pinterest has taken on a life of its own. The local home improvement stores know you by name.

And yet, here you are, still unsure of what direction to go. You know you want something different. Something contemporary. Something that stands out from the crowd.

And while the architectural design is important, you also want sustainability. If this is your forever home, you want it to be as natural and efficient as possible.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Nope. As an in-demand Seattle architecture firm, we hear stories similar to yours every day. And what’s more important, we have the solution.

Do a little searching online and you’ll find today’s home buyers are looking for what you’d most expect: a gourmet kitchen, separate laundry room, and energy efficiencies.

We know you want more.

Less is More

You know those mega-mansions popping up all over town? Do you wonder what the owners are thinking? Who needs all that space when you only have a small family? Even with three or four kids, isn’t a jumbo house overkill?

As a Seattle architecture firm, we believe that less is more. We believe efficient, thoughtful design takes priority over massive amounts of space. We believe maximizing quality and appropriate space takes precedence over building a larger floor plan. After all, a lot goes into creating a colossal giant, and that means a larger footprint on planet earth. Sustainability begins with the size of your house.

A smaller building size means:

  1. Less materials used

  2. Less labor to construct

  3. Less waste of materials

  4. Less energy to heat and cool

  5. Less cleaning

Exterior Northwest Modern Residence Kirkland Seattle Washington

Focus on Low Maintenance Materials

When you head out to the typical American suburb, what’s the one thing you’ll see driving down almost every street? Renovation. Remodeling. Ripping things down and replacing what’s there.

That seems to be an accepted practice with home ownership. We assume everything has a useful life of only a few years, and we put home maintenance on our to-do lists just a few years after we move into a new home.

It’s not that renovation is a necessary evil with home ownership. It’s that it has become an acceptable practice. One that we’d like to help you change.

What if you used materials that require little or no reapplication or renovation in the future? What if everything in your home maximized maintenance-free living and offered you low maintenance materials and finishes throughout your design? We see to address maintenance with every material and finish we select for our designs. Your siding, roofing, windows, doors, and finishes can provide you with aesthetically pleasing results, while giving you joy for years, even decades, before you have to stop and consider upgrading due to wear and tear.

Doors and Windows

Want to know a secret? Your doors and windows are the largest areas of heat transfer in your house. For this reason, it pays to install the highest quality doors and windows possible to insulate your home and keep conditioned air where it belongs—in your home.

Wherever there is glass—doors, windows, skylights—there is heat gain and loss. Heat is lost through the glass itself or through the glazing, the frame, and or the structure of the build. Air leaks occur. The sun’s damaging rays (ultraviolet light) seeps in through the glass and affect the life and color of the things inside your home, like your furniture, drapery, flooring, and walls.

When we select doors and windows in our designs, we know to look at factors including U-value to reduce heat transfer at these openings. A U-factor is the rate at which heat transfer occurs. The lower the U-value, the more energy efficient the performance of the window or door. And that adds up to a more efficient operating home for you and your family. Your Architect will know other factors affecting the performance of doors and windows like shading coefficient factors, air infiltration, and solar heat gain.

Home Placement

Have you ever lived in a “track house” and wished your home was turned to capture the winter light or views? That’s the problem with subdivisions; everything is built to fit the order of the standard house plan and the community plan, with little consideration for the joy and efficiency possible in an individual home.

As a Seattle architecture firm, we put the focus back where it belongs: on you and your home.

Why put a large window in your living room if you cover it up trying to avoid the heat of the summer? Why build a house only to have the main living space face away from the best possible view? What solutions can allow you to place large windows toward a water view when that direction also faces the brutal western sun?

Before we start a design, we look at your land from the ground up. We lay out a floor plan according to what makes most sense for your lot. We maximize passive solar gain in the winter; something that’s important here in the Pacific Northwest. And when we do get the glaring sun a few months in the summer, we counter it with well-designed solutions like sun shading, roof overhangs, and proper landscape placement.


The Seattle climate doesn’t change much throughout the year. The average low for the year comes in December or January and usually bottoms out around 37 degrees. In the summer months, we rarely move above the 80-degree mark; a 90-degree day is rare indeed.

If a home is built correctly, you can orient a building to promote natural ventilation. That means using less heat in the winter months and reducing air conditioning in the summer.

When a home is being constructed there are a lot of ways a builder can ensure a home maximizes natural ventilation, but this is established during the planning phase with an Architect. Using ceiling fans can control how heat is dispersed throughout the home. Increasing the floor, wall, and roof insulation values is an easy (less expensive) way to stop heat transfer from from inside to outside. Careful detailing of your home and an having a trained advocate during construction will make your house better built, lowering air infiltration, and increasing efficiency.

These considerations affect you for decades, insuring more heating and cooling efficiency, and lowering your utility bills for years to come!

Smart Technology

The definition of sustainability is the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.

Today’s technology is helping us accomplish this in many ways.

How about using a solar water heater? A sun-facing collector heats water by converting sunlight into energy using a solar thermal collector.

How about adding in a photovoltaic electricity generator? Photovoltaic cells convert the energy from sunlight into electricity and store it for your home’s use.

Or how about using rainwater for some of your home’s needs? With the amount of rain we see each year, why not use some of that for non-potable uses, like for your home’s irrigation system, or for use in toilet flushing?

There are many ways to use today’s top technological advances in ways that are both sustainable and beautiful; we can show you how!

What Does Your Dream Home Look Like?

What design features can you simply not do without?

If sustainability and aesthetics aren’t optional but required to you, why not see what we can create together?

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