Green building practices come closer to home

By on February 27, 2009

by Lynn Meredith
Building practices that attempt to lessen negative impacts on the environment have been around since the 1970s, but recently consumers have seen the value of keeping their carbon footprint light while at the same time saving money.

Businesses such as Batir Architecture, Ltd. in St. Charles are doing their part to meet consumer requests for more energy-efficient and environmentally sound buildings and homes.

“We work with the client to improve buildings as far as energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and using materials for longevity. Using durable, low-maintenance materials is important,” said Paula Price, owner of Batir Architecture since 2004.

Price said that technology has come a long way from the 1970s, when the emphasis was on non-technical means to help the environment, such as recycling and reusing. She said that today, builders and architects work with a lot of technology. The technology now is more economical and more “pretty” than it used to be.

“It was hard, living in the Midwest, (to get people to accept environmentally sound design),” Price said. “Now it’s very, very easy. Everybody has come around.”

Even though builders tend to be resistant to changing their tried-and-true practices, the market is now consumer-driven. Price said the ideal situation is when the builder and the architect work together to create the best design for the client.

“We take into consideration the client’s budget. We educate them and give them the best advice on what to include. There are so many areas in green building. You can’t do everything,” Price said.

Price said that often clients will upgrade something like their insulation for comfort reasons or to save money on heating and air-conditioning, but that choice also impacts the environment in a positive way.

“Financial savings and environmental reasons can go hand in hand,” Price said.

Bringing natural daylight into interior spaces is one key way to save energy. By orienting the building to take advantage of sunlight, prevailing breezes and shading from the sun, a structure will have better light and air quality, and use less energy.

Batir’s designs use solar panels and geothermal technology. Price emphasizes that the architect can help clients understand where their money is best spent.

“We understand how to put the puzzle together to best meet their needs,” she said. “ We can rein in the project, so to speak, and are better informed about practices. We work with the client to determine the payback on things like solar panels or geothermal heat systems.”

Often, remodeling existing structures is more “green” than building new ones. Price said that the architect can build in features that update the building for longer, more efficient use.

Batir focuses its designs for clients in the western suburbs. It designed the Hawthorne Nature Center, the Lord of Life Church, Bartlett Vision Center and residences in the area.

“I saw 10 to 15 years ago, before ‘green’ was cool, that I wanted to live with a little lighter footprint in my own life. Then I thought, ‘Why not try it in building?’” Price said.

Illustration: Paul Munsen, president of Sun Ovens International, examines some of his ovens at his factory in Elburn. Sun ovens provide an alternative to conventional cooking here and in other countries where fuel is scarce and expensive. Photo Illustration by John DiDonna