By David M. Brown
Interior designer Tanya Shively and home designer Doug Edwards think green, design green and build green.
Scottsdale Sesshu Design Associates
“I am passionate about creating homes that are healthy to live in and that are also conscious of the planet we live on,” says Tanya Shively, ASID, LEED AP, who adds that she has been guided by a green directive in her projects since founding Scottsdale’s Sesshu Design Associates in 2005.
She was raised in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, near Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton national parks.
“The idea that we need to be good stewards of the land we live on and to protect that beauty is so deeply ingrained in that area that I couldn’t help but be influenced by it,” she explains, noting that the mission of her firm is, in fact, inspired by the 15th-century Japanese artist, Sesshū Tōyō, known for innovative style, passion and creativity.
Green is Not a Style
Green is not a style, she explains.
“You can have any look you want and still be environmentally friendly. It is also not an all-or-nothing concept. You can make your choices according to whatever is most important to you. It’s a practical approach to design which ensures you have the healthiest home possible and benefits the community, too.”
Also in Scottsdale, brothers Doug and Kevin Edwards have been designing and building sustainably since they were in their early 20s––45 years ago, long before this was widely embraced. Their Edwards Design Group has delivered high-performing green homes throughout the United States, including Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills; Fifth Avenue in Manhattan; and Scottsdale, Carefree and Paradise Valley here in Arizona.
“Fortunately, our concerns have become less and less since the public started embracing sustainable design and building science,” Doug says, with a smile.
First, Find the Sun
Sustainable home design and construction begins with a knowledge of building science and fundamental design strategies that must be aligned with regional and site-specific environments for each project, Doug explains.
Basic to the design of any new home is solar orientation: How can the home be integrated organically with the land it occupies?
Good passive solar design begins with knowing how the sun moves throughout the year and how that movement affects a home’s building envelope, he says. When should you block the sun from entering a home and when should it flood the interior conditioned space? This may seem basic now, but only recently has this principle been widely considered in home building, beginning with tract/production designs through luxury and estate homes.
“We design our homes to achieve net-zero energy use as the home relates to the utility company,” Doug says. “We calculate the energy needs of the home using 3D computer modeling software, and size the solar array accordingly to achieve net-zero energy.”
This is achieved when the home produces at least as much power as it consumes.
Further Green Building
After they establish solar orientation, Doug and Kevin discuss with their clients the access they would like to their home; its view corridors; natural vegetation and landscape features; and their other needs, including the degree of green building they wish to pursue, from energy-efficient glazing to expensive geo-thermal systems.
While the Edwards brothers were involved with early LEED pilot programs, they established their own standards years ago. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a green building certification with a set of rating systems to ensure environmental responsibility. But, it adds costs to any project.
“Our homes always exceed the LEED certification,” Doug says. “We’d rather put the money into additional energy-savings strategies rather than pay thousands for a certification.”
In addition to solar performance, the design of a high-performance home should include a number of other items, Edwards says. These should include no VOC paints and adhesives, and using locally manufactured materials and supplies.
The firm always calculates overhangs against the summer sun and the placement of high-performance low-E windows. Windows remain the primary means by which heat enters a home.
Insulation is Key
Insulation is also a priority. Insulate your stem wall from the slab so direct sun exposure doesn’t transfer into the interior slab, he recommends. And use the best insulation available; inspect it and oversee the method(s) of installation before it is covered. Foam is expensive but worth it.
Invest in the best high-SEER multispeed HVAC system you can, one preferably that uses micro-zones and has all wrapped supply and return air ducts placed in a conditioned space. These use the least amount of electricity to achieve the highest efficiency.
“Designing an active solar home can produce enough energy to run the home 24/7 without the cost of your utility company,” he says. “A net-zero energy home can be achieved today.”
This extends to the desert areas of Arizona.
“Because we design and build with cutting-edge building science methods, the outside temps aren’t able to penetrate the interior conditioned space as easily,” Edwards explains. “Consequently, the HVAC system can run on low settings, which, in turn, minimizes the size of the solar array. As a result, the solar array needed to achieve net-zero energy can be accommodated by the roof area of most buildings.”
WELL Designed Inside, Too
Shively also first considers her clients’ priorities. Do they have health issues? Do they want to conserve energy and water? Do they want to be sustainable? Is their design preference traditional, transitional, minimalist?
The health element derives from her father, who had severe chronic asthma most of his life.
“The air quality in our home and reducing allergens was always a key concern. Just a few years ago, we also discovered that the house was full of mold due to faulty construction,” she says. “This further cemented my belief that the quality of the air inside our homes has a profound impact on our health and must be carefully addressed in our design decisions.”
Her design philosophy has become what she calls “WELL Designed”: Support and enhance well-being and wellness, using an eco-conscious approach while embracing both luxury and livability.
She looks closely at products before she suggests them for clients. Many companies greenwash theirs, making them appear to be more sustainable or healthy than they really are. Look for natural materials rather than synthetic ones; they produce fewer toxins.
For woods, she loves mesquite, actually a bush and not a tree.
“You can harvest it without killing the plant, and it grows quickly,” she says.
Also consider deadfall wood––another way to incorporate wood into a project without endangering forests.
If synthetics are the only option, look for those that have been recycled or can be recycled, Shively suggests.
Repurpose materials, too. Instead of adding to a landfill, old stuff can add character and patina to your space, she says. An old door, for instance, becomes a talked-about coffee table or headboard.
Make decisions early for cost-effective building and interior designing.
“If you try to tack green components on at the end, it becomes much more difficult and expensive to implement,” she says.
And work with other professionals equally committed to your sustainability goals.
“I see myself as one part of that team, and we all work together to help you get the results you desire.”
David Brown is a Valley-based writer. Learn more at www.azwriter.com.