How designers are making eco-friendly buildings

In an effort to be kinder to the environment, designers of homes and gardens are making thoughtful choices.

When launching new projects, home design and building professionals are keeping Mother Nature in mind. How they bring their projects to fruition can have long-lasting effects on the world we all live in, so the key is to carefully choose products and practices.  

“We’re surrounded by toxins every day,” says interior designer Lisa Teague of Lisa Teague Studios in Portsmouth. “Every bit each one of us can do to eliminate them is helpful.”

New Hampshire Home asked Teague, architect Shannon Alther of TMS Architects in Portsmouth and landscape architect Greg Grigsby of Pellettieri Associates, Inc. in Warner what green materials they’re using in their work and why.

Shannon Alther
Partner, TMS Architects in Portsmouth

To architect Shannon Alther, “going green” means two things: 1) recommending and using efficient products; and 2) designing an energy-efficient space that meets clients needs. “‘Green’ itself can mean being sustainable, like using insulation products made out of recycled denim,” Alther says. “It can also mean working with a company whose manufacturing processes use less fuel or other resources.”

With a growing number of energy-efficient products available—for example, energy-efficient windows and LED lighting—and companies championing greener production, it’s easier than ever for Alther and his colleagues to pick and choose solutions for clients.

Appropriate design is also key. Homes built in the 1980s and early 1990s were larger. That’s changed, as homeowners look for energy efficiency and better use of space. “We can save money on square footage by designing a smaller home that has the look or feel of a larger home and still meets the client’s needs,” Alther says. One example is the family dining area: many new homes no longer have formal dining rooms. Instead, family gathering spaces now incorporate an eat-in kitchen and an island where people can sit.

Alther finds clients are more interested in home styles that were popular in the 1920s or 1930s: smaller and better positioned to take advantage of natural elements, such as heating and cooling from the sun. Installing solar panels or triple-glazed windows helps maximize those designs. “The old methods of home design and construction are still out there,” he says, “and we have more products available to maximize efficiency.”

Lisa Teague
Principal, Lisa Teague Studios in Portsmouth

A long-time advocate of environmentally friendly practices, Teague encourages her clients to freshen their homes by re-purposing pieces they already own, whether this means recovering a chair or applying a new paint color. “I really try to re-purpose and use what my clients already have and make them new again,” she says. “It’s about remaking what you have as well as supporting local craftspeople.”

This belief extends to Teague’s stringent use of green products. After developing health issues from using traditional oil-based paints, Teague developed her own paint line, Quiet Home Paints and the Quiet Nursery Collection. The paints are organic—free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), solvents and pesticides. “I specify my own paints on projects now,” Teague says, “often creating custom colors based on my client’s needs.” Because her paints don’t contain harmful chemicals, Quiet Home Paints don’t have to be specially packaged for disposal; they can be poured down a sink drain although Teague recommends “donat-ing leftover paint to local theater groups for set design.”

Some of Teague’s other favorite products include furniture made in the United States (such as Kravet) and American Clay, a plaster made from recycled marble dust and natural mineral pigments. “I try to support local businesses and the communities in which my clients live,” Teague says. “That’s how we keep our communities going.”

Greg Grigsby
Senior Landscape Architect, Pellettieri Associates, Inc. in Warner

Landscape architecture is an inherently green business, Greg Grigsby says. “We’re ‘green’ because we’re trained to be sensitive to cultural and environmental features on our projects,” he says. To support low-impact residential development for site planning, Pellettieri Associates prefers using plants native to specific projects. This benefits the homeowner because native plants are more likely to thrive and are easy to maintain. Low-bush blueberry sod, for example, is an instant ground cover that provides attractive, low-maintenance erosion control on mountain or lakeside properties and is already accustomed to the extremes of New England weather.

Pellettieri Associates has developed creative solutions for sensitive land-use areas such as wetlands and shoreland areas. A recent example is the firm’s work to minimize pedestrian impact to wetlands by creating boardwalks and further supporting them by installing helical piers, a foundation support (similar to large screws) that bears its load through soft or challenging soil.

Because clean water and water conservation are important, Grigsby often designs rain gardens and gravel wetlands—planted with water-tolerant plants and native shrubs, flowers and grasses—to naturally filter water runoff from roofs, driveways and streets. The gardens also allow rainwater to slowly seep back into the ground.

Grigsby uses reclaimed or recycled materials in projects whenever possible.Reclaimed granite or local fieldstone is often used to pave walkways. Reclaimed rubber roof membranes are used to line “drip edges,” which are installed below the edge of a roof to move water runoff away from a home.

Expert advice

All three design experts agree: no matter what the project, there’s a way to incorporate green practices.

“Consumers in general can be really purposeful in their purchases,” Teague says. “We don’t have to be a disposable society if we purchase things carefully and love them for a long time.”

Photography courtesy of Pellettieri Associates, Inc.
Landscape architect Greg Grigsby of Pellettieri Associates, Inc. in Warner used reclaimed granite steps, weathered feature stones and regionally sourced flat stones along this sensitive lake-side environment. Low-maintenance, shade-tolerant understory plantings stabilize the site and maintain the wooded shoreline character of the property.

Photography by John W. Hession 
Portsmouth-based interior designer Lisa Teague gave an antique chair new life with an unexpected paint and fabric treatment—she used her own brand, Quiet Home Paints, in Stomp and Schumacher’s Imperial Trellis fabric.

Photography courtesy of Rob Karosis
This home on a hilltop was designed by Shannon Alther of TMS Architects in Portsmouth. The rear façade shows the metal roof with photovoltaic film between the ribs and solar/thermal apparatus under the metal roof.  “This is the best of both worlds in one configuration,” Alther says, because solar power provides electricity and hot water for the home. 


Categories: Going Green, Green Design & Living