KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Michelle Kaufmann

Michelle Kaufmann

Michelle Kaufmann, AIA, LEED AP, is an architect, designer and advocate for smarter ways to design, build and live. Her mission with all of her work is to make thoughtful, sustainable design accessible. With her firm, Michelle Kaufmann Studio, she specializes in sustainable lifestyle design, including single-family homes, eco-luxury resorts and multi-family communities. She was the founder of Michelle Kaufmann Designs, a design/build company that led the movement of prefabricated green homes and received a 2008 TOP FIRM AWARD from Residential Architect. Once called “the Henry Ford of green homes” by the Sierra Club, Kaufmann was named 2009 Green Advocate of the Year by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and appeared on Business 2.0 magazine’s list of "100 People Who Matter Now," as well as INC magazine's “The Green 50." She has been featured on the Sundance channel, HGTV, Discovery, Planet Green and in numerous magazines, including Town & Country, Dwell, Sunset, Time and The Smithsonian. Kaufmann received her undergraduate degree from Iowa State University and her Masters from Princeton University and has been a lecturer and keynote speaker for numerous events. For more information on Kaufmann, visit www.michellekaufmann.com or blog.michellekaufmann.com or follow her on Twitter: @mkaufmann.

Jun 27 2012

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I love architecture

Over 70 beautiful sketches from some of the most beloved architects are available now through eBay bidding with proceeds going to Architecture for Humanity. So not only can you get your hands on a piece of great art, but you will simultaneously help your love of architecture for those who need it most. Awesome.

I donated this one of irrigation circles outside of Denver. I became fascinated with the stories told by the patterns of these circles and found these during a trip to Denver for the Aria project.

I Love Architecture

Michelle Kaufmann

Apr 17 2012

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Builder’s tips for green

While the home we designed in the East Bay (which is due to be the first LEED platinum home in Piedmont) is under construction, it is great to check in with people on the team to learn from their experiences. Today we check in with Alex Hodgkinson, of McCuthcheon Construction, the builder of the project.

Me: What are some elements of building a sustainable home that you are most excited about?
Alex: Building sustainably has the incredible advantage of being interesting and good for the planet, both at the same time. There are more challenges than conventional construction in some ways, since sustainable projects usually require us to learn some new things. But learning new things is also incredibly stimulating. Also, clients and architects who are deeply interested in sustainable building tend to be forward-thinking and innovative, which makes working with them a whole lot more interesting and consequently more fun.

Me: What are some of challenges of remodeling a green building?
Alex: Remodeling is inherently green, because we are, in a real sense, recycling buildings. Giving new life to an older home is a great satisfaction. If we do it right, and truly take advantage of the opportunities present when we have the house torn apart for remodeling, we can create a snug and comfortable home that will serve several more generations well into the future.

Some of the challenges are due to the changing structural requirements—for example, existing unreinforced concrete will usually not meet modern engineering requirements. Another set of challenges is in design—older homes typically do not have the kind of open and welcoming floor plan that modern families crave. They also were not well connected to the outdoors. Since they were designed in an era when energy was cheap, we see single-pane windows, minimal insulation, antiquated and inefficient mechanical equipment, etc. On the other hand, it does not take much to make great improvements. Just updating the toilets to modern HET units can save an enormous amount of water. Improving the insulation and weather-stripping saves energy. Adding energy efficient appliances, lighting and mechanical equipment is a no-brainer. There are many such basic improvements that reduce the environmental “footprint” of the home while also saving money and giving more comfort and better health to the occupants.

Me: What would you recommend to homeowners who are interested in building or remodeling a green home?
Alex: 1. Start with efficiency first. Grab the low-hanging fruit of better insulation and weather-stripping, for example.

2. If you really want to do energy work correctly, have a home energy audit to identify and prioritize all the opportunities.

3. Don’t forget to include water conservation as well, for example, specifying water efficient fixtures throughout.

4. Right size the home. Only add square footage if you really need it. Make every square foot count.

5. Spend time and money on good design, which will give the most long-lasting results and save the environment by not having to be re-done for a long time

6. Hire a qualified contractor who is experienced with green building—certified by an independent organization

7. Hang in there—remodeling can be challenging!

8. Get the help of a good team of architect and contractor to help you navigate the process.

Me: What items should builders and home owners consider when going through the LEED process?
Alex: 1. Documentation is a big key—it’s not enough to do the right thing, you have to be able to prove it in writing and photographs.

2. Hire a good LEED consultant to help oversee the process to make sure you get all the points you need and want

3. Plan for extra points, so if you can’t get the all the points your expected on one item, you can still get the points somewhere else.

Me: What are your favorite sustainable aspects of this project?
Alex: 1. We have a great client who is truly committed to building a showcase LEED platinum project, which is a really fun challenge

2. We have a great architectural team which means we will have a beautiful and timeless home which will provide genuine satisfaction for many years to come.

3. The water conservation aspects are extensive, with graywater and rainwater systems at a high level of sophistication

4. I believe this is the first LEED platinum home remodeled in Piedmont, which we hope will inspire others to do the same.

5. It’s exciting to finally see LED lighting coming into its own.

McCutcheon Construction
Piedmont Project

Michelle Kaufmann

Apr 05 2012

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Designing for better

photos by Scott Landry

Sometimes you get lucky and work with people who are not only spectacular, but are also a great balance. I feel super fortunate to have been working with Scott Landry for over 7 years. He has been in charge of most of the projects that I have designed at both MKD and Michelle Kaufmann Studio. He is smart, solid and cares deeply about clients, design and the environment. We actually stopped for a few minutes to discuss one of our recent projects in Piedmont. He shares some pretty helpful advice here.

Michelle: What are some elements of designing and managing a sustainable home that you are most excited about?

Scott: One of the most enjoyable parts of doing what we do is getting to work with people who, like us, just want to live a little smarter. That can mean many things, but to most of our clients it means making a place to live that is comfortable and beautiful, yet simple and useful, without wasting a lot of energy, materials, and money. So we really enjoy finding those solutions with our clients, and delivering a design that is simple and elegant, with natural, durable materials, useful spaces, and energy-efficient features.

Michelle: What are some of challenges of remodeling a green building?

Scott: At the back of your mind is always the question – How far do you go? There’s a balancing act when you’re trying to incorporate reduce-reuse-recycle into an existing house…how much do you replace, add, or subtract to make the home more eco-friendly, and how much can you keep as-is to avoid the waste of over-building; all while providing a beautiful and comfortable place to live? It’s a special kind of client who wants to take things as far as we did with this project.

Michelle: What would you recommend to homeowners who are interested in building or remodeling a green home?

Scott: depends on their situation. If you’re looking to buy a new lot or existing house, there are a number of site-dependent factors that contribute significantly to the potential level of sustainability. These include climate, solar access, prevailing winds, site topography, site geology, site orientation, and the list goes on. There are stacks of books that talk about this stuff, so it’s worthwhile to do a little research and/or to consult with a professional before committing to a site or building.

But many clients are just wanting to improve their current situation, whether it’s remodeling, adding-on, or building a second unit. So in these cases there are many more constraints on the available options. When we approach something like this, we try think in terms of life cycle cost – what materials and spaces are worth keeping, and which ones need to be changed out (or added) to improve the ‘green’ picture? We try also to keep an eye on the point of diminishing returns, in terms of both immediate and lifetime costs. We are firm believers that improving energy efficiency and lowering maintenance costs doesn’t have to break the bank.

Michelle: What items do builders and home owners need to consider when going through the LEED process?

Scott: Having a project team that is well-versed in the LEED process or building sustainably can make a world of difference for the project. Good collaboration between the design team, contractor and home owner throughout the design and construction process is paramount to the success of the project. While most projects in California now (thankfully) have some sort of green standards requirement associated with them and a lot of builders in our area thus have some experience in building sustainably, the LEED process can still be quite demanding. That said, most of the LEED “points” have choices associated with them, so it is important to exhaust the possibilities while keeping in mind the various up-front and lifetime costs associated with each. An experienced project team will help to identify and prioritize the proper solutions in each category in a timely manner which will lead to the ultimate success of the project.

Gray water and rain water catchment system below the deck

Michelle: What are your favorite sustainable aspects of this project?

Scott: While we are excited about many of the project’s sustainable features (and the LEED platinum-rating goal), we are especially proud of the variety and number of systems that are being implemented to reduce and reuse water. Rainwater from the entire roof is being collected and stored. This stored water is pumped to the toilets and to the clothes washer. The greywater from the laundry is then used to irrigate a planting area nearby (so the rainwater is essentially used twice!) and the remainder of the greywater from the home’s sinks and showers will supplement the site’s other irrigation demands.

We are using bioswales, which are a sort of natural water treatment system for surface runoff. So in normal conditions, there should be no runoff leaving this site—water will infiltrate into the ground. However, if there is runoff in more extreme conditions, it will be clean water.

Another water-related system we are using is solar thermal heat. Water is pumped through rooftop panels where it is heated by the sun, and the heat from this water is transferred to supplement both the domestic hot water and the central air heating systems. This is a closed-loop system, so little water is consumed…some electricity for the pump, but the rest of the heating from this system is passive.


Michelle Kaufmann

Jul 12 2011

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Outstanding in the field

michelle kaufmann outstanding in the field 1photos by Jeremy Fenske / Outstanding in the Field

I recently had the great pleasure to enjoy an epic evening filled with delicious food and company, all the while learning about each of the ingredients from the farmer himself (who was sitting with us) and about the wine while we sat in the middle of the vineyard. All five senses were intoxicated simultaneously. You have probably heard of Outstanding in the Field, and honestly, it totally delivers on its name. When looking at photos of some of their dinner “installations” throughout the U.S., they appear to be Land Art.

Check out the Outstanding in the Field schedule to see if their bus and yumminess are headed to your hood.

And then prepare to be amazed.

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Many, many thanks to Taylor Robinson, Penelope Robinson, Jerry James Stone and the OITF crew for an absolutely outstanding evening.

Michelle Kaufmann