Bringing Design/Build to Home Performance

I interviewed architect Chris Laumer-Giddens, of Energy Vanguard, on the company's new integrated design-build / home-performance model last week. I'm reposting the interview here, with Chris's permission. -- Leah Thayer, daily5Remodel


d5R: Much of your work involves helping homeowners and builders produce new homes that, at a minimum, meet Energy Star requirements. What's your interest in remodeling? 

CLG: For a time, remodeling was the only residential work I was involved with. Now, of course, retrofits are really where the demand is. We’ve all seen the huge dropoff in new home construction. By incorporating high-performance design into remodeling work, remodelers can tell homeowners that they can make their homes a lot more energy efficient while they’re also doing whatever other work the homeowners want.
Energy efficiency is a huge selling point and adds little to the price differential -- typically no more than 10 to 15 percent more, at most, and in some cases no additional cost at all.
We take that proposition and make it better. I would wager that our integrated design model even reduces the time and cost of coordinating all those functions, probably by 5 to 25 percent, assuming the decision makers stay on schedule.
d5R: How?

CLG: Homeowners, and often even remodelers, can be overwhelmed by the complexities of pulling together the complete design team. With the integrated design model, which we’re calling our One-Stop Shop, remodelers and builders can work with a single source offering virtually all design services, including energy modeling. As an architect with more than 15 years of experience in design and construction, as well as being a HERS rater and HVAC designer, I'm able to streamline all of those services. 

Ultimately, though, the real savings will come in energy use. Allison and I want people to understand that by spending a little more money on the front end, they can quickly recoup it in energy savings. We want them to understand that money spent on energy efficiency goes much further than that spent on bamboo floors!
d5R: Do you see the One-Stop Shop model working for design/build remodelers that also have in-house building science expertise?

CLG: Absolutely. This is a model that I feel could be very good for not only the business itself, but the industry as a whole and the buildings we create or retrofit. Specialization has its advantages, and we will always need true specialists. But, as a business model that integrates and streamlines the design process, I think this concept works really well.
d5R: Most homeowners prefer to work with local professionals. On your first project under this model, you’re working on a project several states away. Do you anticipate doing much long-distance work?
CLG: Face time is extremely important, if not absolutely necessary, when working on a custom design. If the budget allows, I’m happy to travel anywhere, and I know that some clients and contractor partners will really want this.

However, I have found that technology, attention to detail and asking the right questions can make a project work. On our first One-Stop project, a 2,500-square-foot, Energy Star v3 home I’m designing for my uncle near St. Louis [rendering below], we did almost the entire design virtually. I would send him PDFs of the sketches, he would mark them up and send them back to me. We would then review the mark-ups and proceed with the next iteration.
d5R: Break it down for my readers. What services does your One Stop Shop model encompass?
CLG: We provide complete services for all of the following: architectural design, detailing and specifications; HVAC design and specifications, per industry standards such as load calculation and duct design developed by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America; lighting design and specifications; plumbing design and specifications; projected* HERS ratings and energy modeling; sustainability review and, of coure structural design.

 *We don’t perform the confirmed ratings in the field, as this would be competing with our raters, which is against our business model. 

d5R: Where does the remodeler or builder come into the picture?
CLG: Ideally, we’ll have the builder or remodeler on board at the beginning of the project, along with all the specialized contractors. If this isn’t the case for any reason, we’ll always work with the homeowner to select the contractors to ensure that the installation is done according to spec. In any case, streamlining the design, HVAC and rating process will reduce upfront costs and time.

d5R: How unusual is this model?

CLG: Most strictly residential architectural firms offer primarily architectural and interior design, while collaborating with other disciplines. Lighting design is often part of their scope. A great deal of architects also incorporate green/sustainability practices into their work, and we’ve heard of a few architects partnering with energy raters. But we’re not aware of anyone else offering all of these services under one roof.
d5R: Why so much emphasis on HVAC design?
CLG: I think there’s almost an epidemic of oversized HVAC units. For many years, units were sized by a rule of thumb -- typically in the range of 500 to 600 square feet per ton. We’re trying to show that when the homes are truly well designed from the building science perspective, that kind of a simplistic rule of thumb is irrelevant. 
In Energy Star homes, I’ve seen HVAC units work on the scale of 800 to 1,200 square feet per ton. In one super high-efficiency case, I’ve seen a home come in at 2,000 square feet per ton. That’s the mac daddy, in my mind, of well-built, high-performance homes.
d5R: So, will you be in a sense competing with HVAC companies?
CLG: Not really. We would really only be competing on the front end -- the design end -- rather than the installation. We’ll still be working with HVAC contractors on every project, including interviewing them to be sure they’ve got a good feel for the process we’re prescribing.

[Shown below: Rendering of a home Laumers-Gidden designed for a competition that incorporated building science, sustainability, HVAC design, structural design, etc. "I designed it with geothermal, double-wall construction, and it at least meets Energy Star’s new version 3.0. The HERS Index was in the 30’s," he says.]

Learn more about Chris Laumer-Giddens and Energy Vanguard at

Views: 157

Tags: Chris, Energy, Laumer-Giddens, Vanguard, daily5Remodel, design/build, home, performance, remodeling


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Comment by Shade Structures on January 31, 2013 at 5:34pm

But even though there are aspects missing with modern architecture, i think lately it has been compensated with green architecture ideas like natural lighting and ventilation, more open floor space for a floor plan, blinds, etc.

Comment by Tom Mallard on May 2, 2011 at 4:24pm

Two things missing from modern architecture, passive-solar collection as a standard feature of any home (not exactly a greenhouse wall but that's a form of one), and, thermal mass in a practical place to regulate long-term comfort zone for the home.

Until those are in a house, it's an energy consumer (unless an adobe that stays cool all summer on its own, an example of how these work), with passive-solar collection built-in the need for heat goes way down, with thermal storage in enough volume for the daily cycle, the need for heat can be eliminated on many homesites with these two missing components, both having many forms to create what's needed in thermal-mass volume and collection area.

There are other more technical ways of regulatig comfort zone but these two are too important to not use always, they collect & store for later release.

*In desert areas the collection of cold all day is possible using ammonia refrigeration systems and a solar dish collector to create it all day (biodiesel backup) but that's high-tech solar ... we don't do high-tech solar yet.

Comment by Greg Labbe on May 2, 2011 at 1:43pm
Great article, thanks for writing it!

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