Building Homes or Extensions/Green Building Summary


Thank you so much for taking my question!

I'm in the beginning stages of sketching out our "dream home." I discovered universal design and found it an obvious match. A short document of silver, bronze, and gold level considerations for universal design was extremely helpful for me. I'm now trying to find something similar for green design.

My primary interest is in reducing or eliminating toxins and volatile compounds my family will be exposed to. My second interest is in designing in such a way that we're working with the environment and not against it, like an overhang to block summer sun from the windows but allow in winter sunlight. That seems so obvious that I'd expect it to be universal, but design aspects that harness or shield from wind, sun, water, etc seem to have become rare. I don't know if solar is a good idea or if there's a more cost effective alternative or passive energy source, if skylights to reduce lighting costs will instead increase cooling costs and net energy use, and similar dilemmas. And lastly I want to use ethical and sustainable materials.

Where can I find a checklist of sorts or other introductory summary of respectable recommendations to meet these green building aims?

Thanks so much for the help!

Hello, Eliza.

If you are fortunate to have a property where you can orient your home to maximize seasonal conditions (or a view), congratulations!

You've asked very good questions. There's a lot of information about "green" design, and there are a lot of experts. Below are some of my favorite magazines and websites that will help you; many of them have newsletters and regular email updates. They also review and recommend products.

Unlike lifetime livability information, which has specific guidelines, there is nothing I've come across for sustainability, because it is so variable for climate and population needs. But if you do diligent research, you'll be able to develop your own list of sustainability priorities.

I totally agree with you about deep overhangs, which were used extensively by Frank Lloyd Wright in his "Usonian" homes. Many builders avoid these because the additional framing can add thousands to the building cost. There may also be local code restrictions that prevent deep overhangs.

My husband and I were lucky, because our local Building Department allowed us to do everything we wanted, including a "flat" roof with a 4-foot stepped overhang. We used ICFs for all exterior walls, and chose hydronic heating. There's a 6" step at all exterior doors, and the interior steps have a 6" riser and a 12" tread. When designing the house, we added a 5'x5' two-story room adjacent to the mechanical room for a future elevator. The shaft can be used for pipes and wiring for the solar panels we hope to add in about two years. Instead of traditional gutters or scuppers, we chose rain chains, that lead to a collection pipe that will be easy to connect to a water-collection bladder when we can afford it. You can see pictures of our home at a simple website we developed for friends and family:

One piece of advice: Give yourself enough time to make good decisions, and keep a spreadsheet for everything related to your new home. Following this advice, the planning process took over three years, and we stayed within 10% for all of the products we included.

Wishing you good luck with your new home.

Warm regards,

Diane Plesset, CMKBD, C.A.P.S., NCIDQ
D. P. Design  

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Diane Plesset


I will answer questions about designing and building a new home, building an addition, remodeling a home, sustainability ("green" building and remodeling), aging-in-place, kitchen remodeling, bathroom remodeling. The goal is to help homeowners achieve ultimate satisfaction with all of their choices and decisions.


Over 25 years in residential design, construction, improvement, and remodeling. Hundreds of completed projects in all ranges of investment. Author of the award-winning book "THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling," host of "Today's Home" on Lifestyle WebRadio, and public speaker.

National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Interior Design Protection Council (IDPC)

THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling. Designer's Illustrated, Gentry, Interior Coordinator (Japan), Kitchen-Bath Business, Kitchen-Bath Design News, Oregonian, Portland Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, San Mateo Times, Statesman Journal

Degrees in residential interior design, bath design, kitchen design, and lighting design. To improve knowledge about codes, products, and trends that will affect homeowners, I regularly attend tradeshows, conferences, classes, and seminars, and read 7 major trade magazines and newsletters.

Awards and Honors
Certified Master Kitchen-Bath Designer (CMKBD), Certified Interior Designer (NCIDQ), Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (C.A.P.S.). AWARDS: Henry Adams, Chrysalis, Best of the Best, CoTY, Master Design, HBA Excellence. 2003 NABE Award for best how-to book.

Past/Present Clients
Please see the portfolio in my website,

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