In the early 1990s, we were among the first architects to coin the phrase “McMansions”. This term came from a close group of architects, aghast at the 1990’s trends in home development. The architectural community watched as thousands of new supersized, but nearly identical, builder developed, suburban homes, were constructed on lots around the Chicago suburbs. Emerging from that era, many astute home designers like Sarah Suzanka with her “Not So Big House” books, and countless others, began promoting the design of “Homes for How We Really Live”.
These architects and designers helped pave a counter movement towards more thoughtful, useful space planning and design concepts.
Since 2001 our architectural practice has successfully designed, and built ourselves, or seen other contractors build, over 250 projects using these sound space planning ideas, centered on learning from our clients how people really live in their homes.
Additionally, building science has advanced greatly in the last two decades. Newer systems for building to a specific performance metric, above the base building code have emerged.
These newer building systems include:
Taken together, when applicable to a specific site or region, these new advancements in the science of home construction, make it possible, more than ever before, for families to have a home that can survive most all known and predictable natural hazard events including:
Back in the early 2000’s when Passive House was new to America, it was considered an expensive upgrade to standard home. However, as more projects were completed, both new products have entered the market place and new building techniques have been invented to allow Passive House to become very affordable even for non profit and low income home builders like Habitat for Humanity. Homes Built too Passive House Certification level are now featured every year in major publications like Fine Homebuilding. Some architects even cite there are homeowners using Passive House to move past “Net Zero” and by adding solar PV end up with the cost of Passive House offset by utility companies paying them for energy they send the grid every month. Habitat for Humanity see the value in building to this standard. Essentially, less than 15% project cost increase results in 90% reduction in energy bills. Allowing low income family to truly be able to afford their new home.
The Fortified Home Program focuses on extreme storm protection of homes. Specifically, they research how to make homes survive hurricanes, tornados, hail storms and extreme rain storms. They also do work in the area of fire protection. The program is sponsored by home insurance industry and is highly pragmatic; using currently available materials for testing and research. So Fortified has always been a very value conscious approach to improving homes. In many cases it uses already proven techniques, which are already in some building codes. Load path framing is from seismic states, but just not yet universal across America. Some major insurance companies now require Fortified construction standards for any insurance claim rebuilding effort following storm disasters.
The cost to benefit ratio for Fortified is so high that we feel Fortified Gold is “the least you should do” when building any new home anywhere in America.
The home building industry has also learned much from actual experience, whenever there is a wildfire or flood we see what has worked and what has failed to protect homes and lives, and we can apply these lessons to how we plan each home, specific to the natural hazards considered likely in the region. One example is the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego County. This fire resulting in most buildings lost in California history. This experience and its aftermath allowed researchers to create much better detailing for how to protect homes.
Very few architects and builders have sought out to become certified in either Passive House or Fortified Homes design. However, the ones who have report high levels of client satisfaction with their new homes building to either standard. Passive homes are proving to have resale vales at least 7% greater than a similar home built to local code standards.
We have achieved both, the Certified Passive House Consultant and Builder credentials along with the Fortified Home Professional and evaluator credential.
We are real world home designers, with children and families of our own and our clients span the middle 90% of home buyer’s income and demographics across the nation, so our projects have to be designed to fit real lifestyles on real budgets.
While I just recently registered with this organization, I should have many years ago, as I have been a follower her design methods, books and philosophy since even before her books were published and I was looking at “compact homes” for my own first home build. My first homes were strongly influenced by the Don Metz compact home design competitions, and the two books he published as a result of this.