Green Focus: Sustainable Residential...

Any architectural style or design can be green. As an architectural photographer, I am constantly inspired by my client’s applications of sustainable design concepts and materials that come together to create spaces of great beauty and comfort. Many of these projects incorporate beautiful natural lighting that does not always translate photographically without supplemental light. My goal is to represent a space that emphasizes the natural state of these projects while employing enough additional light so that no design elements are lost in translation from how it is experienced in person to its representation in the photograph.

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Johnson Residence

Architect: Tri-Tech Design, Russell Johnson

Resilient to most elements and natural disasters that can threaten a building, Russell Johnson designed his home to last for over 150 years, at which point the building can then be disassembled and recycled. This home also utilizes solar power, thermal mass to help reduce its impact on the environment.

Frame Hoskins Residence

Architect: Leger Wanaselja Architects

Contractor: Rick Anstey

Situated in Marin County the remodel of this 1940’s home included a variety of energy efficiency upgrades including a native roof garden, photovoltaic panels, salvaged and FSC wood with low and non-toxic finishes, durable stone finishes, and bamboo cabinets.

Corte Madera Remodel

Architect: Michael Heacock + Associates

Contractor: Creative Spaces

Michael Heacock designed this remodel to minimize site impact, maximize the existing footprint, recycle all possible materials from the existing building and employ a variety of additional green materials and systems.

Emily Hagopian began her career with a thesis exploring the many innovative materials and applications of green design. Over the past 7 years, she has made it a priority to document the work of design firms, organizations and agencies that are focused on sustainability.

Making the Call: The Initial Conversation with an Architect...

After months of downloading images to a Idea Book or clipping articles from residential design magazines, you’ve just purchased a spectacular piece of land or an older home and are eager to start your design and construction project.  Exciting!  But where to begin?  When do you start talking to an architect? What can you expect when making that first call?

We share the enthusiasm of our clients as they begin their project, and we often spend the first couple of meetings getting to know you, the site, the program, and finally your schedule and budget.  There is a list of questions we’ll ask before moving onto the exciting task of designing.

During an initial conversation with a client, we’ll be curious about the site and what you hope to accomplish with a new building or a renovation.

– One of the first and most important aspects to this initial interview is the fit. We’ll ask you questions getting to know how you live, what inspires you, and what type of project you’re seeking.
– We’ll then follow up with questions about the location of your site. Where is it and what governing agencies will need to review the design of the project?
– What size home are you seeking?  What do you have now and how much more space (or less) would you like in the future?
– Additions/improvements you’d like to make over what you have now or houses where you’ve lived in the past.
– Where are you in the process?  Have you spoken to geo-technical engineers (particularly if it is steep or waterfront property), civil engineers, or others?  If the answer is “no” to all these questions, don’t worry. We’ll be happy to guide you through this process.
– Why our firm?  Are there particular projects we’ve completed that you are familiar with and that resonate with you?
– Thoughts for sustainable design?
– Budget for construction?  Have you spoken with general contractors and do you have an idea of budget?  Again, if the answer is “no,” that’s fine.
– Schedule – do you need to move in by a particular date?
– Any other considerations that you may have.  It is helpful to know if you have completed a design/construction project in the past and what worked or didn’t work with this project.

From The Library of Virginia.Know that it’s never too early to call or email an architect.  We can offer services and insights even prior to the purchase of a home or property.

After that initial phone call allowing us to better understand your project, we will typically meet on-site so we can begin to understand the site, views, light, and the potential of the property and so that you can begin to get a feel for our personality.

Next steps?  We will typically draw up a proposal for services, send for your review and be available to discuss the scope of work and fees.  You can feel free to ask to meet the Project Manager/Project Architect who will likely be assigned to your project and be your day-to-day contact.  Once a contract is signed, we will set up a kick off meeting for the project and delve into the project full speed ahead! – Hannah

Papering the New Year...

Wallpaper is an easy way to change the personality of a space. With so many amazing companies, and all sorts of different styles to choose from, the opportunities are endless. We’d like to share with you some of our favorite wallpapers: a few of our own projects, a couple from other great firms and a few staff picks.
wallpaper-1Feldman Architecture Projects:
Lucie’s Nursery – Wallpaper on the ceiling is a great way to add interest in a room. Hygge & West sells this great wallpaper designed by Julia Rothman. The buttercup yellow is subtle and elegant, while the birds and clouds add graphically intriguing figurative elements that aren’t over-the-top.

The Pierce St. Renovation & Fair Oaks Powder Rooms – Small spaces, like powder rooms, are a wonderful place to use large bold patterns. The Pierce St. Renovation makes a whimsical and modern statement with this black & white floral pattern designed byDesigners Guild; provided by Osborne and Little. In the Fair Oaks Powder Room, we also use a large bold pattern but for a completely different effect. Here, Power Plant designed Dan Funderburgh, is dramatic and playful with light bulbs growing in the vines.

Other Favorite Projects:
Envelope Architecture & Design ties the masculinity of taxidermy, the femininity of the chandelier, and Danish modern furniture pieces together with this geometric “Honeycomb” pattern by Tom Dixon.

Jessica Helgerson Interiors uses this “blackbird” wallpaper, designed by Kimberly Ayres, to create a nature-inspired, fun, graphic space that contrasts the stark black & white trees and birds, with bright green accents.

Staff Picks:
We leave you with a few favorites we haven’t had the pleasure of using yet.

5.5 Designers created this awesome collection of interactive wallpaper games. Both fun and ever-changing, the wall organically evolves over time, providing hours of entertainment. This is a great choice for a children’s playroom. Additional patterns include word search and tick-tack-toe.

Designed by Fern Living and inspired by Scandinavian nature, the “tree bomb” wallpaper pattern has unique modern touches and a fun graphic composition.

We are big fans of supporting innovative adaptive-reuse design. Lori Weitzner has designed a very cool wall covering using recycled newspapers. Woven on a hand loom with strips of newsprint, this wallpaper adds a fun striation and texture to the wall.

Additional Wall Candy:
If we’ve only grazed the surface of your wallpaper taste buds, you’ll love this link to Design Sponge’s Top 50 Wallpaper Sources post.

Enjoy! – Kristy, Bridgett and Lindsey

Tools of the Trade...

One of the joys of working in architecture and design is experimenting with material and color on both big and small scales.  While the computer is the primary tool for cranking out plans and sections, pens, pencils, and watercolors are found at every designer’s desk at Feldman Architecture.  While working on preliminary designs for a project, we find that pencils and pen are the quickest way to depict several options and convey them to the client.  When running to a job site, picking up a pen and sketchbook is required.  And in an office of 10, there are nearly 10 different boxes of pens and pencils to accommodate the designers’ preferences!  Here are a few of the staples found in Feldman’s office.  – Hannah

Tools-11. The Pentel Sign Pen and Prismacolor pencils used to sketch an option for one of Feldman’s kitchen remodels.
2. The Uni-Ball Vision Elite is available at any office supply store and was used to sketch the Cliff House from Sutro Baths.
3. Chartpak Ad Markers and Letrasets Tria markers are ubiquitous at any architecture or design firm and are typically used for rendering plans and elevations such as Feldman’s proposal for this renovation.

Tools-24. A Papermate Flair felt tip pen and a traveling set of MiniStaff pencils by the Eye Ball Pencil Co. are perfect for sketching on site.  This pencil set includes eraser and sharpener so you won’t forget as you run out the door.
5. When traveling, size and weight are always a concern.  Many designers travel with a small sketchbook (this one is just 4”x3”) and a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen for capturing great monuments such as Angkor Wat.
6. Another great travel item is the Van Gogh watercolor set which fits into your back pocket and includes a fantastic array of color.

Tools-37. Uni-Ball Deluxe Rollerball pens are also widely available and allow for quick massing studies like this one for a new home in Carmel.
8. If you can’t decide whether to carry watercolors or color pencils, there is no need to compromise with Cretacolor’s Aquarell watercolor pencils.  Just add the color pencil to your drawings and brush with water.
9. The ideal sketchbook stays closed in your bag to protect the ideas inside.  Three of our favorites are a traditional Venetian leather bound book with leather wrap, a Holbein sketchbook (available with many different paper types – here in grey), and the current trendy favorite Moleskine (available in many sizes, shapes and colors – here in red).

Green Can Be Beautiful...

I recently wanted to build a home. After spending over 30 years in the energy industry focusing on energy efficiency, energy R&D, environmental issues, and energy policy, I wanted this home to be energy efficient. My wife wanted our home to look very beautiful, and be “green”. A LEED home sounded nice.

We didn’t really know what we were getting into. There is a wide gap between theoretical analysis and practical implementation.

Main Entry to the House

We moved into our home last July and it actually works the way we intended. USGBC just awarded our home a LEED Platinum rating.

And we’re still happily married.

Since this is a sustainable building energy blog, I’ll keep my comments to the energy and design features, and spare you the more interesting details of the design/build process for a Northwest style home with Asian influences.

I did work at the California Energy Commission for 30 years in many different roles, so the energy part is both professional advocacy and personal passion. The home is in Bend, Oregon, where temperatures reach the high 90’s in summer and get below 0 in the winter. The home is larger than it should be for an environmentally conscious couple and tops 4000 square feet. However, our August energy bill was $39, and the home stayed below 72 degrees F. Our January energy bill was $138, and the home was warm and well lit.

Entry Elevation

Our neighbors’ homes have energy bills in the hundreds of dollars, and many have smaller homes. Some of our energy saving innovations cost less than traditional approaches, making most measures very cost effective. Some of these measures included:

– A building shell used 8″ thick staggered stud walls that are very tightly sealed. Our blower door test came in at 3.3 ACH at 50 Pascals, one half of the state standard.

– Insulation using a blown in blanket for R-38 walls and subfloor, with a blown R-49 ceiling.

– A closed loop ground source heat pump with a COP of 4.8 keeps the home comfortable.

– An 8’ overhang and an active exterior solar shade reduces 95% of the summer heat gain from the very large west facing windows needed to allow views of the Cascades. The same shade stays up in the winter days to allow solar gain, and comes down at night to further insulate the windows.

– Almost all lights are a combination of LED cans and CFLs.

– The roof is covered with both solar thermal panels for the hot water supply and a 2.25 kw solar PV system.

Bamboo, Spiral Staircase

We built a larger home so we could demonstrate a key message to architects and homeowners. If you are going to build a larger home, you have a responsibility to build a green home, and reduce your energy and environmental footprint. And you can do this while having a beautiful home.

Oh, did I mention that we were on the Central Oregon Builders Association Tour of Homes, and won not only the green home award for our class, but Best of Show, Best Architectural Design, Best Interior Finish, and Best Master Suite? It is a challenge, but you can build a beautiful home that is energy efficient and sustainable.

If you read blogs on this website, you already know the value of energy efficiency and green building, and probably have excellent examples of your own to offer. Our goal is to help other professionals in the building industry to not only understand this, but for them to convince their clients as well.

Green can be beautiful. Pass it on.

David Maul is currently President of Maul Energy Advisors. He has spent 35 years in the energy field, including 30 years at the California Energy Commission, working on energy and environmental issues. The scope of his experience includes managerial, policy, and technical responsibilities covering energy efficiency, power plant licensing, energy R&D, transportation energy, natural gas planning, and energy forecasting. He can be reached at


Designing for Change...

Grant Street house
Grant Street house

Most buildings leak air, and therefore heat, through cracks in their building envelope.  We get cold in our leaky buildings and turn up our heaters to keep warm.  The heat continues to leak out, and we continue to turn up our heaters, and on and on the cycle goes.  In the end, we may as well be burning our money to keep warm.  Our building systems clearly aren’t working as well as they should for us or for the environment, which begs the question: Why aren’t we doing more to change this trend? 

Actually, some of us are. Slowly but surely, people are building Passive Houses that use around 80% less energy, while keeping us warmer and more comfortable than drafty, conventional homes do. But even this is not enough.
It is critical that Architects, designers and builders begin applying the Passive House Standard during the design stages of their projects. Just as engineers must predict how buildings will survive earthquakes, designers should be using energy modeling tools to predict the energy consumption of buildings before they are ever built.
One of the most valuable tools to emerge from the Passive House Standard is an energy modeling tool called the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), which for years has accurately predicted the energy needs of hundreds of Passive Houses built in Europe.
It makes the most sense to design with Passive House concepts in mind in the design phase of a new building, when it is easiest to accomplish, however it is also possible to apply these concepts to existing homes if a major remodel is in the works. The key areas most important to achieving a Passive House are:
BUILDING ENVELOPE & AIR-TIGHTNESS: The strategy is to focus first on the building envelope so that it optimizes heat gains and minimizes heat losses. The insulation system should be continuous from the bottom of the foundation to the top of the envelope. A designated layer should be continuous from top to bottom in order to achieve air-tightness.
FRAMING: The framing system should conform to all the structural requirements and be designed using Advanced Framing Techniques that eliminate unnecessary wood members and replace them with insulation.
DOORS & WINDOWS: The specified performance of the doors and windows, and their installation methods, should be synchronized with the climate requirements, as well as the orientation and design of the building envelope in order to optimize heat gains and minimize losses.
VENTILATION: A ventilation system with a heat recovery component should be installed to circulate fresh air 24 hours a day, while transferring the heat from stale outgoing air to fresh incoming air. Free heat generated from lighting, computers, household appliances and people is recycled so we don’t have to blast our heaters to keep warm. 
heat exchanger graphic
heat exchanger graphic

After follwing these design and construction strategies, every building designed to the Passive House Standard is comfortable, sustainable, and requires far less energy to run than a conventional home.  Our Grant Street home in Berkeley, CA was the first residential retrofit project in the US with the goal of meeting Passive House Standards. 

Grant Street house AFTER

Grant Street house AFTER

Grant Street house BEFORE
Grant Street house BEFORE
Grant Street house front elevation close-up
front elevation close-up
Grant Street house front door
front door
Grant Street house back cantilever
back cantilever
Grant Street house cabinetry
Grant Street house cabinetry
Grant House kitchen
Grant House kitchen
To find out more about Passive House standards and the success of our remodel, visit our website at or contact us at 415.526.2777.
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