Originally Published: July 1, 2010 1:03 p.m.
Q & A with Matt Ackerman and Jeffrey Zucker, owners of Catalyst Architecture at 123 E. Goodwin St., Prescott. The office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. For information call 778-3508 or visit www.catalystarchitecture.com.Q: What is sustainable design?Ackerman: "Sustainable design is design which successfully meets the present needs of the project and its stakeholders without compromising the needs of those who come later to meet theirs. This applies all 'scales' of our over-built environment, whether that's an individual home, neighborhood or an entire city."Q: How do you match the right solar design with the right house?Zucker: "Any residential design presents unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to solar design. Simply orienting the house in the proper direction to accept sun in the winter and to shield itself from the sun in the summer can be a challenge, particularly if the preferred view is not towards the south. Also, an owner's budget will dictate how aggressive a design can be when seeking to maximize the benefits of the sun."Gathering electrical energy with photovoltaic panels can be shown to pay for itself over time, if an owner is willing to invest a little more up front, in return for lower utility bills down the road."Q: The cost of going green is a big concern for a lot of people. Where do they begin?Ackerman: "With a clearly defined budget and a cost-conscious architect who understands that conserving his clients' financial resources is just as important as conserving the material and energy resources of our community."The most basic and often the most underrated aspects of green design typically don't cost anything more, such as favorable sitting and landscaping, optimized building orientation, properly designed roof overhangs and the correct placement, sizing, and specification of windows. These choices usually don't add any cost to the building and yet are some of the effective green building decisions an owner can make."Q: How does landscaping impact utility bills?Zucker: "Landscaping that uses little to no water is an obvious choice for reducing expense. This can be achieved by using native plants, which are attractive and well adapted to the climate. Landscaping in the correct locations can provide windbreaks as well as lowering the temperature around the house. Seasonal shading by deciduous trees and vining plants can be used to limit sun penetration into the house in the summer while allowing it inside in the winter, when it is more welcome."Q: How do you incorporate recycled material into your products?Zucker: "When looking to incorporate recycled materials into a home design, it is always important to do a little research up front. There are many products that are now available that contain a large proportion of recycled materials in them. Blown-in cellulose insulation is one example, being made largely out of recycled newsprint."Steel products, such as metal siding and steel studs often contain a percentage of recycled content. Carpeting and various countertop materials are also well-known users of recycled content. Other materials such as "urbanite," which is the broken pieces of concrete from a previous building, are a more direct way of incorporating recycled materials into a building project. Urbanite can be used to construct retaining walls that are surprisingly attractive and fairly easy to build."Q: What incentives (tax or otherwise) are available for businesses to go green?Ackerman: "There are numerous state and federal tax incentives, as well as utility rebate programs available for businesses.Here in Arizona, a state tax credit for businesses is available which may be applied against corporate or personal taxes and is equal to 10 percent of the installed cost of qualifying solar systems. These system types include passive solar space heat, solar hot water, solar space heat, solar thermal electric, solar thermal process heat, photovoltaics, wind, solar cooling and daylight systems for a maximum incentive of $25,000 for any one building in the same year and $50,000 per business in total credits in any year."On the federal level, programs specifically tailored for green businesses include corporate deduction, corporate depreciation, corporate tax credit as well as federal grant, loan and other performance-based incentive packages. For information, visit www.dsireusa.org. This website is one of the best online resources for up to date information on federal and state green business programs."Q: How has the Prescott area reacted to sustainable design?Zucker: "Sustainable design has been slowly gaining acceptance over the past 25 years. As people begin to recognize the importance of conserving our resources and achieving energy independence, it has become more and more mainstream to implement simple sustainable efforts, such as adding water harvesting tanks at the downspouts of houses or upgrading the insulation in our attics."Design of new homes which are energy efficient is also on the rise as it becomes increasingly evident that utility bills are adding a larger and larger chunk to our monthly expenses. Sustainability, of course, also involved other issues such as how various products are harvested, like timber, as well as how far they are transported and how much energy is used in their production. People in the Prescott area are gradually becoming aware of these issues and are slowly starting to take them into account."Q: What do you say to the thought that green building and affordability can't work together?Ackerman: "Despite (the) common misperception, building green does not necessarily cost more. That's like saying buying a car costs more. It all depends on what kind of car, or in this case, what kind of green building, one chooses to build. When properly designed, green building saves money. It's the basic concept of investment. If a building owner is willing to invest in a higher quality window or a more appropriate insulation type for example, that decision will pay for itself over a known length of time and then actually save the owner money after that, continuing to do so every year, year in, year out, for the life of the building."It's really a good deal because energy costs only go up over time. The return on investment on green building is usually quite favorable. The reality is, from the perspective of an individual home or business owner or from our society as a whole, we really can't afford not to build green."