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Background Info and Site Checklist for Design Consultations

Summary: What background information you need to collect and provide for a design consultation, and why. On this page:



The foundation of ecological design is laying out goals and assumptions.

This is the map of the context for the project, edited and simplified until it is small enough to be manageable but still accurate and complete enough to guide the design well.

There is a tendency to want to skim over this step and get on with the "design."

In conventional construction this step often doesn't exist. It doesn't need to: there are conventions and codes understood to guide the project.

One convention is that each specialist just focuses on their part. If the project as a whole is headed for disaster, or even if their contracted work is a complete waste, this is not their concern so long as they perform it to the agreed standards.

It is always more work to create a new system than to fit into an existing one.

Conventional construction deals with existing systems which are standardized, bug-tested and can be done by rote, e.g., electric water heaters and a sewer connection.

Ecological design entails pioneering new systems which are far more site sensitive; e.g., solar heaters, a composting toilet and a greywater system.

Part of the difference is the newness and rareness of the ecological technologies, and part is that much of the benefits come from adapting the design to a specific site. Even with another 100 years of experience, ecological design will still require more careful consideration of the goals and site characteristics than the generic solutions popular today.

The first step is to agree on this map. We'll use it to guide us to the identified goals, most likely using less travelled design paths, and a little bit of trail blazing.

My best skill is optimizing the design by reconciling all the different factors affecting it. This requires coordination of the efforts of the many different specialists that may be involved in a project.

The earlier in the design phase you can involve me, and the more elements (greywater system, landscaping, architecture, freshwater procurement, energy efficiency…) I can have input to, the easier and cheaper it will be to accomplish more, by assuring these elements support each other.

The more of the info below you can provide me, the better I'll be able to advise you…if I'm sketched a wrong or incomplete map, I'll likely end up running for the wrong goal post on your behalf…

However, this a long, generic list and some items will not apply or be overly difficult to come up with--skip those. The goals and assumptions step can help you get more clear on what it is that you really want, and be more realistic about what the constraints on the design are. The more real we can be about the project, the less chance of reality rearing up and biting us later.


Background information checklist

Please fill out the Eco home checklist-pdf. You can hand write on it (clearly) and mail it, or just e mail just the answers.

Residential Water Makeover Checklist Scope & Sequence for Assessment, Design, & Implementation (New, beta version)





Note: please don't send us your only original of anything, just copies. We can't re responsible for irreplaceable documents, and also it is useful for both of us to have copies of maps, photos, etc. to refer to when conferring off site.


Consulting rates & terms


Checklist excerpts

Goals & assumptions

General project goals


I believe that humans are the "thinking" part of the biosphere. I see our role as arranging resources so more limiting nutrients are available, biodiversity is enhanced, more complexity and connections are facilitated. Designs which truly fulfill this purpose have soul: Besides working, they are beautiful and harmonious.

Making water available when it is dry, building the soil, creating favorable microlimates, habitat and community are examples of how this purpose can be fulfilled.

This and otherEco Design Principles-articleare what guide my work.


*A note on the performance requirement: on average, things might work in Mexico 75% of the time, the US 90%, and in Switzerland 95% (believe me, no slight or preference is intended here; each of these standards has it's attractions and drawbacks; I loved living and working in all these places, for completely different reasons). The performance requirement is rarely discussed explicitly, but it has a huge influence on cost. Each increments in performance between the three examples above might require a doubling in the cost and ecological impact of the system. Conversely, huge economic and ecological savings can accrue from lowering the performance standard.

The solar hot water system in my home, for example, provides plenty of piping hot water 95% of the time. We have a backup which we must manually switch to for the rest of the time. If we're not paying attention to our use and the weather, we'll end up with a cold shower; this happens maybe five times a year (it happened once a week while we were getting used to it). It is certainly technically feasible to lower this under once a year with an automated backup that doubled the cost of the system and quadrupled its energy consumption, but we agreed that lower ecological cost and higher awareness behavior were more desirable for us.