Healthy, green, money-saving homes
Over 40 years ago, LaVerne Williams began work as an architect and found that he couldn’t continue in his field without considering the long-term health benefits of his clients in relation to their home.
Born in the small town of McPherson, KS,Williams grew up in what he calls a “toxin-free environment” amidst farmlands and fresh air. He didn’t receive much exposure to environmental pollutants until he went to the University of Houston to study architecture and found that irritants like heavy perfumes and smog literally made him sick.When he started to explore whether building designers could do something about air pollutants, he was disappointed to find the field in general seemed to lack interest in how buildings affect human health.
“I was not a happy camper. I guess it was [through] my getting ill both emotionally and [physically] that I came to the realization that I wanted to have an office where I can control the indoor air quality. I wanted to make sure my environment was pretty clean,” says Williams.
So even though it was 1975, and very few people were thinking about green building at the time,
Williams started Environment Associates Architects and Consultants, specializing in eco-friendly design.
“I’ve not only got architecture experience but also construction experience, which is unusual for most architects because they don’t want to get their hands dirty. I did,” says Williams.
Environment Associates (EA) primarily designs and builds or remodels green homes, using low-impact building materials and incorporating the home’s natural surroundings into the design to help heat and cool it.
Williams also deploys solar panels, greenhouses, edible gardens, and more into his homes.
“Every house we design is designed so that it can operate off the grid,” says Williams. “The houses are oriented in the right position [so you are] able to use your roofs to put solar [panels] on, and all of the homes are designed to catch rainwater.”
In addition, all EA homes have more than enough sustainable features to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified.A program of the US Green Building Council, LEED certification is only available to buildings or homes that meet a high environmental performance standard.
Although, Williams adds, “We were designing green homes 20 years before LEED and other green-building programs appeared.”
Green buildings aren’t only healthier, says Williams, but they can save owners money in the long run. Energy-efficiency innovations like passive cooling and heating systems reduce a home’s energy consumption, thereby cutting power bills significantly.Williams does not deny that green homes are financial investments, but he notes that the benefits “will pay for themselves.”
“It’s so hot and humid here, two-thirds of your energy bill is just cooling your home. What we’ve been able to do is reduce the energy consumption of our clients to only 20 percent of the Houston average” by focusing on building techniques that reduce the need for air conditioning, says Williams.
Although based in Texas, the company has designed homes people have built across the country, assessing the local climate to gauge how to use the environment and terrain around where the clients live to the home’s best advantage.
Environment Associates also uses zero-VOC paints and attempts to build with less commonly used materials that are natural yet long-lasting, like straw bale, compressed soil blocks, and more. In addition, the company builds so its clients will not need to use toxic pesticides to protect their homes—for example, by incorporating stainless steel mesh in the foundation to keep out termites.
In his work, Williams has found his clients express gratitude for the benefits of living in an EA’s green home. Even prospective buyers on short visits have expressed the relief they feel from one walk through an EA house.
“One lady came up to me and said, ‘I have never felt this good in a house in years’. If that’s what our houses can do to someone who’s chemically sensitive, look at what they can do for children growing up there. Just think what kind of good can be created from all of this,” says Williams.
For those still considering why they should consider living in an EA green home,Williams believes the answer is simple. He says, “The two main reasons are better health, and you save money.”