IDR (Integrated Design for Renewables)


 As designers and implementers of designn, we know that integrated design theoretically makes sense.  However, when it comes to installing renewable energy systems, it is more and more critical that we actually put theory into action.  So I’d like to go through a couple of real world examples of what can happen (or not happen) when we don’t work together as a team from the outset of a project.

 As a LEED for Homes representative, GreenPoint rater and HERS rater, I have the opportunity to work with a project from the outset of design through construction.  Of course, we know that things change along the way from design to during construction and how well a project gets coordinated has become a bigger “hat” than one person can wear.  As someone who is intimately familiar with rebate programs and incentives for Solar Electric systems and energy efficiency, part of my role is to verify the performance of the Photovoltaic system AND the energy efficiency of the home.  This is a requirement for the New Solar Homes Partnership rebate progra..


What I’d like to run through is a situation where the homeowner decided near the end of construction to put a Solar electric system on his house (rather than at the beginning) and beacuse the Solar company and the General Contractor were not “used to working with each other” this caused a lot of headaches for all the parties involved.  To qualify for the New Solar Homes Partnership rebate, the house must exceed energy code requirements by 15% or better.  Sometimes this is relatively easy to do by upgrading mechanical equipment or windows but more and more, we will need to add performance based testing credits such as duct testing for duct leakage or quality insulation inspection to meet this higher threshold especially when the 2008 energy code goes into effect August 1st.


In our example house, when the permits werer applied for, it just barely exceeded the energy compliance margin needed for a permit.  This has been a very typical approach when applying for a building permit.  But most Green building and rebate programs require a home  to exceed the energy code by 15% or better.  So for our example house, a number of options were run by the general contractor and solar contractor to get the house to the 15% threshold.  This is where a more experienced energy consultant who better understands energy options with their associated costs and acutal efficiency is necessary.  They must also be a Certified Energy Plans Examiner to qualify for the New Solar Homes Partnership program.


Because of the size of the home, this house had two forced air units.  The mechanical contractor said one of the furnaces could be upgraded to a 92% AFUE but not both because the venting of one of the units would be complicated.  The homeowner was also told he could save some money going from an on-demand water heater to a more standard 50 gal. storage type water heater to save on first costs.  The insulation was already installed as were the windows so no changes could by made there.  Because both furnaces could not be upgraded to a 92% and the water heater was “down graded,” a duct test for duct leakage was needed to make up for the change.  This information was run by the mechanical contractor who felt confident that his duct system would pass the test but also admitted that he had never had any of his systems tested before.  So when it came time to test the duct system, it didn’t end up passing.  By that time, the water heater and furnaces were installed, thus making a change back to the on-demand water heater expensive.  Now, we have a mechanical contractor who is a bit embarrassed but says to the general contractor that he was not requested to bid the job to pass a “tight duct” test.  So the general contractor asks him to put together a bid for the additional work to seal the system which then the homeowner odjects to because he doesn’t understand why the system isn’t passing and doesn’t see why he should have to pay more to “fix” a new system.  As you can begin  to see, things start to get ugly with no one wanting to take responsibility and the homeowner getting more confused and frustrated with the whole process.


So now let’s look at a project where you have the architect, homeowner, general contractor, solar contractor, energy consultant and HERS rater involved during the design of the home.  First, the homeowner knows he or she is interested in building as close to a zero energy home as possible but doesn’t really know what that will mean in terms of construction costs, equipment and space considerations.  So the architect works with the energy consultant to explore different mechanical systems that could work with a solar electric system and exceed the code by 15%.  We explore a radiant system using a heatpump to water exchange system, a fan coil system and a more standard ducted system using a heatpump system.  All this information is passed by the general contractor who also runs this by his mechanical sub-contractor for cost and ease of installation.  The ducted split heatpump system is agreed upon by the owner, since they decide they want both heating and air conditioning.  The General Contractor brings in the Solar contractor to get an idea of system size and cost as well as where to locate panels and quipment and passes this information to the architect.  Because the house is designed with energy efficiency in mind, it exceeds the energy code by 36% which qualifies it for a $2000 energy efficiency rebate (Tier 2) form PG&E.  It also passes the IECC code by 50%, which qualifies it for another $2000 Federal Tax Credit.  This is in addition to the NSHP rebate for the solar system plus the 30% Federal tax credit on the remaining balance of the system.  So not only does the homeowner get these additional incentives, they are actually designing a home to be more energy efficient in the first place which is a mindset we all need to adopt.


As the architect or designer working with a homeowner, here are some guidelines to better integrate renewable energy into your project:

  1. Assess the homeowner’s level of interest in going “green.”  Do they drive a Prius?  Or if they know about potential rebates and incentives, would that interest them in Solar?  Let them know that there are potential rebates and tax credits available to them and that they should consider these options early in the design process.  As the designer, you also need to design in a portion of the roof area to accomodate solar panels as well as the weight of the panels.
  2. If you can get the input of a general contractor who has experience with green building and energy efficiency as well as a solar contractor during the design process, this will insure the successful integration of your design with renewable energy.  This may also elp the homeowner decide who they want to work with when they get under construction.
  3. Work with your energy consultant as early in the design process as possible.  All Green building and Utility rebate programs require energy efficiency as a top priority.  Give your consultant the most realistic options that will ensure your design will be as energy efficient as possible.


Sharon Block is a LEED AP who specializes in LEED for Homes, Green Point rated for New and Existing homes, as well as California Multi-family New Homes Program.  You can reach her at or





Alluring Energy Efficient Lighting


My kitchen uses LED retrofit kits by Progress Lighting that are also fitted with Asian inspired trims by Juno Lighting to add little dazzle at the ceiling line.
My kitchen uses LED retrofit kits by Progress Lighting that are also fitted with Asian inspired trims by Juno Lighting to add little dazzle at the ceiling line.


The Green, Green Lights of Home 

I am a lighting designer, who specializes in residential interior and exterior projects; working with kitchen & bath designers, architects, interior designers, and homeowners to help make their projects come to life at night. Down the street from our office is my home which gets used as a light lab to show off the latest techniques and products to prospective clients. Since I promote energy efficient lighting to others it only seemed right to put into practice what I was preaching in my own home.

People have an inherent fear of fluorescents and little knowledge of LEDs (light emitting diodes) or CCFLs (cold cathode fluorescent lamps). Allowing them to experience these sources in an actual installation helps them see that energy efficient light can also be alluring…even downright sexy.

You may not know that LEDs have been around since the 1960’s but were essentially used as brightly colored indicator lights. Around three years ago, manufacturers came up with an LED source with the warm qualities of incandescent light. These newly developed LEDs use considerably less electricity than standard incandescent sources. Many are available in dimmable versions and some fixtures on the market can meet California’s strict Title 24 energy code, which dictates that 50% of the wattage in kitchens must be hard-wired.  Energy efficient lighting LEDs can last to 30-50,000 hours, while emitting no ultra-violet radiation; plus they contain no trace amounts of mercury like fluorescents. Companies like Cree Lighting ( offer both screw-in and hard-wire LED kits as retrofits for existing housings; as well as IC rated, airtight housings for new construction.

Top-of-the-line screw-in type CFLs and CCFLs, by manufacturers like Maxlite ( and Litetronics ( offer a dimmable light source that can be controlled by a standard incandescent dimmer. The GU-24 lamps do meet Title 24 requirements. Lighting manufacturers are now offering decorative fixtures in modern and traditional styles that have hard-wired fluorescent sources; many of which are using the new GU-24 socket and CFL technology that is no bigger than a standard household bulb and socket assembly.

Some of the lighting companies to take a look at for good-looking fluorescent fixtures would be Hans Duus Lighting (, Kalco (, JH Lighting (, Metro Lighting ( Eleek Inc, (, Schmitt Design ( and The Basic Source ( Many of your favorite companies may now offer the fixtures you already love in fluorescent versions, so give them a call or talk to their rep about what they have available.

LED versions of low voltage MR16 lamps like those made by Color Kinetics ( are able to beautifully highlight paintings or sculpture without any harmful UV light hitting the art. Even those energy eating xenon festoon lamps in the under-cabinet task lights and shelf light come in LED versions; those offered by companies such as Phantom Lighting ( are dimmable. Another option for under-cabinet task lights would be a series of LED puck lights such as those offered by Lucifer Lighting ( or fluorescent puck lights such as those offered by Tresco International (

We incorporate light layering into all our lighting designs, blending decorative, task, accent…and most importantly ambient light.  Ambient light (indirect lighting) softens the shadows on people’s faces which helps them look more relaxed and youthful…like architectural Botox.

My recommendation when specifying a luminaire with an energy efficient light source is to choose decorative fixtures with shades or recessed fixtures with translucent lenses that hide the CFL. I like to call it stealth green lighting design. If people see a bulb that looks like a softy ice cream they automatically hate it. They just can’t get over their fear of fluorescents. If the lamp is out of sight…then it is out of mind. And yes, Kermit, it can be easy being green.

Here are a few images of my recent projects showing earth friendly lighting at its most alluring-


This inviting kitchen, designed by Maria Bell and installed by Mueller/Nicholls, uses only fluorescent and LED sources...except for the candles.
This inviting kitchen, designed by Maria Bell and installed by Mueller/Nicholls, uses only fluorescent and LED sources…except for the candles.


A detail shot of this same kitchen shows off the lighting inside the cabinets and above the countertops which are LEDs. Even the flowers are accented with an LED source.
A detail shot of this same kitchen shows off the lighting inside the cabinets and above the countertops which are LEDs. Even the flowers are accented with an LED source.


This sleek power room designed by architectural designer, Conrad Sanchez, and interior designer, Nicki West, has a cast glass counter top which is back-lit with a linear LED strip. The two luminous squares that are flanking the sink use dimmable fluorescents as their light source. A vintage photograph (seen in the reflection of the mirror) is illuminated with Lucifer Lighting's new square adjustable low voltage ZF series.
This sleek power room designed by architectural designer, Conrad Sanchez, and interior designer, Nicki West, has a cast glass counter top which is back-lit with a linear LED strip. The two luminous squares that are flanking the sink use dimmable fluorescents as their light source. A vintage photograph (seen in the reflection of the mirror) is illuminated with Lucifer Lighting’s new square adjustable low voltage ZF series.


To get more tips on lighting or to learn more about our services go to

Randall Whitehead IALD  is an internationally known architectural lighting designer, based in San Francisco. He is not only a prolific author, but an enlightening and humorous speaker on the world of design as well. His work has appeared in Architectural Digest, Art & Antiques, House Beautiful, Kiplinger’s, Horticulture Magazine, Designs for Living, Metropolitan Home, Better Homes & Gardens, The Journal of Light Construction and many more.

Randall appears regularly as a guest expert on the Discovery Channel, CNN, HGTV and Martha Stewart Living Radio. He also writes a monthly column called “The Last Word in Lighting” for Residential Lighting Magazine, answering homeowner’s and designer’s questions on lighting.

Randall has written 7 books on the subject, including Residential Lighting, A Guide to Beautiful and Sustainable Design which is an informative…and entertaining reference book for home and garden lighting.

His latest endeavor takes him back to his photography roots. It is a compelling collection of images called Lost Dolls, The Hidden Lives of Toys.

Green In a Tough Economy


1. The weak economy will greatly reduce new construction starts in the short-term, but coming out of the recession there will be enormous pent-up demand for new green product.

2. A significant number of green projects are still in the pipeline (under construction), and USGBC reports a large backlog of completed green buildings awaiting certification. This means that the supply of new green buildings will continue to grow through the recession.

3. Green buildings are relatively limited in comparison to the demand for high-performance green buildings. When demand exceeds supply, this means that green buildings will continue to capture premiums in the market, even in a down economy.

4. The current recession will slow, but not fundamentally alter, the shift to green building in all sectors of the market.

5. The economic stimulus package includes billions of dollars for green retrofits (either grants or tax credits). This will spur green renovations in the near term. It is likely that these programs will continue after the economy improves.

6. State and local government mandates and incentives will further prop up the market for green renovations.

Edward McMahon is a Senior resident fellow for sustainable development at the Urban Land Institute.

Living Machines’ Water Management

Banquet Hall Exterior overlooks the Meadow.  (Photo by Jeff Caven)
Banquet Hall Exterior overlooks the Meadow. (Photo by Jeff Caven)

 Proudly located in Taos, New Mexico, El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and SpaTM is renowned for its hospitality, as well as for its commitments to ecological preservation and sustainability. In 2003, the resort was designed with 36 suites and guest casitas.  In 2008, Living Designs Group completed a second phase of expansion for El Monte that included an additional 48 hotel units, banquet center and spa addition.  The expanded facilities reorient the resort around an open meadow expressing the geothermal well-field below. Having left their cars behind, guests are free to explore the texture-rich adobe architecture, the flora, fauna, and fish-filled streams and experience the nurturing effects of the resort upon arrival.

El Monte Sagrado demonstrates the philosophy of utilizing ecosystems as infrastructure, or rather, eco-structure. The BiolariumTM and The Living Machine® System it houses incorporate recycled water, reclaimed organic matter, sun, plants, fish and rock formation into an eco-system that self-sustains, self-evolves, exhibits itself to guests and beautifies the resort.  Utilizing these systems, El Monte is able to sustain a lush and fertile environment year-round, even at 7,000 ft above sea level. To achieve this, the following water management systems are employed:

Stormwater Reclamation | On-site storm water is collected through an extensive system of roof gutters and an underground drainage network. Coarse gravel filters remove sediment before pipes beneath resort pathways carry water to a lift station that keeps pace with peak rain events. Collected water offsets evaporative losses in a series of four cascading trout ponds and small waterfalls that utilize physical and biological filtration. Additional rainwater is circulated in the historic acequia to support traditional agricultural practices downstream. Phase 2 contributed an additional 40,000 gallons of water storage beneath the parking lot.

Wastewater Reclamation | Water Reclamation at El Monte is accomplished via a Living Machine® System designed to reclaim 5,000 gallons of water/day. Wastewater from El Monte’s kitchens and bathrooms is channeled to a series of collection and equalization tanks where organisms decompose the pollutants in the water. The water then passes through natural filters in constructed wetlands and finally into the BiolariumTM pond and waterfall. The Living Machine® System is monitored and controlled by dedicated computers and software that maximize treatment performance.

Ground Loop Heat Exchange | Rather than burning fossil fuels to heat and cool interior resort spaces, 100 wells circulate water 250 feet below the meadow, exchanging heat energy with that of the groundwater. Thus, the ground becomes a heat sink in summer and a heat source in the winter.  This process dramatically reduces the energy required to regulate temperatures within the resort and the electricity required to circulate the water is offset by wind power credits acquired through the local energy provider.

The design and engineering feats achieved through this project have generated a plethora of positive attention.  El Monte has received numerous awards, high rankings and continues to exceed guest standards.  Living Designs Group has been deemed a design leader in the resort community for architecture, planning and state-of-the-art sustainable systems.

Restaurant interior.  (Photo by Jeff Caven)

Restaurant interior. (Photo by Jeff Caven)

Resort Entry.  (Photo by Jeff Caven)

Resort Entry. (Photo by Jeff Caven)

Outdoor pond retains site water.

Outdoor pond retains site water.

Final water filtration fall inside the Biolarium™ before water is stored for irrigation.

Final water filtration fall inside the Biolarium™ before water is stored for irrigation.Living Machine® filtration pond inside the Biolarium™

Guided by president Douglas Patterson, AIA, LEED-AP, Living Designs Group specializes in sustainable architecture for the Southwest. Widely recognized for sustainable resort-hotel architecture, LDG’s portfolio also includes educational, residential, commercial and large-scale planning developments.

About Masonry Heaters


Masonry heaters have been used in the colder parts of Europe for over two hundred years. Interest is generating in the United States because they are GREEN. The concept has been gaining popularity over the past 20 years. A standard fireplace needs to be fed continually to keep heating the home.  Not so with a masonry heater.  You load the fire once, heat is stored in the thermal mass and it provides heat for 18 to 24 hours. That helps to save our forests. Wood burned quickly is a clean fuel. Emissions are about the same as a pellet stove. There is a warm comfortable heat, but never hot to the touch.  So children and animals will not be at risk, as they can be with a wood-burning metal stove.

After burning our Tulikivi (Finnish soap stone masonry heater) in the evening, we wake up to a warm comfortable home.  There is no need to turn on the heat.  This is very energy efficient and cuts down the demand on energy. Living in the Monterey Bay area we only use our Tulikivi seasonally.  In a colder climate a masonry heater would be burned in the morning and in the evening.

The Masonry Heater Association of North America ( publishes a plans section with different heaters, which have been tested. Envirotech, Temp Cast and others make masonry heater cores, which can be faced with the material of your choice. Temp-Cast masonry heaters are installed in accordance with local and national building codes as site-built fireplaces. Temp-Cast heaters have been accepted as clean-burning heaters by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. However, due to localized emissions problems, some state and local governments require additional testing to ensure that solid-fuel appliances comply with their particular regulations for clean burning. Information is available on building code issues, and contact information for products, resources and certified masonry heater builders.  You can view my portfolio on this web site.

Sotero Masonry has been operating in the Monterey Bay area for over 30 years. Ben Sotero became aware of masonry heaters through his travels in the colder portions of Europe. He was trained at the Tulikivi factory in Finland. He became a member of the Masonry Heater Association of North America and is the only certified masonry heater builder in California at this time.


Challenges and Opportunities

Editorial Director of Green Architecture Notes , Principal of Feldman Architecture


Launching Thoughts & Happy Earth Day

As an architect who is often on the lookout for information about sustainable design strategies, materials and products, I have been frustrated  at how hard it is to find people who have experience they are willing to share. It’s not that people are so protective of what they have learned, quite the contrary. When I have stumbled across somebody who has wrestled with the problem that I am seeking to solve, she is normally quite happy to  share the lessons she has painfully learned. But finding these guiding lights takes a lot of work and considerable luck.

Green Architecture Notes sprung from a modest idea: that the explosion of online communities, discussion groups and blogs has placed at our feet some powerful new opportunities for exchange. We are seeking to create a place to post new discoveries when we find them and to ask for guidance of  others when we are coming up empty. And because of all the new interest in the green building world, it’s also a place to verify, challenge and debate the claims of new products and strategies.

We have started by asking the architects, engineers, builders and consultants who we know to share  key things they’ve learned about green design and to pose challenging questions. We invite others to jump in and join the discussion.

Green Architecture Notes comes, we think, at an appropriate, if difficult, time. As projects get scaled back, put on hold or outright cancelled, we are forced to cut expenses and find new sources of work. With these challenges come some unique opportunities.

We suddenly have more time to establish better ways of working, research products and materials, improve our workflow and project delivery strategies, and tighten or reinvent our detailing. We also can tap into the expertise other professionals who might previously have been too busy to help us work on these important areas. The excesses of recent times have caused many to question the wasteful and unsustainable ways of our construction industry and to replace them with more thoughtful and restrained efforts. It’s clear that the new economy is pushing sustainable design to the center of the profession architecture. Our hope is that Green Architecture Notes will facilitate better and more efficient green design by connecting professionals and helping practitioners avoid repeating costly mistakes.

Here are some images from recent and current Feldman Architecture projects showing green design components. I look forward to exploring these and other topics in the near future.

Approach to house

Approach to house

Living Roof

Living roof

Photovoltaic Integrated Solar Skylights

Photovoltaic integrated solar skylights

Photovoltaic Integrated Solar Skylights

Photovoltaic integrated solar skylights

Rammed Earth Walls and Concrete Floor Providing Thermal Mass for Passive Heating and Cooling

Rammed earth walls and concrete floor provide thermal mass for passive heating and cooling

Rammed Earth Site Wall

Rammed earth site wall

Thin Film Solar Mounted on Metal Roof

Thin film solar mounted on metal roof

House on site

House on site

Jonathan Feldman practices architecture out of a small, award-winning, design studio in San Francisco where he focuses on residential and modest-scale commercial projects. Recognized for creating warm, light-filled spaces that are site sensitive and carefully detailed, Feldman Architecture is committed to incorporating sustainable technologies and minimizing environmental impact.

Feldman Architecture projects have been recognized with a number of prominent green design awards, including the San Francisco American Institute of Architect’s  Honor Award for Energy and Sustainability, the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ award of excellence, California Home + Design’s Eco-Friendly Design Award, and have been featured on green and solar home tours. Feldman Architecture currently has its first two projects with the USGBC LEED for Homes program and both are on their way to platinum certifications, it’s highest rating. More about Feldman Architecture can be found here.