Free Green Turns House Design Business On Its Head
There is an entire industry of stock plan books and plan sites. Some are created by architects and designers with talent; others are full of the usual faux manors. Very few are modern designs and fewer still are what one might call green. All of them are ripped off constantly by every builder and client who isn't willing to hire an architect and isn't even willing to pay a couple of hundred bucks for a set of plans.
David Wax and his team at Free Green turn the home design business model on its head. They are charging exactly what most people are willing to pay for design: Nothing.
And they are not bad plans at all; they say "Good home design comes from a collaborative effort in which aesthetics, performance, and value are constantly discussed, debated, and maximized" and it shows. They offer a fairly traditional three-bedroom 2-1/2 bath plan that would not offend anyone (having every standard feature that almost every house in North America has) and an interesting smaller "suburban loft" model, with the promise of many more to come- architects and designers are invited to submit plans for the catalog.
The business model: "we offer free, downloadable, buildable energy efficient and healthy home plans to everyone. Our revenue comes from the green product vendors that we specify into the plans (via an advertising and lead generation model)."
Architects can't make money doing one-off houses and most people aren't willing to pay for it, or don't even value it. The traditional model is broken, so why not market architecture like software or blogs and give it away, making money from the ads? Finally there is a model where somebody "looks forward to helping you [architects and designers] get the exposure and revenue you deserve."
Their construction documents are thorough, complete with "a Location Specific Energy Performance Report for over 200 cities across the United States, and Full Construction Document sets in 24 by 36 format (including all the details, and a LEED-H checklist for use on the job site)."
I downloaded the document package and as an architect who has done my share of them, I was pretty impressed. Getting work of this quality and thoroughness done for a one-off house would cost many thousands of dollars. Just the LEED analysis would cost thousands.
I so want this to work; it is a brilliant idea that could succeed where modern prefab failed, by making good green design accessible and affordable right across the country. Their timing is awful, smack in the middle of a real estate meltdown, and there is no guarantee that the person downloading the plans is going to implement any of the green ideas or use any of the products specified. Intellectual property has little value in the housebuilding game, so who knows what will actually get built. It is also almost completely a suburban and exurban business, which will be seriously affected by the price of oil.