Style and comfort: the value of integrated design

Hart Tipton Mechanical

There's no question about it: over the past few decades, home building has become more complex. There are multiple specialists in the mix: architects, energy advisors, structural engineers, and interior designers. There's an ever-increasing number of technology and finishing options. Add Building Code requirements and rising buyer expectations, and it can be a challenge to keep costs down while meeting the market's needs.

That's why some builders are adopting an approach called integrated design — ensuring that all the elements of the build are developed together, efficiently.

Focus on comfort, not just aesthetics

"In many new home projects, a lot of attention gets placed on the decision-making around aesthetics — you have the client, the architect, the interior designer, and the builder taking part," says Ryan Coleman, CEO of Ecolighten Energy Solutions, a Vancouver-based consultancy that offers integrated Home Performance Design as one of its services. Coleman says focusing initially only on style can mean decisions related to functionality and energy efficiency may be left until after architectural plans are done, which may not deliver the best product.

By bringing mechanical considerations up front, an integrated design process ensures that aesthetic and functional decisions are balanced.

Coleman says there are lots of horror stories of customers who build their dream home, only to find drafts or higher than expected operating costs.

Integrated design is better for the buyer. And Coleman says it's better for the builder, too.

Cost control

Ecolighten's process includes initial consultation and discovery with everyone involved in design to understand project needs and imperatives. Next comes room-by-room heat load calculations. The team determines the solutions — envelope, windows and doors, and mechanical systems — to meet heating and cooling needs efficiently. The design is then finalized to accommodate both the architect's vision and the need to effectively route heating and ventilation through the home. Prior to drywall cover-up as well as post-build, Ecolighten ensures that equipment has been installed to specification, and is operating properly.

Coleman says planning mechanical systems alongside aesthetic design offers the builder several efficiencies, including more precise budgeting. "With a proper mechanical drawings combined with a scope of work and equipment schedule, as well as written installation standards, the builder can go to tender to their contractors and get apples to apples estimates."

All of this added discipline improves cost control, a plus for the builder. But Coleman says there's another benefit too. "A disappointed buyer with a poorly planned and uncomfortable house is not a satisfied buyer," he says.

Coleman says the use of integrated design for single family home building is still in its infancy in B.C., but is evolving quickly. Drivers include proposed changes in the building code, potential "feebate" programs where builders can recover permit fees for houses that offer better energy performance, and general market awareness of energy efficiency.

No need to sacrifice comfort

BC Hydro's Power Smart New Home Program is helping to bring in that more innovative thinking and decision making, and coming up with solutions to achieve better performing and greener buildings, he says.

"I don't believe you can say, 'People just care about aesthetics.' People do care about operating costs; that goes to affordability. If it's expensive to operate, that'll change your mind in a hurry, right? And you don't have to sacrifice a beautiful looking home for comfort; it's not really one or the other. You ultimately want to have and achieve both. So attention needs to be focused in both areas."