So, it is the beginning of the New Year. Out with the old, in with the new. Firming up, slimming down, running a tighter ship. Many of you will use this time to get your health and bodies into better shape. I, too, try to keep up with that. Some weight training, a couple spinning classes a week and fair-weather running all help me to maintain balance in my life. Add to this my most recent clutter purge and I feel prepared with the power and energy to manage anything.

Sometimes this need to optimize can become a bit addictive. Anyone whose family car is a hybrid, or who has a close friend who is a Prius driver, has probably become competitive in seeing who can get the best gas mileage. AK and I engage in this more than either of us is willing to admit. I’ve also seen this with clients who have PV systems, and who proudly report how much the electric company owes them.

I liken this need to compete with our obsession to create optimal homes for our clients. For example, when searching for the ‘best’ products and materials for the wall and roof systems, cladding, windows, finishes and appliances of our homes, we pore over websites, testing studies, consumer reports, and meet with endless representatives before taking only the fittest, best value for money items onboard. Then, we categorize the results into standards and upgrades complete with our own internal Green Star rating system. The time invested in pre-selection streamlines what can easily become one of the more time-consuming, resource burning phases in the delivery of a home. Inform yourself early, increase predictability, reap the rewards later.

To help organize and focus the decision-making process, we use a short, but helpful matrix of identifiers:

What is the client’s budget?

This will actually lay the groundwork for all of the options and decisions during the entire project. From the amount of glazing, to finishes, to the utilization of alternative energy systems, understanding the client’s financial comfort zone will aid in the value engineering of the project.

How environmentally minded are the clients?

Are green aspects fringe benefits, or are the clients serious about choosing the most environmentally sound selections available? Or, perhaps they find themselves somewhere in between. R-33 walls and triple-glazed windows are our standards, but depending on the climate zone the process of value engineering might lead to the possibility of lesser thermal qualities in return for the investment in a small PV array. One of our most jaw-dropping experiences came when an interested party informed us that he didn’t give a hoot about our eco-credentials, he just liked our homes’ appearances. Wow.

Which station in life?

Young family, professional couple, golden agers, jet-setters, entertainers, patchwork in need of flexible space, or keeping up with the Joneses? There are as many familial situations and lifestyle preferences as there are stars in the sky. Understanding how your client structures his or her life today, as well as how that routine might change in the future, will aid in the entire design and specification process. Should every bathroom have a tub, or are tray-less showers preferable? Is wool carpeting desirable in the baby’s room? Office today, guest suite tomorrow, granny flat in 5 years? Efficient and creative planning makes the most out of  available space and funds.

What is their attitude toward maintenance?

Are the clients hands-on in terms of periodic oiling of the Ipe cladding? Would Trespa rain screen panels appeal to them if the budget would allow it? What about the wood deck? Would the naturally occurring patina on the Silestone countertop be acceptable? Or is Dekton the better choice? Oiled hardwood floors, or would porcelain or stone be more appropriate? Especially when dealing with the greenest of materials, understanding your clients’ feelings toward upkeep is very important. It’s not sustainable if it is torn out and replaced in 5 years time.

Materials, systems and products will continue to improve and evolve. Our trusted network of consultants, contractors and representatives is invaluable in filtering information down to the most useful elements. In the end, the goal is for the client to be as happy as we are in creating an individualized, beautifully sustainable home.