The house plans industry has always had a spot on TreeHugger; I have always thought that it was a terrific way for the public to get access to architect-designed plans without the cost of an architect. It's a tough business because a lot of people who don't want to pay for architects don't want to pay for plans either, and a lot of architects hate the idea (See why I think Good Architects Selling Good Plans is a Good Thing.) One of the best in the biz is Houseplans.com, where I have been following editor Dan Gregory since he joined in 2008. In their terrific blog, Hive Modular's Marc Asmus suggests five green building resolutions that are sensible, affordable and a great place to start. He uses the term "attainable sustainable", which I like a lot. He lists five points, but I really think his last two are pretty much the same and should be merged.
1. Hire an architect or buy an architecturally designed plan. I admit bias; I am an architect. However the fact is, architects know how to site a house, how to do an efficient plan, what the latest green techniques and products are. They also have insurance and licences and tend not to take crazy risks on stuff they don't know, which is why they are pretty conservative.
2. Build smaller. Really, building just what you need is probably the smartest and greenest thing you can do. Less cost, less embodied energy, lower operating costs, there is no downside. You do not need a room for your espresso machine.
3. Build on an infill lot or in or near an established neighborhood. You do a lot less driving, the single biggest factor in your energy use and the biggest cost after your mortgage. You might even get rid of a car and use a bike. I think this should be number 1. Unfortunately it can be hard to find.
4. Take full advantage of all the things you can do to increase the sustainable or green quotient that do not cost any money. And 5. Prioritize the green features that give the most bang for the buck. Do the free stuff, like proper siting to get natural light and fresh air, and the cheap stuff, like more insulation and better windows, and the pays-for-itself fast stuff, like LED lighting and more efficient mechanical systems.
The interesting thing about this list promoting sustainability, is that it is also a list promoting frugality. Almost every single suggestion saves money or fuel either up front or in the short term. It's not deep green, but the kind of green that is accessible to anyone. I love that phrase "attainable sustainable" too. Read Marc's original version here.