Atlanta architect gives green design tips
Houser Walker Architecture
1473 Spring St. NW Atlanta
A registered architect, LEED AP and partner at Houser Walker Architecture, Greg Walker started the firm with colleague Hank Houser in 2004 after developing various green design fundamentals on projects in Florida, Georgia and Massachusetts. Walker has a Bachelor of Architecture from Auburn University and a master's from Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. In 2004, the Georgia chapter of The American Institute of Architects recognized his professional accomplishments and contributions to the community with a Young Architect Award.
How interested in green design are home builders and buyers in Atlanta?
"I think it depends on what market segment you're looking at. There's an enormous interest in the higher-end market, which parallels the rising consciousness of that sector to be environment friendly. There are builders who are doing exclusively green homes, catering to that market. If you're going to do a LEED registered home, you have to be prepared to pay the extra it's going to cost to process the paperwork. Building by EarthCraft standards is the other option in town. They developed their certification process in-house as kind of a checklist for homebuilders. EarthCraft is definitely more prevalent, and at this time it's more attainable."
What are the distinctive challenges facing green building design?
"We've found the groups of builders who are willing to build green, and now we're trying to overcome the banks and the financing. It's hard for the bank to see a return on the investment of building green, which requires extra money on the front end. Trying to get an appraiser to look at a green house differently than a conventional home is a challenge. They're interested in quantity, quantity, quantity. A geothermal heating and cooling system is just another HVAC unit to an appraiser. It might cost more, but it will be more energy-efficient down the road. If you want to build it smaller and build it more efficiently, [the bank] can't process the initial extra cost for the long term return."
Are building codes and regulations keeping up with residential green building?
"Not really. Primarily because the codes are very similar to the banks - they don't tend to favor the quality of different building aspects. I'd love to see a method - similar to what other states offer — where tax credits are offered for solar panels and geothermal heat pumps. Or, like in Chicago where, if you're doing a LEED project as part of city construction, you're allowed to jump in line for a permit review. It's allowed larger developers to go for LEED and have their review within 30 days instead of six months. People are losing money waiting around for their permits. The more incentives you can put out there, the better. There's definitely more we could be doing."
How much does it cost to hire an architect to design a LEED home?
"I don't think that doing a LEED-specific building adds a lot of cost to the professional's time — maybe another 1 to 2 percent added to the total construction cost. It really depends on how much you pay for an architect, which can be anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of your construction costs. A lot of it depends on what you're being asked to do as a professional. If you're considering a LEED home, the first thing I'd recommend is talk to an architect that specializes in residential design. Someone that is LEED accredited as well. You could tap other resources like the Southface Energy Institute or get ideas from sustainable home magazines."