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Advanced Framing Details
Provides a brief overview of Advanced Framing, which incorporates Optimal Value Engineering (OVE), t...
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Building Info Central: EEBA Criteria
Goals, objectives and criteria for energy-efficient and resource-efficient buildings.
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Building on a Green Budget
Low-cost green design and construction practices for commercial and residential construction.
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Checklist for Environmentally Responsible Design a...
Just as titled . . . a handy checklist to assist builders during the design and construction phases....
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Greening Portlands' Affordable Housing: Design and...
Aims to establish goals and standards to increase environmental performance and durability for affor...
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Site Selection and Analysis for a Greener Central ...
Consider factors involved in selection of an appropriate "green" building site; applicable to all re...
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Solar Radiation Data Manual for Flat-Plate and Con...
Architects and engineers use solar resource information to help design passive solar and daylight fe...
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Wall Insulation
Keys to effective wall insulation; air tight construction, moisture control, complete coverage, Opti...
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Pollution Prevention and Residential Construction- Green Design

Resource Efficient
Residential Construction

Designing for a Green Home

Designing green built, resource-efficient homes is an integrated process that involves all aspects of residential construction from site selection and evaluation through home design, construction, operation, maintenance and ultimately demolition. All players, e.g. contractor, architect, landscape designer, occupant, engineer, government agencies, utility company, etc. should be included in the planning and design process for most effective integration of design components. An integrated green home design combines site characteristics, products, systems and design elements in a resource-efficient manner, i.e. maximizing resources used by designing waste and pollution out of the construction process.

The design of the home should take into account:

  • Site location relative to transportation, sewer, water, power, fire and other existing infrastructure
  • Natural site characteristics that may enhance or restrict design, e.g. solar access, stream corridor, on-site raw materials, cluster of trees, topographic rise, microclimate, soil texture, renewable energy sources, etc.
  • Efficient use of space for floorplan layout, e.g. shape and size
  • Environmentally and socially considerate parking and road network, e.g. efficient access, reduce impervious materials, community oriented
  • Green product material selection
  • Efficient, comfortable and integrated floorplan, energy- and water-efficiency, and indoor air quality
  • Home renovation and demolition
  • Construction waste management plan

The intent of green building practices is to lessen the environmental impact of human activity while using natural features of the site to enhance human comfort and health. Preservation of site resources and conservation of energy and materials in construction and building operations are important benefits of good site planning.

The following provides a brief description of the three phases of green design.


Incorporating green building practices at the pre-design stage is critical. Set goals at the beginning of the project that clearly defines the "green" framework. These goals can then be followed throughout site selection, building design, the construction process and building operation and maintenance.

Green design does not impose building design on the site. Rather, it is used to identify the ecological characteristics of the site and to design ways to integrate the building with the site. Pre-design is the phase in which a site is selected and analyzed for general sustainable characteristics. For example, pre-design issues might include:

  • The proximity of the home to places of employment, transportation routes, and other amenities
  • Water supply and neighboring land uses
  • Existing infrastructure, i.e. sewer pipes, power lines, water mains, roads, etc.
  • Energy sources, both on-site and utility based
  • Solar access
  • Ability to maintain and enhance biodiversity of site or recover a site that has been "abused", i.e. stripped, eroded, invaded by non-native vegetation, etc.
  • Ability to avoid environmentally sensitive areas
  • Acceptable lot sizes (Smaller, more affordable lots should not be overlooked as a small home can be very comfortable and resource-efficient)
Site Analysis

The design process begins with research and evaluation of the specific physical and cultural characteristics of the site. These characteristics will influence the shape, materials choice, mechanical systems and solar orientation of the building. During evaluation, certain techniques, systems, materials and alternative designs will be incorporated into the plan. Required specifications can be identified and included into construction plans and contracts. Characteristics of a site that guide the development of the home design may include:

  • Topographical features that influence drainage and air movement
  • Groundwater and surface runoff characteristics
  • Soil texture and characteristics (bearing, compatibility and infiltration rates)
  • Air movement patterns
  • Neighboring developments and proposed future developments
  • Parcel shape and access
  • Solar attitude and microclimate factors, e.g. snow and wind load
  • Sensitive areas such as wetlands, animal migration or mating areas, and endangered species of plants or animals
  • Neighboring cultural and architectural characteristics
  • On-site raw materials such as wood, stone, sand and clay available for construction
  • Existing trees and native vegetation
Building Design

Building design is the phase of residential planning that integrates the site, floorplan, building orientation, landscaping, materials, systems, architectural characteristics, and construction practice guidelines into the optimal green home design.

Building design issues typically include the following considerations:
  • Green products & materials
  • Passive solar and energy efficiency principles
  • Water efficiency and quality
  • Landscaping
  • Indoor air quality
  • Solid and hazardous waste management
  • Building codes and standards
  • Affordability and financing
  • Site preparation and maintenance guidelines

"One of the best ways to minimize the amount (and cost) of building materials required is to keep the size of the home reasonable. With thoughtful design a small home can be very comfortable, functional and respectful of privacy."

City of Austin's Green
Builder Program

More in-depth information about each of these issues is available in related sections of this site.

http://www.sustainabledesignguide.umn.edu/ Site and Design, http://www.peakstoprairies.org/p2bande/construction/contrguide/section4.cfm, http://www.sustainable.doe.gov/pdf/sbt.pdf, http://www.buildinggreen.com/features/lc/low_cost.html#General, and http://www.green-rated.org/g_rated/resources/001.pdf

If you have reservations about green building, be sure to check out the Top Five Bogus Reasons Not To Build Green http://www.builtgreen.org/homebuilders/bogus.htm, a fun and informative piece by Doug Seiter. The narrative provides reasons heard during the four years of the Built Green Colorado Program and why they are bogus. The article not only applies to those in Colorado but to builders throughout the nation.

Staying Current

Check with the following site for news, product reviews and current events in Green Design:

The Residential Construction Topic Hub was developed by:
Peaks to Prairies
Contact Laura Estes at Peaks with questions or comments:
406-994-3451 or laurae@montana.edu