Passive Solar Design: Making the Most of Nature’s Energy

Passive solar design is foundational to the way we approach home building. In a city like Santa Fe, passive solar design can have a massive impact on the efficiency and sustainability of your home.

How does Palo Santo Designs incorporate passive solar design into its homes? Keep reading to find out more about how we work.

What is Passive Solar Design?

Passive solar design involves creating homes and home features that take advantage of the sun’s energy. This involves understanding the orientation, layout of window glazing and use of overhangs to maximize the heating potential of the sun’s warming rays in the home during winter, while simultaneously maximizing shading of those same rays during the summer months to avoid unwanted heating.  Once the basic accounting of the solar angles of the sun in winter vs. summer and the correct sizing and shading of window glass is harnessed, then the importance of creating a super insulated building envelope which includes thermal mass elements within the home yields paybacks

The result:  Homes build according to basic passive solar design principles will have minimal heating and cooling costs as compared to homes which are designed without any thought as to solar heat gain.  And, properly designed and build passive solar homes will also maximize the comfort of those dwelling in the home, because the temperature extremes of heat and cold outside the home are insulated away from the interior, reducing temperature fluctuations.

Passive solar design allows you to reduce heating and cooling loads in the most cost-effective way, because passive solar design typically adds little or nothing to the cost of constructing a home.

Key Features in Passive Solar Design

When building homes with energy efficiency in mind, you need to take a few things into account, including all of the following:

-Site Selection: New passive solar home construction projects will require a portion of the south side of the house to have an unobstructed view of the sun. This can be harder than you think: mature trees and other buildings nearby could block your south-facing exposure, which could compromise the efficiency of your passive solar home. Great passive solar design starts with intelligent site selection.

-High-Performance Building Envelope:  The thermal envelope can also be thought of as the “shell: of the home.  The materials and methods which go into creating the exterior walls, roof and opening in the outside of the building.  At Palo Santo Designs we have learned through 15 years of experience that the most cost effective way to achieve a high-performance building envelope in Northern New Mexico’s climate is with the use of 2×6 or 2×8 stud wall construction, with 2”-3” of insulating foam placed around, under and over the entire building. All wall and ceiling cavities are then packed with blown-in insulation.  Additionally, we air seal all exterior surfaces and penetrations to assure that drafts are minimized.  And finally, we use only ENERGY STAR rated windows and doors.  These features, when properly combined and installed will create a super energy efficient and high performing building envelope which serves as the foundation for comfort, energy efficiency and very effective passive solar design, without busting the budget.

-Properly-Designed Windows: Windows and glass doors should be designed in such a way as to not over expose the home to solar gain.  A qualified passive solar designer will be able to make the window sizing calculations that best suit the size and layout of your new passive solar home. Additionally, exposed south facing glass needs to be provided with shading during the summer months.  Roof overhangs and other architectural projections can be designed with the summer sun angle of the house location in mind to maximize solar gain in winter and minimize solar gain in summer. In the early days of passive solar design, many examples tended toward over doing the size of glass facing south, and little attention was paid to the importance of overhangs, leading to an overheating situation, especially in the summer months.  This is not good passive solar design.

-Thermal Mass: One of the key parts of passive solar design involves taking thermal mass into account – like concrete, brick, stone, and tile; heavy building materials that easily absorb and re-radiate heat.  These thermal mass components act as heat sinks in the winter months storing the solar gain radiated into the home and also as a “cool” sinks in the summer months when little or no solar gain enters the home.  During the summer shading conditions provided by properly designed windows and overhangs, thermal mass will absorb latent heat from the air, thus keeping the ambient air temperature cool relative to a space without thermal mass, reducing the need for mechanical cooling.  When designing a home, one of the key goals is ensuring that thermal mass materials are sufficiently sized to have an appreciable impact on the ambient temperature.  Although it is not absolutely necessary to moderate temperatures, thermal mass with an unobstructed view of sunlight is the most effective.

Passive Solar Design in Santa Fe Available Through Palo Santo Designs

Homes with passive solar design are vastly more efficient. It minimizes your environmental impact – and your utility bills. Talk to Palo Santo Designs today and start planning your dream home with passive solar design systems.

Palo Santo Designs on Parade

With the 2016 Olympic Games still in full swing, it’s worth remembering the idea that athletes compete at their best when they’re performing in an arena that includes the most skilled opponents. At Palo Santo Designs, we are proud to be among a community that represents some of the nation’s most talented architects, designers and home builders.

This undoubtedly has helped keep our own “game” at its best. In this year’s 24th annual Haciendas…A Parade of Homes, organized by the Santa Fe Area Homebuilders’ Association, Palo Santo Designs has enjoyed the great privilege of showcasing not one but two of our homes — and we are thrilled that the effort we invested in them has garnered recognition with several awards.

Our home at 9 Via San Martin, in the Tano Road area, earned the coveted award for Best Craftsmanship. This 2,900 plus-square-foot Northern New Mexico-style luxury hacienda, with pitched roof and exposed beams, is made up of three separate structures interconnected by flagstone and moss rock hardscaped outdoor spaces that capitalize on the beautiful natural surroundings and mountain views. 

Inside, various floor finishes inside include black walnut and polished concrete, providing an aesthetic contrast to the stone fireplace and countertops and custom cherry cabinetry.  Furthermore, the hand troweled diamond finish plaster is exemplary of Northern New Mexico traditional craftsmanship. Maximizing its overall efficiency and reducing its ecological footprint, the home is super-insulated and features a rainwater-harvesting irrigation system.

Our home at 1841 Cristobal Lane, in Santa Fe’s Museum Hill Estates neighborhood, scored top honors in three categories, with awards for Best Outdoor Living Space, Best Water Efficiency, and Best Energy Efficiency.

This 2,077 square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath Pueblo Revival-style home features contemporary accents and ample outdoor living areas that likewise capitalize on the magnificent mountain views. The inviting landscape design was a collaboration with Serquis+Associates Landscape Architecture, and exemplifies water conscious xeriscaping including native species and permeable hardscaping utilizing native stone and adobe. 

The home’s energy is provided by its roof-mounted photovoltaic system that generates 4.5 kilowatts of electricity, the home can produce nearly as much of its own energy as it consumes from the grid, and features an electric car charger for true solar powered driving. 

As for its water conservation features, the home is topped with a roof designed to capture and utilize all rainfall for the outdoor landscape irrigation as well as re-use within the home for toilet flushing, furthermore, the landscape is also nourished by a graywater system that reclaims wastewater from showers, laundry and bathroom sinks.

We encourage anyone interested in seeing these two luxurious custom homes as well as the many other fine homes on the Parade lineup to do so during this forthcoming weekend (August 19 – 21), which marks the second and last chance to check them out. Tickets can be purchased online through the Lensic or at each house during the event itself. The homes can also be seen for free during Friday’s Twilight Tour from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

New to Santa Fe? Here Are 7 Great Things To Do

Santa Fe is filled with exciting things to do. Did you just move to town? Are you visiting for the weekend? Today, we’re highlighting 7 great things to do when you’re new to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

1) Soak Up Culture on Canyon Road

For most Santa Fe visitors, Canyon Road is the first and last stop on the tour. It’s the center of Santa Fe’s artistic spirit and is home to commercial galleries, public museums, and other attractions that will appeal to art lovers.

Canyon Road can be found just east of the Santa Fe Plaza. Keep an eye out for artwork by renowned artists like Fernando Botero. Or, shop around for treasured cultural artifacts like Navajo rugs and Southwestern wood carvings.

The best way to soak up Canyon Road is to just walk down the street. The street is an art exhibit in itself: walking down the street, you’ll cruise past adobe buildings laced with brilliantly-colored flowers. You’ll smell the spicy odor of chili peppers wafting from the doorways of world-class restaurants.

Aim to spend 2 to 4 hours on Canyon Road. Parking in the area can be a hassle as the streets in the surrounding area are narrow. Look for the free Santa Fe Pick-Up shuttle stops nearby to save yourself a lot of headaches. 

2) Explore Santa Fe Plaza

Santa Fe is one of the oldest cities in America. Founded all the way back in 1607, Santa Fe’s history began right under your feet at the Santa Fe Plaza.

The Plaza has been Santa Fe’s cultural hub ever since. Over the years, it’s played host to bullfights and fandangos. Today, it’s surrounded by historical buildings like the Palace of the Governors and the San Miguel Mission.

Walk around Santa Fe Plaza. Discover Santa Fe’s history. Explore the Plaza at night to find a place teeming with activity. Eat at some of the restaurants, walk through galleries, and peruse Native American artifacts – but be careful not to overspend on some of the inflated trinket prices.

3) Discover the Palace of the Governors & the New Mexico History Museum

Located just off Santa Fe Plaza, the Palace of the Governors was built the same year Santa Fe was founded – 1610. It was the original capital of New Mexico and is also renowned for being the site of the only successful Native American uprising, which took place back in 1680.

Walk through the adobe building to explore 400 years of our state’s history. Learn about the Santa Fe trail and view an altarpiece made in 1830 for a church in Taos.

The New Mexico Museum of History and the Palace of the Governors are both open every day from 10am to 5pm Tuesday through Sunday (open Mondays in the summertime). New Mexico residents pay $6 and out-of-state visitors pay $9, while children 16 and younger enter for free. Admission is also free on Fridays between 5pm and 8pm.

If you’re really interested in learning more about the city’s history, consider booking a walking tour through the New Mexico History Museum. It takes you to more historic spots around town.

4) Peruse the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Santa Fe is famous for its artists, and no artist is more famous in Santa Fe than Georgia O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe moved to Santa Fe from the East Coast and quickly became inspired by the high desert surroundings. Before long, she was known as one of the greatest artists to ever live in the Southwest.

Even if you have just a minor love of art, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is a must-visit while in Santa Fe. It’s home to over 1,000 O’Keeffe creations, including drawings, paintings, and sculptures along with 2,000 other works by her peers.

5) Experience Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf is a recently-opened art exhibit that’s difficult to describe. Essentially, it’s a walkthrough art exhibit packed with multimedia presentations. Here’s how the artists describe their renowned attraction:

“Our work is a combination of jungle gym, haunted house, children’s museum, and immersive art exhibit. This unique fusion of art and entertainment gives audiences fictional worlds to explore.”

It’s an immersive experience that really has to be seen to be believed. You can’t really describe it: you just have to see it for yourself the next time you visit Santa Fe.

Meow Wolf also has rotating exhibits taking place throughout the year. Visit their official website to check what’s going on this week.

6) Go Skiing

New Mexico may be a desert, but Santa Fe sits at 7,199 feet above sea level, making it one of the highest cities in the United States. That means ski hills and snow are only a short trip away from downtown in the winter.

There are four main ski hills within a two hour drive of Santa Fe. The closest option is Ski Santa Fe, which is just 15 miles northeast of the city. Other options include Pajarito Mountain Ski Area and Sipapau Ski and Summer Resort, both of which are about an hour away.

If you want to travel a little farther, then Taos Ski Valley is probably the best ski hill in the state. It’s home to more varied terrain and a larger ski area. It’s a 2 hour drive away but locals will tell you it’s worth getting up early. 

Many of New Mexico’s ski resorts get up to 300 inches of snow every year. If you’re in the area in the winter, you can enjoy nice weather in town while still enjoying world-class skiing on the peaks.

7) Hike Bandelier National Monument

Located just a few miles west of Santa Fe, Bandelier National Monument is an outdoor mecca for Santa Fe residents. The area is home to 30,000 acres of backcountry wilderness along with 60 miles of hiking trails. It takes about an hour to drive there from Santa Fe, but it’s a great way to spend a weekend exploring.

History buffs will get a kick out of Bandelier National Monument. The base of Frijoles Canyon has a collection of ancient cave dwellings and other stone structures that originally belonged to New Mexico’s Pueblo people. Visitors are free to explore the settlement and follow the paved trail through the village.

7 day passes to Bandelier National Monument cost about $20.

We’ve only hinted at the number of great things there are to do around Santa Fe, New Mexico! We’re surrounded by nature, history, art, and culture in our beautiful city and that means there’s never a shortage of things to do.

What is the LEED Program for Home Building?

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is creating a whole new generation of homes across America. Discover how LEED is inspiring homebuilders – and benefiting homeowners – across Santa Fe, New Mexico.

What is LEED?

The LEED program is a third-party verification system for green homes. When a building is LEED-certified, it means the building has met a strict set of environmentally-friendly standards.

Meanwhile, environmentally-conscious homeowners can shop among houses based on their LEED rating levels.

The goal is to encourage our world to grow in a more sustainable way. There are four levels of LEED certification, including Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

When a building is LEED-certified, it means it uses resources more efficiently than other similarly-sized buildings. It uses less water and energy, for example, and produces less greenhouse gas. LEED-certified buildings also save money.

One of the best things about LEED is that it can be applied to all different types of projects – including everything from downtown hotels to homes in residential neighborhoods.

Palo Santo Creates LEED-Certified Homes in Santa Fe

Palo Santo Designs is a design-build firm based here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We’re proud to be among a few homebuilders devoted to sustainable residential development in our region.

We are proud to say that many of our Santa Fe home projects have passed the rigorous scrutiny of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program.

That means our homes are not only aesthetically beautiful, but they also have minimum impact on the environment. They use less energy and water, for example, while still being stylistically stunning.

How Do We Build LEED Homes in Santa Fe?

Palo Santo Designs has recently finished a home in Santa Fe’s Museum Hill neighborhood. The 2,100 square foot, three bedroom, two bath Pueblo Revival-style home is outfitted with contemporary accents, extensive outdoor space, and beautiful views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

It’s also pending LEED certification at the Platinum level, which is the highest level of certification available. Here are a few of the this environmentally-friendly home’s key sustainability achievements.

Solar Panels and Home Orientation

The home is nestled onto a single-acre lot. While creating the home, our designers had to carefully consider the orientation in order to maximize views as well as solar gain.

The roof of the home features a photovoltaic system capable of generating 4.5 kilowatts of electricity, which covers virtually all of the electrical needs for the home. Other electric features in the home include an electric vehicle charging station, a high efficiency air-to-water heat pump for in-floor heating and cooling, and efficient LED lighting throughout the home.

Water Conservation and Indoor Reuse of Rainwater

Water conservation also played a crucial role in gaining LEED certification. The home’s roof is specially designed not just for solar panels, but also to maximize rainfall capture. This rainwater is used for outdoor landscape irrigation as well as to flush indoor toilets. Re-using collected rainwater indoors is a cutting edge innovation in Santa Fe.

Meanwhile, gray water beds reclaim wastewater from showers, laundry, and bathroom sinks to ensure the landscaping always looks stunning without using excessive water.

Insulation, Adobe Walls, and Air Ventilation

One final piece of the puzzle is insulation. To create an environmentally-efficient home, Palo Santo Designs had to create a very well-insulated home outfitted with R-30 walls and R-50 ceilings.

Adobe walls within the home provide thermal mass, which then captures and retains heat energy from passive solar-oriented clerestory windows.

Of course, homes with good insulation can often suffer ventilation problems. That’s why we incorporated an energy recovery ventilation system that facilitates the proper exchange of fresh air into the home via an air-to-air heat exchanger.

Fresh air is brought into the home, passed through a filter to remove contaminants like dust and pollen, and then refreshes the home. This is especially valuable during allergy season or during the winter and wildfire months when the home is closed off to the outdoor air.

LEED Platinum-Certified Homes Now Available in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Ultimately, the home mentioned above will achieve LEED Platinum-certification, which is the highest level of certification available through the program.  This is one of many successful LEED certified projects by Palo Santo Designs. 

We have another home pending LEED certification available for sale:

Radiating Energy Efficiency in Our Santa Fe Homes

At Palo Santo Designs, we pride ourselves on designing some of the greenest, most efficient and luxurious homes in Santa Fe. That’s why we often incorporate in-slab radiant heating and cooling systems into so many of our projects. A study by the New Buildings Institute found nearly half of the nation’s commercial net-zero energy buildings – buildings that produce as much energy as they consume — use radiant systems to meet their energy goals.

Using In-Floor Radiant Heating & Cooling:

In-floor radiant heating and cooling systems utilize of carefully designed network of flexible tubing set within the concrete slab to deliver heated or cooled liquids to thermostatically controlled zones of the house.  Concrete slabs, being of high mass are perfect reservoirs of heat (or cool) and thus slowly radiate temperature control into the ambient space, making the home comfortable in the most energy efficient way.

To really get the most of a radiant heating and cooling system that is installed in new slab-on grade construction, the concrete slabs are of utmost importance. That’s why we employ an above-code approach to high-performance slabs, involving a number of key strategies.

Here’s a clip of a slab in progress:

Starting With An Earthen Building Pad:

For starters, we begin by creating a 95 percent compacted earthen building pad that is constructed of engineered fill to provide for long term stability. We work closely with our Geotechnical Engineer to assure the excavation and compaction methods are suitable to the soil type, thus minimizing movement (settling or upheaval) within the building over time. Few builders are willing to take the time or afford the expense of this crucial step instead of suffering the consequences later with movement, cracking or subsidence of the building over time.

Avoiding Radon in Our Santa Fe Homes:

Over the engineered building pad, we apply a two-inch layer of gravel with a continuous vapor barrier overlay that allows earth gases, including life threatening radon, to collect and be isolated from the living space. Radon vents starting below the vapor barrier and continuing within concealed walls up through the roof allows radon and other gases to escape the building without ever entering the living space, thus avoiding the accumulation of potentially carcinogenic Radon gas within the living space.

The Palo Santo Way With Insulation:

Upon the radon mitigation layer described above, rigid insulation is placed to insure that the in-floor heating and cooling applied to the slabs is transferred directly into the living space, and not lost into the earth below.  Code minimum is not the Palo Santo way, so our under slab insulation is R-15 or better, creating a highly energy efficient floor that will be guaranteed to be thermally comfortable while minimizing heating and cooling costs

Upon the insulation, a layer of sand bedding allows for ideal curing of concrete, which promotes superior hard-troweled finished floors with integral color that is vastly more appealing than with typical concrete.

Needless to say, rebar and mesh installed prior to the concrete pour assures structural integrity and reduces hairline cracking. Strategically placed cut-in control joints do the same by relieving tension during the curing process, while also adding a visible architectural element similar to the look of large format floor tile. 

There is nothing quite like the feel and look of a hard troweled integrally colored concrete floor.  An aesthetic that works both in the ultra-contemporary or traditional Santa Fe home. 

The WERS Rating and How It’s Helping Our Homes Save Water

A group of green home builders in New Mexico recently created the WERS rating, a water conservation standard designed to help homes save water. What is the WERS rating and what does it mean for homebuyers? Let’s take a closer look.

What is the WERS Rating?

WERS stands for Water Efficiency Rating Score. It’s a term that quantifies a home’s water use, then generates a score similar to the HERS index, which is used to measure a home’s energy consumption.

The measurement standard was created by the Green Builder Coalition.

WERS seeks to solve one of New Mexico’s biggest problems: a lack of water. Many homeowners have acknowledged the need to conserve water more efficiently in their homes, so they install things like toilets and showers with flow reduction equipment. However, this equipment only reduces water consumption in certain parts of your home.

WERS, meanwhile, tracks water usage inside and outside the home to help homeowners make better decisions about their water usage.

WERS scores are given based on a scale from 0 to 100, with lower numbers indicating better water efficiency.

How Does WERS Track Water Consumption?

WERS tracks the efficiency of water consumption by tracking indoor and outdoor water usage.

Inside the home, for example, WERS looks at the main plumbing fixtures, including the toilets, showers, lavatories, kitchen sinks, clothes washers, and pipe priming (the pipe priming is water that is wasted before usable hot water arrives at the farthest hot water-using fixture).

The system looks at the loading values and associated efficiencies of these fixtures to calculate indoor water use. It also takes into account rainwater and graywater catchment, and uses these measurements in an attempt to offset indoor water use (just like solar panels can offset energy use in the HERS index).

How to Get a WERS Score On a Home

Homebuilders can estimate the WERS score of a property based on the fixtures and appliances installed in the home as well as any water conservation strategies the home plants to implement.

However, that only provides a general estimate for the WERS score. To get a specific WERS score, the completed program document must be sent to a third-party WERS verifier, who will then check to ensure all appliances, fixtures, and strategies have been installed as the builders have claimed.

Then, there’s one final certification step: the program document is sent to the Green Builder Coalition for processing.

Once that step is complete, the homebuilders have a certified, verified measurement of how efficiently the home consumes water. They can use this information to apply for tax credits or other incentives that require third party verification.

Tax Credits, Incentives, and Other WERS Benefits

Why should you start thinking about WERS? Here are some of the tax credits, incentives, and other benefits of the WERS system:

-Potential financial incentives, including reduced tap and storm water impact fees

-Potential upcoming tax credits like Senate Bill 279, which was recently approved and will be funded in 2016 to promote water conservation across NM

-Support of water conservation codes, regulations, and enforcement, and can easily be incorporated into your local green building code (which varies between municipalities across New Mexico – in Santa Fe, we have the Santa Fe Residential Green Building Code, or SFRGBC)

-The satisfaction of doing your part in the long-term conservation of a precious natural resource

The Green Builders Coalition is currently in talks with the EPA to expands WERS across the country and build support.

What Does WERS Mean for Santa Fe Homebuyers?

WERS gives homebuilders, homebuyers, and anyone else in the industry an easy way to compare homes.

If two homes seem pretty much identical in square footage, bedrooms, bathrooms, location, and all other metrics you use to compare property, then the WERS score may be the deciding factor.

The 0 to 100 scale of the WERS score also plays into the competitive nature of homebuilders: builders may start to advertise that they have the lowest WERS scores in New Mexico, for example, and will try to beat competitors to a lower score.

Build your Next Santa Fe Home with Water and Energy Efficiency in Mind

Ultimately, WERS is a water conservation standard that’s becoming increasingly important in New Mexico. If you’re interested in designing and constructing a home with strong WERS and HERS standards, get in touch with us today at Palo Santo Designs. As an award-winning design build contractor, we can build homes to your precise specifications and efficiency goals.

Green Home Building in Santa Fe

As a design-build firm in Santa Fe, we are proud to be among a progressive community of conscientious builders devoted to the most sustainable residential development possible.

Many of our projects in Santa Fe have passed the rigorous scrutiny of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program, the nation’s most recognized brand in green building. With its multifaceted approach to design and building, the LEED program takes into account a variety of methods, materials and other considerations to rank projects into different categories of certification, from basic to Silver to Gold and, ranking highest, Platinum.

Our LEED Platinum Home in the Works: 

Currently, we are nearly complete with a home that is expected to be certified as LEED Platinum. Located in Santa Fe’s Museum Hill neighborhood, the Gonzales-Scott residence is a 2,100 square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath Pueblo Revival style home with contemporary accents, ample outdoor living areas and stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Nestled into a uniquely shaped single-acre lot, the floor plan required careful consideration to capture the views and be oriented for passive solar gain.

As much as we are proud of the home’s aesthetic beauty, we are proud as well to have produced a superior model of sustainable living.

This Santa Fe home features a roof-mounted photovoltaic system that generates 4.5 kilowatts of electricity, helping the building produce nearly all of its electrical needs. The all electric home, with an electric vehicle charging station, includes a high-efficiency air-to-water heat pump that provides for radiant in-floor heating and cooling.  Throughout the home are efficient LED lighting and non-toxic finishes.

Building In Water Conservation:

As for its water conservation features, the home is topped with a roof designed to capture and utilize all rainfall for the outdoor landscape irrigation as well as for toilet flushing indoors.  Indoor re-use of collected rainwater is a cutting edge innovation for Santa Fe, and a pilot project in keeping with Santa Fe’s newly adopted 2012 Uniform Plumbing Code. Also, gray water beds reclaim wastewater from showers, laundry and bathroom sinks to nourish permanent landscape features.

Paying Attention to Home Insulation & Air Quality:

Additionally, the home is very well insulated, with R-30 walls and R-50 ceilings. The incorporation of an interior adobe wall provides thermal mass, which captures and retains heat energy from passive solar-oriented clerestory windows.  As with all well-insulated buildings, air quality is a major consideration because air can become trapped without proper ventilation. That’s why we’ve included an energy recovery ventilation system, which ensures the proper exchange of fresh air into the home. 

The system employs an air-to-air heat exchanger that brings fresh air in the home, filtering it from dust, pollen or other contaminants, while exchanging the latent heat and moisture of the indoor air being exhausted. This stabilizes indoor ambient air temperature and humidity with continuous fresh air intake. This is especially important during winter months when the home is mostly closed to the outdoors and during allergy or wildfire season.

Altogether, this Santa Fe home features many of the best available residential market design-build considerations for both comfort and sustainability.  We’re confident our clients will be happy in their new LEED Platinum-certified home for years to come; and we look forward to creating more such projects for others. 

9 Things to Know About Settling in Santa Fe

Is Santa Fe a Good Place to Live?

Santa Fe is a desirable location to settle because of the rich culture, great population size of around 83,000, jaw-dropping scenery around the city, and delicious cuisine throughout the area.

There’s a reason they call us “The City Different”: life’s a little different here. 

Whatever it is that makes Santa Fe different, we’re truly living in the gem of the desert. Here are 9 things to know about moving to Santa Fe:

1) The Altitude of Santa Fe

Santa Fe sits at an elevation of 7,198 feet, making it the third highest city in America. Only Leadville, Colorado and Mammoth Lakes, California have higher elevations than Santa Fe (not counting towns with fewer than 1,000 people) – and both those cities have significantly lower populations than Santa Fe.

To put that altitude in perspective, the “Mile High City” of Denver sits at just 5280 feet – and residents of that city love to complain about altitude sickness.

In any case, the altitude of Santa Fe means the air will be thinner and drier. [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][The altitude also means cooler temperatures.  Although we are firmly situated in the arid southwest, The climate in Santa Fe is nothing like that of Phoenix or Las Vegas. Average temperatures in the summer months are in the mid-80’s with temperatures rarely getting above the mid 90’s.  Cool dry air in the evenings means summer time lows in the high 50 to mid 60’s]  If you’re used to living at sea level, then you may need a few days to adjust. However, don’t get too worried about the altitude: Santa Fe is nowhere close to the highest cities in the world, and millions of people safely live at altitudes higher than Santa Fe with no problem. Visitors will talk about the altitude far more than locals. It’s something you don’t really think about after living here for a little while.

2) We Take Pride in Santa Fe’s Cultural Heritage

Santa Fe is one of America’s most cultural cities. First, we inspired one of our country’s best-known artists, Georgia O’Keeffe, which is why we’re now home to the world-famous Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Santa Fe is also home to other cultural mainstays like the Santa Fe Opera (which is world famous), the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and over 250 art galleries.

If you’re looking for artistic inspiration or just appreciate the arts, then Santa Fe’s rich cultural background gives you plenty of reasons to love our city.

3) You’re Only 35 Minutes Away from the Ski Hill

Santa Fe is surrounded by 12,000 foot peaks. Skiing is a big draw in the region. You’re only 35 minutes away from Santa Fe Skin Basin in most parts of the city. Skiers and snowboarders frequently praise Santa Fe’s Tesuque Peak (12,000 feet) as having some of the best skiing in the country.

If you feel like driving a little further, Taos Ski Valley and Red River are both about 2 hours north of the city and offer some of the country’s best skiing. They’re famous nationwide.

Ultimately, there’s no shortage of skiing options around Santa Fe in the winter.

4) We’re Surrounded by Mountains

Hiking and biking opportunities are all around you in Santa Fe, NM. Santa Feans are famously outdoorsy: whether we’re climbing, biking, hiking, or just enjoying some sunshine outdoors, we love getting outside every day of the year.

As a testament to the outdoorsy nature of Santa Feans, Outside Magazine is headquartered in Santa Fe. No matter where you are in Santa Fe, you’re never too far of a drive from experiencing some of the best outdoor terrain our country has to offer.

5) Experience the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway and Enchanted Circle for World-Class Driving

Whether you’re taking a Sunday drive or doing some hiking, the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway originates in downtown Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors (which is the oldest public building in America) and takes you 15 miles through ponderosa, spruce, fir, and aspen-filled terrain in the Santa Fe National Forest. The road comes to an end at the Santa Fe Ski Basin, where you can tackle some runs in the winter or go mountain biking in the summer.

Meanwhile, the Enchanted Circle takes you on a drive through the outskirts of Santa Fe, taking you around the mountains and making it easy to feel lost in the wilderness. The Enchanted Circle drive is particularly popular (and beautiful) on a sunny winter day when the sun is sparkling off the white snow.

6) We’re Rich with History

Santa Fe’s history goes back much farther than the United States. Centuries before America was a country, the region was populated by dozens of Native American villages. The Pueblo people trace their history in the region as far back as 900, when they built a village called Ogapoge in what is now downtown Santa Fe. They settled in the Santa Fe area for its easy access to the Santa Fe River. That village extended for half a mile around and was centered on the modern Santa Fe Plaza. 

The modern city of Santa Fe was officially founded when Spanish settlers arrived in the region in the 1600s, naming the city “Holy Faith” in Spanish. In 1610, Santa Fe was chosen as the capital of the Spanish province of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico in New Spain, and it has remained the capital almost consistently since.

Santa Fe also played a part in the Republic of Texas’s history, as Santa Fe was claimed as part of the western portion of Texas after it seceded from Mexico in 1836.

Many people are also surprised to learn that Santa Fe was involved in the American Civil War. As part of the New Mexico Campaign of that war, a Confederate flag was flown over the Santa Fe capitol building for a few days in March 1862.

[headquarters of the Manhattan Project was a small adobe hacienda on East Palace Ave, just a block off the plaza.  This was the clandestine office of the famous A-bomb project credited with ending WWII, in which the world’s preeminent physicists and engineers of the day were secretly sent to create the ultimate weapon. Today’s Los Alamos National Laboratory located in the mountain town of Los Alamos (45 minutes from Santa Fe) is the legacy of that project.]

Today, Santa Fe retains its title as the oldest state capital city in the United States. Signs of this history can be found all around town.

7) Don’t Forget You’re in a Desert

Santa Fe may be an outdoor mecca filled with skiing, hiking, biking, and cultural opportunities, but we’re still a desert. Don’t forget that!

If you’re new to the region, expect to encounter dry, flaky skin – especially in the bone dry winter months. You’re going to need lots of moisturizer and conditioner.

In the summer, don’t forget to lather up with sunscreen. At this altitude, it doesn’t take more than 20 or 30 minutes to get a noticeable burn under the bright New Mexico sun. Sunscreen isn’t something you “probably should wear” in Santa Fe: it’s something you need to wear.

8) You’re Only an Hour Away from Albuquerque

Albuquerque, with a population of about half a million people, is just an hour down the road from Santa Fe. So you’re never too far away from big city amenities.

Santa Fe does have its own airport (SAF), but you can often get better deals (and more international flights) out of Albuquerque. No matter why you need to visit the big city, there’s a reason why many Santa Feans have pretty much memorized the I-25 down to Albuquerque.

9) We Have Some of the Best Food in America

Whether you’re interested in some of the best burritos you’ll ever eat or you’d rather sit down at a charming local café, Santa Fe is famous for its food. Like most touristy towns, there’s a blend of popular restaurants and local hangouts, but you have plenty of places to eat no matter what you’re looking for.

Our city is also famous for its farmer’s market, including the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market (recently named as one of the top 10 in the nation), which operates year-round and provides locals with fresh food from over 150 active vendors.

Ready to settle in Santa Fe? Build your dream home in Santa Fe, New Mexico with the help of the award-winning homebuilders, designers, and contractors at Palo Santo Designs.

How Rain Catchment Saves Water for a Home

How does rain catchment work and how does it save water for your home? Today, we’re explaining everything you need to know about the benefits of rain catchment, how it works and how Palo Santo Designs can design and build a new Santa Fe home with this water conserving system or retrofit a current home.

What is Rain Catchment?

Rain catchment is based on a simple premise: by catching water that falls from the sky, we can reduce our home’s water consumption and preserve one of New Mexico’s scarcest and most valuable resources. 

Santa Fe gets just 14 inches of precipitation per year, on average. The US average is 35 inches. Understandably, groundwater resources in our city face high demand. Today, rain catchment systems are becoming increasingly popular across the city of Santa Fe.

With rain catchment, you can capture water using a variety of different systems. Then, you store that water until later use.

Rain catchment has been used by humans for thousands of years. Today, it’s facing a resurgence around the world as people seek to minimize their environmental impact. 

Why Rain Catchment for Santa Fe Homes?

Rain catchment is a requirement in Santa Fe County for certain sized homes, and it’s a practical way to provide landscape irrigation without tapping into our precious reserves.

Most often rain water catchment systems are used to water outdoor landscaping, it’s now also possible to filter rainwater for indoor domestic use.  For example, Palo Santo Designs recently completed a LEED Platinum home where 100% of the roof areas were used to channel rain water into two holding cisterns, one of which is used for landscape irrigation, the other is used for flushing toilets inside the home, dramatically reducing the homes water consumption over time.

Another advantage of rainwater is that it’s free of most contaminants and pollutants, like salts, minerals, and artificial chemicals.

Whether you want to irrigate your land, reduce your home’s water bill, or minimize your environmental impact, rain catchment systems are a guaranteed way to save water for a Santa Fe home.

How Rain Catchment is Implemented at Home:

Rain catchment, generally speaking, involves a catchment system and a storage system.

The catchment system captures the water falling from the sky while the storage system stores that water for later use.

Typically, in an urban setting, your home’s roof will be its catchment system. Rainwater hits your roof, travels to the gutters and downspouts, and then falls into your storage system.

You can get more advanced and use a series of cisterns, tanks, and reservoirs. These storage units store your water until it’s needed. Or, they may be connected directly to your home to be used on a daily basis.

Why You Should Consider Adding Rain Catchment to your Santa Fe Home:

Ultimately, rainwater harvesting systems on the roof of your home can capture and store 6,500 liters (1717 gallons) of clean water a year in an average climate. That amount will be slightly lower in the dry climate of Santa Fe, but that’s still a significant amount of water you don’t have to draw from your home’s taps.

You can use this captured water for all sorts of different purposes. Some people use it to just water their lawn and garden. Other people use it to wash their vehicles, clean their driveways, or for other outdoor purposes.

Of course, some people also purify the water and use it in all other parts of their home.  In Santa Fe, many people also use rainwater catchment systems to minimize their vulnerability to drought.

Environmental efficiency is a key goal in many new homes. Award-winning Santa Fe homebuilders like Palo Santo Designs can design a home with a world-class rain catchment system – so you can reduce your water consumption, reduce your bills, and feel better about your environmental impact.

Santa Fe Home Showcases Best of Green Building & Design

Innovations in architectural design strategies are contributing considerably toward helping create a new world, meeting both resource conservation needs and the demands of a rapidly shifting marketplace.

As mentioned in previous blogs, buildings account for the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, which makes the task of creating a more energy-efficient built environment crucial. What we have not discussed yet is the increasingly important concept of universal design, which broadly refers to the concept of a place created for use by people of all ages and abilities.

Universal design represents an especially important asset to retiring baby boomers, almost 90 percent of whom want to remain in their homes as they age, according to AARP.

By the time it is move-in ready at the end of this summer, our Incanto Home in Santa Fe’s Las Campanas community will be a true showcase of these important trends.

The New Incanto Home in Santa Fe:

The home is perched above the golf course in the city’s only luxury master-planned community, with roughly 2,600 square-feet indoors and another 1,300 square-feet of covered outdoor space.

It features an open floor plan, high ceilings, exposed beams, a modern fireplace, a plastered great room, and concrete floors with in-floor radiant heat. It also includes a modern kitchen with custom cabinetry and quartz counters for and two master suites with breathtaking mountain views, contemporary bathrooms, and high-end non-toxic finishes throughout.

Our ‘best practices’ approach incorporates systems, materials and finishes that assure durability, beauty, comfort, energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor air quality, accessibility and ease-of-use for inhabitants. Designed for those interested in a low-maintenance, highly durable and energy efficient home, the Incanto Home represents the culmination of years of successful strategies we’ve employed for our custom home clients.

Universal Design for the Incanto Home:

As mentioned, universal design accounts for people of all ages and abilities. With the Incanto Home, this translates into a number of noteworthy features:

  • Single-level design includes no steps within the home, garage and outdoor patio areas.
  • All door openings are wheelchair accessible.
  • Handles and fixtures are ‘ease of use.’
  • Wall-mounted toilets and vanities provide easy access.
  • Automated controls for key functions include heating and cooling, bath exhaust fans, and key lighting.

A Truly Green Built Home in Santa Fe:

The Incanto Home is a stellar model of sustainable design and is expected to meet rigorous certification by the U.S. Green Building Council as a LEED Gold home. Among its many green features: 

  • Building shell includes advanced under slab insulation with radiant in-floor heating and cooling, super-insulated wall construction and ENERGY STAR-labeled exterior windows and doors.
  • High-efficiency boiler generates heat and hot water.
  • All Interior finishes and cabinets are completely non-toxic, zero VOC.
  • Appliances are ENERGY STAR-labeled.
  • Automated fresh outdoor air intake energy recovery ventilation system creates optimal indoor air quality.
  • LED lighting fixtures are dimmable.
  • All plumbing fixtures are water conserving.
  • All water runoff from the roof is collected in below-ground cisterns for landscape irrigation.
  • All landscape is native, drought-tolerant and fed by a combination of community reclaimed and rain catchment water sources.
  • Home is equipped to become “zero energy”, meaning it can produce all of its own energy from solar on site. Although this option is not included in the base price, it can translate into significant savings throughout the life of the home.

Additional Advantages of Going Green:

The Incanto Home is expected to be move-in ready by late summer, which means it’s a good time to check it out since there’s still time to optimize customizations. But even if not this home, buyers should nonetheless be advised of the significant advantages of going with a green-built home (in addition to the sense of responsibility it bestows).

  • More Economical:
    • Green home appraisal values will always be slightly above homes built to conventional code.
    • Even if they’re not net-zero, green-built homes guarantee lower utility bills for life.
  • More Durable: Durability and low maintenance built into the design means less time and expense to maintain.
  • Healthier:
    • Best indoor air quality assured through filtered air ventilation system and non-toxic finishes.
    • 100% hard floor surfaces mean easy to clean and keep clean, with no place for contaminants to reside.


Santa Fe Chosen as One of the World’s Most Desirable Places to Retire

(photo credit: Jack Arnold Photography)

Looking for the best place in America to retire? Santa Fe was recently chosen by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the top 10 best places to retire across the entire world.

The Conde Nast report cites a study by the US News & World Report ranking Santa Fe as one of the top 10 places to “reinvent your life in retirement.”

What makes Santa Fe such a special retirement haven? It’s the combination of the history, the weather, and the laid-back lifestyle. Here are just a few of the reasons why more Americans are choosing to retire in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Why Retire in Santa Fe New Mexico?

Santa Fe is sunny 283 days (average) of the year, there are 250 art galleries and 12 museums, the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountains are nearby, and the population is perfect at 83,000.

The Santa Fe Weather:

First and most importantly, retirees love Santa Fe for the weather. It’s sunny for 283 days a year here, on average, with a summer average high of around 82 degrees. Living in a desert, humidity is relatively low: so you won’t get the hot, sticky summers found in other parts of the country.

There also isn’t much precipitation: the average rainfall across the United States is 37 inches of rain per year. In Santa Fe, we get 14 inches of rain per year.

Ultimately, the weather is mild year-round with limited snow during the winter and mild heat during the summer. At an altitude of 7,000 feet, most Santa Fe residents don’t need air conditioning – a ceiling fan does the trick.

As some residents like to explain, we have four seasons here with no extremes in any season. So if you like mild temperatures while still enjoying the passing of the seasons, Santa Fe’s weather can be very desirable.

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The Sangre de Cristo Mountains:

In Santa Fe, you’re 35 minutes away from the ski hill. The nearby Sangre de Cristo mountains also offer plenty of hiking and biking opportunities. Wherever you go in the mountains, you’re treated to amazing views of the state of New Mexico and one of the best sunset views you’ll ever see in your life.

When Santa Fe residents tell visitors there are 12,000 foot peaks nearby, it’s easy to be amazed – until you realize that the city itself sits at an elevation of 7,000 feet. In any case, high mountains are all around us here.

The Rich & Vibrant Culture:

Santa Fe is rich with culture. Despite being a smaller city, Santa Fe is home to 250 art galleries and 12 museums, including the world-famous Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Some of the world’s best writers also found inspiration in Santa Fe. Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin is a longtime resident of Santa Fe, for example.

Several major Hollywood celebrities have also recently purchased homes in the region.

There’s a reason they call Santa Fe “The City Different”. 

Accessible Health Care:

Santa Fe’s primary hospital is Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, which has 200 beds and 34 specialties. Meanwhile, the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque is only about an hour away.

Mid-Size Population of Santa Fe:

Are you looking for a small town vibe with big city amenities? Santa Fe, with a population of around 83,000, walks a line somewhere in between. You’re a long way from the busy activity of a big city, but there’s still enough going on to keep residents entertained.

Meanwhile, the bigger city of Albuquerque is about one hour away – so you’re never too far away from anything you need.

Santa Fe is Consistently Ranked as One of America’s Best Retirement Spots:

You don’t have to look far online to find people who agree that Santa Fe is a desirable retirement community.

Conde Nast listed Santa Fe as one of the world’s top 10 best places to retire, for example, and US News and World Report picked Santa Fe as one of the best 10 places to reinvent your life in retirement.

Santa Fe was also chosen by Kiplinger as one of the “10 Great Places to Retire in 2015” and The NY Times listed it as one of the top 15 “dream towns” for retirement.

These rankings consistently praise the strong and diverse economy of Santa Fe as well as the good infrastructure and connectivity to the outside world. They also mention the outdoor lifestyle and the ability to pursue new hobbies in retirement.

Building Your Dream Home in New Mexico:

Want to build your dream home in Santa Fe? Palo Santo Designs, LLC is an award-winning local design build contractor that specializes in the design and construction of fine custom homes, renovations, and distinctive commercial spaces.

With the highest-quality craftsmanship and architectural design standards, Palo Santo Designs can help you retire in style in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Indoor Air Quality is a Priority With Our Home Builds

It is well known that we all face an onslaught of environmental toxins—imagine standing outside on a busy street corner.

However, most people spend 90 percent of their time indoors. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the air inside the average building is up to five times more polluted than the air outside, even when compared to the largest and most industrialized cities.

In addition, the EPA states that poor indoor air quality is the fourth largest environmental threat to our country.

We Have Control Of Our Indoor Air

While we have little control over the air on the street corner, we do have some control over the indoor air quality in our homes. Poor indoor air quality is linked to a host of health problems, including asthma, allergies, and even some cancers.

Many people are aware that homes can contain biological pollutants such as mold and mildew; animal dander; disease-carrying pests; and pollen. Homes in our region can also contain radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that rises out of the ground and can accumulate in our living spaces.

Chronic radon-gas exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to the American Lung Association.

The good news is that radon is easily tested for and mitigated. In addition, potentially deadly combustion pollutants such as carbon monoxide from fuel-burning appliances are easily monitored with an affordable carbon monoxide detector.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are dangerous chemical compounds prevalent in the built environment. Formaldehyde is a cancer-causing VOC that is found in adhesives, carpets, and engineered wood products such as kitchen cabinets, furniture, and flooring. Many paints, stains, cleaning products, and even furniture can be high in VOCs. These compounds can off-gas into our living spaces for months or even years.

Let’s Build & Remodel Toxin Free Homes:

Luckily, an ever-growing selection of low- and no-VOC products is making its way into the mainstream. If you are building or remodeling a home, require that the finishes and products installed in your space are free from known toxins.

Also, work with building professionals who understand how to avoid conditions that can eventually lead to mold, and assure that your foundation is radon-protected. If you are remodeling a home built before 1978, assure that your remodeler is an EPA-certified lead-based-paint renovator, and thus avoid the introduction of lead dust into your home.

Getting Fresh Air in Santa Fe Homes:

Getting fresh air into the home is critical in assuring high-quality indoor air. Leaving windows open is not always advisable, thus mechanical means such as energy recovery ventilation systems (ERVs) are a good option to bring in pre heated/cooled air that is HEPA-filtered.

All new homes built in the City of Santa Fe are required to have radon-proof construction and meet national indoor air quality standards (ASHRAE 62.2). All green-certified homes ascribe to ASHRAE 62.2, and typically go well beyond that by using nontoxic interior finishes and mold preventative building techniques.

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