Interview with Organic Architect, Eric Corey Freed

From on January 24, 2008 in Green Remodeling

Eric Corey FreedGreen Building for DummiesCalFinder recently spent a few minutes chatting with Eric Corey Freed, founder and principal of organicARCHITECT in San Francisco. Freed teaches Sustainable Design at the Academy of Art University and U.C. Berkeley and serves on the advisory boards of numerous organizations. He is one of the founders of ecoTECTURE: The Online Journal of Ecological Design and has a monthly column at Freed is also the auther of “Green Building for Dummies.” He was named “Best Green Architect” by San Francisco Magazine in 2005.

Freed spoke with us about his 15-year history in the business. He believes research and design that measures environmental impact is not a choice, but a necessity. He also addressed a popular belief among homeowners that green remodeling costs more. According to Freed, it can actually save you money, both on the far end and immediately, with construction costs. Finally, Freed gave us some simple tips to save money and energy at home.

You founded organicARCHITECT in 1997, at a time when I imagine that firms devoted to environmentally friendly design weren’t as common as they are today. What led you to fill that particular niche, or to go the green route? What has changed most in the industry in the past 10 years? What has stayed the same?

It wasn’t a choice I made. It just seemed to me that it didn’t make sense to build any other way. Just because relatively no one else was doing it doesn’t mean that I could ignore it. For me, sustainability is a very logical choice and, quite frankly, I’m a little confused as to why everyone’s not doing it. Really, in the last ten years, the major thing that’s changed is that we no longer have to explain the why. Everyone understands the why. It’s the how that they don’t understand.

What types of projects are in popular demand with organicARCHITECT right now?

I don’t know if I could give you a scientific measurement for that. Houses have always been of great interest to me and always will be. We’ve seen some unusual project types that have never expressed an interest in being green before wanting to do something more sustainable. Hotels, retail, and restaurants have more projects with us now and have never really expressed an interest in sustainability before. It’s kind of great that they are.

How does green remodeling compare in price to traditional building design? Would you say that green remodeling caters most to up-scale homeowners, or those with higher income brackets?

No, not at all. Remodeling in general caters to upscale homeowners. The act of renovating your building is expensive, whether you’re green or not. Being green doesn’t cost you any more, in fact it’s an opportunity to save money.

This can happen both on the far end of operation in terms of lowering energy bills and lowering your water bill, but also with the opportunity of lowering construction costs. You can immediately save money by building in relation to the sun, by being smart about the way you approach construction and design.

Some homeowners might consider the green revolution as a trend or marketing scam. Others might find it inconvenient to alter their homes to this end. A smaller percentage might not even recycle or believe in global warming. How do you respond to homeowners who are skeptical about green design?

Well, I have a few responses to that. First, ten years go when the boom was going on, they had said anybody who didn’t have a website in 10 years wouldn’t have a business. At that time they laughed, and now it’s true ... Ten years from now, any business that’s not measuring its impact on the planet will not be in business. We can laugh at that now, but it’s true. The difference between the tech boom and the environmental boom is that this isn’t a trend. Our very lives are at stake. Whether people like it or not, they are going to have to change their lives. The United States comprises only 4 ½ percent of the world’s population, but produces 1/3 of all greenhouses gases. There’s no way that that can continue. It just doesn’t make any sense.

What are some easy ways homeowners can integrate sustainable remodeling options in their homes?

The easiest thing any owner can do is insulate. And not just insulate where it’s obvious in the walls, but insulate in the attic, insulate the hot water pipes, insulate the hot water heater. My book actually has a full list of the places to look for. Then, install a programmable thermostat so essentially, after you go to bed, the heater turns off, and comes on again after you wake up so you’re not wasting energy all night while you’re under the covers.