Integrated design means thinking about how the parts fit together. This systems-thinking approach is key to how high performance green homes achieve highest marks in quality standards, energy performance, and reduced operating costs.
The vast majority of homes are still being built the old-fashioned way. The conventional system is linear and works something like this: the architect creates a schematic for approval by the owners; the schematics are turned into detailed construction drawings for release to the general contractor; the general contractor hires subcontractors to augment her core crew, and then proceeds to build the house.
About Integrated Design
When the parts are thought about holistically, the overall result is better. The regular way to build is a linear approach that moves neatly and systematically from one step to the next. The only problem is that it’s not guaranteed to produce the best result. Why is that?
Key players may not share common objectives for the project, may not understand how their work affects the work of others, and aren’t looking collectively for ways to make the house more efficient and less costly to build and operate. Case in point: ever seen a drywall installer knifing the interior vapor barrier at an inside corner to speed up his installation operations? This is a specific example, only one of many dozens of instances, where the conventional way of building breaks down.
Builders focused on sustainable design are more and more often relying on an alternative approach which more and more becoming mainstream. Called “integrated design” or “whole-building design,” it’s a collaborative approach that treats the group of people building the house as a team rather than as independent freelancers.
It Takes a Team: Challenging Conventional Methods
On large public projects, integrated design involves stakeholders including the owner, architect, engineers, landscapers, the general contractor, and various trade subcontractors. The result can be a relatively unwieldy, time-consuming, and expensive process. In residential construction it can be much simpler. But no matter what the scope of the project, the principles are basically the same. HVAC, plumbing, lighting and wiring, site planning, framing, insulating and other key parts of the project are viewed as interrelated parts of the whole.
Teamwork is especially important in green building because getting a high-performance house often requires that builders challenge conventional ways of doing things. Integrated design can include what in the industry is called a “charrette,” a meeting or series of meetings bringing together the owner, architect, key engineers, the builder, and perhaps key subcontractors to discuss the project and exchange ideas. The result of this exchange is team formation, the marriage of all the disparate players into an integrated team capable of creating a building solution which is more than the sum of it’s parts.
The Framing’s Connected to the Thermal Batts, the Batts are Connected to the HVAC…
On a high-performance green residential project, team formation early in the process can lead to proportional savings and better building efficiency. For example, framers thinking ahead to energy efficiency might be more open to advanced framing techniques that eliminate unnecessary structural members and leave more room for insulation. More insulation and a tighter building envelope may allow the HVAC installer to put in smaller equipment. This aggregate improvement in the way the house comes together is much more likely to happen when the folks involved talk with one another, and collectively work together as a team to achieve the best quality, high performance product, quite often with the added bonus of optimized cost savings, both initially and during the life of the home, as a result.