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. 

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.


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.

HERS – Home Energy & Efficiency Rating Systems

Those of you who may have built or bought a new home in the City of Santa Fe over the last few years may be familiar with the terms ‘HERS Rating’. HERS (Home Energy Rating System) is a tool for measuring the energy performance of a home. 

It has become the standard method across North America for ranking homes in terms of energy efficiency. Much like the MPG (miles per gallon) rating on a car; a HERS rating describes how energy efficient a home will be.  But energy performance is not the only way to quantify a home’s efficiency.

Going From HERS To WERS:

Water efficiency, as we all know, is all too important in this era of ever growing scarcity of water resources.  And homes are a major source of water consumption in any community. Santa Fe is known as one of the most water efficient cities in the country, and it would make sense that the City Different would spawn a Water Efficiency Rating System or WERS!

In fact we have. Thanks to the combined efforts of water efficiency experts from the Santa Fe Area Home Builder’s Association (SFAHBA), Santa Fe Community College and others from The Foundation for Building and Green Building Coalition, the launch of a new WERS tool is imminent. 

SFAHBA’s Green Building Council provided a portion of the seed money needed to design and develop a mathematical model for measuring and scoring a home’s water efficiency performance based on its design.

Developing the WERS Tool:

Major components of the tool include calculating typical water consumption from various plumbing fixtures based on the ‘gallons per minute’ or ‘gallons per flush’ rating of such fixtures, and the household occupancy level. It is a performance based method that allows home owners, architects and builders to prioritize which fixtures are best suited for their personal needs/desires while assuring overall water use reduction is attained. 

The WERS tool also encourages the use of both rainwater and grey water as a source for both outdoor irrigation and INDOOR use (with proper protocols for health and safety).

The local developers of the WERS tool worked extensively with experts from around the country to assure the method would be appropriate across a national platform. Major national players including RESNET (the licensing agent of the HERS Protocol) and major housing developers are taking notice of our efforts, as they look to adopt water efficiency tools by which to rate homes. 

And with the coming 60 day session of our state legislature, efforts to renew and refund the Sustainable Building Tax Credit will likely find broader support with the inclusion of a WERS type provision.

It is likely that national organizations like RESNET will be looking closely at our locally crafted WERS tool as they begin their process of including water conservation in their set of rating tools. This will only further bolster Santa Fe’s reputation as a leader in water conservation nationally, and help to influence law makers here at home for inclusion of water conservation requirements in new policies.

What Every First-Time Custom Homebuyer Needs To Know

If it is your first time looking to buy a custom home, you may not yet fully understand the complexities of such a prospect. Because buying a custom home is unlike any other purchase you will make in your life. 

Think of it less as a product you are buying and consider it for what it is, a personalized experience specifically tailored to meet your unique values, goals and preferences, so that you are able to attain the lifestyle improvements you have worked so hard to afford, and that you deserve.

Hire An Integrated Design-Build Team:

Conscientious contractors, designers and architects have learned that an integrated design-build team can streamline this process by bringing the right experts to the table from day one to value engineer the plans to best suit the owner’s goals and budget.

Our Santa Fe building and design team brought the services of architectural design and construction under one roof, improving the efficiency of the integrated design-build team even more.

Choose A Great Location:

The lot you choose to build on will have dramatic effects on the cost, timeline and feasibility of the project. Invite your realtor into the integrated team right away. A quality realtor will be able to interpret potential issues and constraints present with covenants, Home Owners’ Associations, and/or historic districts affecting you. 

Furthermore, your expert realtor will be able to demonstrate what other comparable properties in your area have recently sold at. This will affect the appraisal of your property, which the banks will use to determine your loan amount. Lower appraisals often result in the need to bring more cash to the table in order to close a construction loan.

Understand All Design & Building Costs, Then Relax:

An experienced and qualified contractor will be able to provide you with detailed descriptions of the scope of work with a fixed fee agreement to build the home.

Luxury details, finishes and fixtures require careful consideration and planning on the part of the design-build team and will have a significant impact on the budget. Experienced and conscientious designers and builders will be able to calculate reasonably accurate “allowances” to cover the costs of specialty items that may not yet be selected when a construction contract is signed. 

Be timely with selections of items like tile, lighting fixtures, plumbing fixtures, and ask for referrals to local showrooms to view and experience your options.

Remember To Communicate:

Your trusted team of building and design experts will be communicating with you regularly, however, they cannot read your mind.  Don’t allow unspoken concerns detract from the design-build experience.  Good supportive communication will increase the trust among the team and enable the best possible results for you.

Designing and building a custom luxury home is, for many, a once in a lifetime experience.  For some it is something they may get to experience only a few times in their life.  Either way, it is an extraordinary experience that, when handled with trust, expertise, and clear constructive communication is rewarding beyond words. 

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