Environmentally Sustainable Design

There is much more to green architecture than using ground up plastic bottles in your carpet or old tires in your roofing. While using recycled building materials is a wonderful way to reduce the environmental impact of a house, for 20 years Thielsen Architects has taken a holistic approach to environmentally sustainable design. We start by carefully evaluating the site and its unique microclimate. The Pacific Northwest has a tremendous variety of natural conditions and factors that we consider. Sunlight, wind, view, topography and many other factors specific to your site are analyzed and discussed with you to determine the best location and orientation of your home, as you can see in this drawing. We then take what we have learned in locating the building on the lot and apply that information to the design of the home.

Thielsen Architects strives to maximize natural light in the interior while using building forms to minimize summer solar heat gain. We size and locate roof overhangs, canopies, trellises and other building elements to provide shade in the summer while allowing the winter sun to penetrate deeply into the interior. Keeping the summer sun out while letting the winter sun in makes cooling easier in the summer and lessens the need for heating in the winter. We seek opportunities to provide excellent natural ventilation which allows many of our houses to remain comfortable in the summer without the use of air conditioning. Successful natural ventilation requires taking advantage of the site microclimate, a thoughtful arrangement of interior spaces and carefully locating and sizing operable windows. This careful arrangement of spaces and windows is also what gives our homes their bright and balanced natural light. Our clients enjoy completing their daytime tasks without the need for any artificial lighting.

When the schematic design of the home is complete we begin recommending and selecting materials. We work closely with our clients to select materials which will work well for them and for the environment. We often use a water based floor finish which does not off-gas the noxious chemicals that traditional oil based finishes do. The finish is also harder than oil based finishes making its performance better in most circumstances. The metal roofing and siding panels used on this and many other projects have a minimum 25% recycled content, extremely long product life and few maintenance requirements. The structural steel used in beams, columns and concrete reinforcing has a recycled content of nearly 100%. The range of environmentally sensitive materials is large and we look to use them wherever they are appropriate for the project. But, we don't stop with material selection. We prefer to use contractors who recycle their construction and demolition debris. This eliminates a significant quantity of material from the waste stream and provides the raw materials for future recycled content products.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of environmentally sustainable architecture is detailing. The environmental consequence of selecting one product over another is minimal when compared to the impact of having to replace a product because it failed or was improperly used. We take great care to ensure that all of our projects are detailed to last. This means that whatever product is selected we do all we can to maximize its lifespan. Some products have limited lifespans, while others can outlast us all. Where products with limited lifespans need to be used, we detail them so they perform for the longest time possible, as we did with the wood members of this trellis which are protected with sheet metal flashing caps.

Our holistic approach to environmentally sustainable architecture is not only good for the environment; it is good for the bottom line. Sometimes the sustainable choice is no more costly than the traditional choice; sometimes they are actually less expensive. Other design decisions or products may cost more up front, but they will repay the investment many times over the life of the home. A recent Puget Sound Energy analysis of the energy use of one of our homes found that the gas and electricity used was fully 30% less than that used by homes of comparable size and age. It is amazing what thoughtful design can do for a project and our planet.