Most “experts” will disagree with my methods of beginning with the budget first before asking you to create a basic floor plan. My method is based on building a pathway to communication of partners involved in the project. This allows the whole project to be budget minded. Before you ever touch the first piece of pencil lead to paper, you know your goal, your needs, and understand the importance of the right piece of land in the best location.
When working with a green home contractor on the purchase of materials and services, if your representative does not try to gauge the size of your project before throwing designs at you they are extremely under qualified. Imagine if you went to the tailor to buy new pants and the store clerk never wrapped a measuring tape around your waist. His advice to you was to stroll around the department and try on as many untagged pants as possible. Surely you would find a pair that fits, but at what expense?
Would you be so worn out at the end of the process that you simply bought the first pair that fits? Or would you fall into the other extreme and never buy a pair pants. The frustration of trying on so many different pairs and finding them much to large, followed by much too small would be too much.
The approach we followed from the first chapter was to gauge your project’s pants size. Now you can mosey around green home plans and try on the pants (plans) that fit your project instead of frustrating yourself to the point of giving up by going in the wrong direction multiple times.
First, all modern plans are copyrighted. The penalties for violations are stiff. If you want to steal someone’s intellectual property then you should go ahead and triple your emergency construction budget. There are law firms all over the world that make a living off enforcing copyright infringements. Do not steal someone’s plans. You should also immediately question the integrity of a company that will infringe a competitor’s copyright to earn your business. What if the resulting lawsuit bankrupts the construction company in the middle of your project after you have placed a large deposit?
Second, the green home you build will need a set of plans for your specific project. God bless the folks that put in a foundation according to what they think will work. Then they try to build a green home around it. It is a recipe for disaster. You and any future buyer will spend a lifetime paying for this mistake.
The other end of the spectrum is hiring architects and engineers to design the home. These can turn out to be the most expensive projects. This happens when an uncompromising structural design office has required construction standards that do not exist or is simply wrong for the job. Even though an independent design firm can be very helpful on a home construction project, many times they have little clue as to the industry design standards for a green home.
An architect will never lift a hammer on your site unless it is to smash open your piggy bank to design in one more Feng Shui water fountain for your living room. The same is true with an engineer. They would not lift a hammer because the handle they designed for it would be so thick and over compensated for that they could never wrap their hand around it.
Of course, I am joking, and I have worked with plenty of fantastic architects and engineers. The more people you involve in the design process the more it will cost you. It is as simple as that. Work completed on your project demands a paycheck. We have recognized this concept from the very beginning. I am looking out for your budget first and foremost and the less people you place on the payroll the better at this point.
After all is said and done your budget is your most important aspect. If you choose a quality green home design (I will show you how), your entire project will be protected and the design process will be a breeze.
If after designing your plan, a need arises for engineering or an architectural review then allow the local building inspector to recommend one. They typically know the firms that best understand their codes and requirements. They can make the process of dealing with outside design firms much less tedious. After all, you do not want to go shopping for your pre-sized pants at the neighborhood tire store.
Where can you find designs? If you are building a 100-5,000 square foot home odds are that someone has already built something similar. Look in magazines, shop for blogs, and search your favorite green home construction websites. Also I suggest that during this process that you and your partner draw as many of the basic floor plans as you can on your own.
If you see something you like most companies can provide a free design catalog. Be weary initially to give too much information about your project. As part of my training, when I started in the green home industry, I was given a similar task. I had to nail down a design and shop the industry to see what was available and what each competing company had to offer. 10 years later I still get postcards, phone calls, and mailings. There are dedicated sales forces working for green home builders and suppliers. I will eventually guide you to them when the time is right. If you call them now they will set their sights on you for the next decade. Especially if you pump one of the their salesmen up with some juicy information on your project too early. The time will come to contact them for pricing, but not quite yet.
If I were brand new and starting a project this design guide in the following chapters, is exactly how I would handle it. I suggest that during this process that you and your partner draw as many of the basic floor plans as you can on your own.
With your budget and needs list in mind it is now time to locate or create five plans as a team that meet those needs. These can come from blogs, the Internet, or design websites. However, the five plans you choose should include at least one floor plan sketch from each of the partners involved with the project. I have worked through this process with many of my clients. This includes a design I worked on that won the 2012 National Green Home of the Year Award.