Amy Albert is editor-in-chief of Professional Builder and Custom Builder magazines. Previously, she worked as chief editor of Custom Home and design editor at Builder. Amy came to writing about building by way of food journalism, as kitchen design editor at Bon Appetit and before that, at Fine Cooking, where she shot, edited, and wrote stories on kitchen design. She studied art history with an emphasis on architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania and has served on several design juries. 

Good Day Sunshine

Last fall, a salesperson from a solar company knocked at the door. He was in the right neighborhood—in sun-baked Los Angeles, our pocket is one of the sunniest. Installing a few panels on the roof of our 1,300-square-foot home was something I’d been contemplating but hadn’t got around to investigating. So, I was glad for the chance to hear what he had to say. Stan was articulate and informed. His enthusiasm veered clear of pushy, and his 20-minute spiel was engaging. He offered to come back a few days later with a free estimate after analyzing a bird’s-eye view of our house and running the numbers against the stack of electricity bills I’d handed him.

For a Southern California household, our utility usage is pretty low. We skimp on air conditioning and use light timers, and we’ve bulked up on insulation and installed the best doors we could afford. I figured we could save more, yet on the day before the estimate appointment came a call from Stan. “Your house is in too much shadow and your energy bills are too low,” he said, voice laden with disappointment. “I can’t justify selling you solar panels.” 

I was stunned—sales folks with that kind of integrity are rare. Plus, I was flummoxed. I live in the desert—how could a PV array on a south-facing roof not make sense? My grumbling about the infill behemoth next door robbing us of solar gain turned into a full-on snit. 

But not for long. There’s more than one way to live lightly on the land. As you’ll see starting on page 30, senior editor Susan Bady writes about the breadth of energy-saving measures being leveraged by custom builders, including generous overhangs, strategically planted trees, orientation to manage the sun and encourage natural ventilation, LED lighting, high-performance windows, advanced air sealing, geothermal heating, conditioned attics and mechanical rooms, and of course, generous insulation. Indeed, solar panels are a great option when the numbers work out, but the builders we talked with report that their clients are less concerned with certifications, points, and designation-chasing than they are with low utility bills and building homes that they could spend the rest of their days living in—yet another way to think about sustainability.

Clients concerned about their footprint can be ones that are most fun to work with. They may result in repeat business or maybe even become your friends. But not always. Starting on page 22, senior editor Mike Beirne got an earful of advice on screening out difficult clients from builders who have been there. The takeaway? Vet early and often.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017 - 06:00

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