A celebration of windows!

A celebration of windows!

This week on Facebook we’re celebrating windows! Everyday we’re discussing a different aspect of window design. If you’re not on Facebook, don’t fret- you can join our celebration here on our blog.

We start our celebration with this quote from architect Louis Kahn and we couldn’t agree more. We’ve been in too many homes and buildings where electric lights are needed even on bright, sunny days because of poor natural day lighting design.


Windows help connect us to the natural beauty of the outdoors from within the home. Even in urban or suburban settings, its possible to capture engaging views of the sky or a tree without looking onto a busy street, into your neighbor’s bathroom, or into the glaring western sun. Window size, shape, and placement are all carefully considered.


This tall, narrow window at the Quinn Creek Home was designed to provide views and illumination while going down the stairs. Even moonlight illuminates these stairs acting as a natural nightlight. According to an article we found, “participants reporting inadequate natural light in their residences were 1.5 times as likely to report a fall when compared with those satisfied with the light levels in their homes.” Stairwells shouldn’t have to be gloomy and dangerous.

stair tall window

These fun pocket windows along the west-facing wall of the Crimson Bluffs Home were designed to minimize the amount of glaring western sunlight entering the home and provide snippets of views of the beautiful hillside behind. They serve two other important functions: senses of security and privacy. The homeowners can see from their kitchen and living room small views of the road and who is entering their driveway, but drivers-by cannot see in.


In conclusion of our celebration, this custom polycarbonate door in the Quinn Creek Home was designed to share indirect sunlight into the office, yet provides privacy and sound diffusion. Why bring ample natural light into a home through windows if it is blocked out of certain spaces? We include interior light sharing methods (like this door, but other methods, too) into all of our home designs.





Quinn Creek mid-October update is about details and understanding craftsmanship

Quinn Creek mid-October update is about details and understanding craftsmanship

deckbracket and window frame

One of the greatest challenges in designing and building new homes is: How do “we” as designers come up with a design that is recognized by all that work on it throughout the project as worth putting their thought and care into? We, at Greenovision, believe that there are a number of factors from the beginning that set this in motion. For one, the site itself is a source of inspiration. In some cases like, Quinn Creek, this is simple- the environment is absolutely beautiful. This environment inspires those who work here, well, at least when its not cold, rainy, or windy.

Exterior from W all

2. Keep the design clean. This makes it easy for all that work on the project to maintain a thorough and civilized workmanship.

Emily on roof

3. Have a good attitude when we visit the site. This joyful spirit usually is contagious.

Exterior from E S E

4.  Keep everyone involved throughout the process. In this picture, we have the homeowner, the excavator, and the roofers all together.

Metal workers Andy and Jon

5. Encourage craft through understanding. Too many designers don’t do this, but it is mandatory in our opinion. Talk to those involved in the construction. Ask what they like about the design and most importantly, what could have been better about it. This cross pollinates into everyone feeling not only appreciated, but also as experts at what they do. We have learned a lot from the subcontractors and will implement their suggestions to help improve future designs.

exterior outlet box

6. Understand details. When designers don’t fully understand their own product, they lose credibility with the construction team.

Lower Exercise room

This is an example of what we mean… This is a construction site, yet it as clean as a whistle. The insulation team caught the spirit of the job site!

Main view

A beautiful place to work!

Netting for cellulose


7. Give the subcontractors enough room to work. This plumbing wall could have been a nightmare for Marc if we didn’t provide him adequate wall space to work his thorough and meticulous craft. Again, ask the subcontractors questions. When we asked Marc if he was happy with the space he had to work in, he mentioned that the tightness of the craft that occurred before him made his life easier. Marc did mention one issue that he had difficulty with and we we able to quickly address this before the construction advanced any further.

pressure check

radiant boiler manifolds etc

Example of Mike, the heating specialist’s, well organized layout. This, again, is accomplished by giving subcontractors adequate space to work their magic.

small windows and boxes

8. Allow subcontractors to have interpretation of design. This exterior siding job shows that the spirit of the design was understood and then elaborated on. The windows were designed to have a rhythm. What was not designed were all of the outlet and light fixture block-outs.  The builders took the spirit of the design and integrated this rhythm into what could have been a mess. This creative interpretation should be encouraged as it elevates not only craftsmanship, but also the spirit of creativity which is often ‘not allowed’ by some designers.

Standing seams

9. Understand and eliminate unnecessary complexity. Most roofs of today are a nightmare for subcontractors to work on because they have extraneous hips, valleys, ridges, and intersections.  This roof juncture is about as complex as this roof-scape is. This encourages clean and simple execution by the metal workers, making for a tight product. Designers need to ask themselves, “Is this necessary? Who will enjoy this? Will this cost more? And most importantly, Will the subcontractor hate this detail?”


The spirit of keeping things neat.

Terminationl trim


Tie down

Details that often are not understood by designers create installation nightmares. This tectonic structural tie down was given adequate space in the framing plan to be installed. Framers need to be considered in what they can and can’t do.

caulk that joint

Modern homes, in order to meet high energy efficiency standards, need thoroughness in execution. Here you have wall plate and stud junctures caulked appropriately, which reduces unwanted air and moisture infiltration. Even though this site is located where it doesn’t have to be code compliant, the workmanship of the insulators continues common sense and thorough sealing application.

Upstair Interior from West

window frame

10. Think ahead. This window detail with a cedar frame that the metal trim butts up to, considers future window replacement. All too often designers don’t think about what it means to have to make replacement simple and possible in the future. With this detail, the windows can be removed without touching the siding. The siding will outlast the windows!

exterior from southeast below

11. Lastly, use materials that are beautiful and durable. This promotes better craft and workmanship because all involved know that what they install or build will be there for a long time if they do their job correctly. This eliminates a sense of futility that contractors feel and experience when they are knowingly installing ‘junk’ materials or 15-20 year exterior products. Unfortunately, the use of low-quality materials has become rampant in the design and construction of new homes. Greenovision advocates the use of long lasting, low maintenance, and highly insulated exteriors. Spend the money on the building envelope initially and not on expensive counter tops and fixtures. Those interior products can be simply remodeled out over time. Remodeling the exterior, on the other hand, is not only risky, but expensive.

Excavation Begun on Quinn Creek Project


The excavator broke ground this fall 2014 on the new home that we’re designing on Quinn Creek Road, just east of Bozeman, Montana (please see a write-up and renderings of this design here). As you can see, this home will be built on a beautiful piece of mountain-side property. We’re excited that the Quinn Creek project is underway and are looking forward to the home being built in the spring/summer of 2015. Thank you, Brad Nolan the excavator, and everyone else who has contributed to this project thus far.






New Design: Quinn Creek Home


We at Greenovision are excited to be working on a new design for a home that will be built on Quinn Creek Road, just outside of Bozeman. This is a 2500 square foot passive solar home (plus garage) that that will be nestled into the Bangtail Mountains. The homeowners will have spectacular views from within their home of the Absaroka and Gallatin mountain ranges. We have posted some renderings here of how the home will be located on the site; the siding materials are likely to change.

When you enter the home from the north, you’ll be greeted not only with an open floor plan, but an immediate view outdoors. The dining room, living room, kitchen, 1/2 bathroom, and an integrated mudroom with storage area are located on the top floor. The stairs to the ground floor are located in the center of the building and the stairwell will be illuminated with natural sunlight. The ground floor includes an exercise area, a guest bedroom with bathroom, an office, a reading room, and a laundry room. A few steps down from the ground floor is the master bedroom area, its own module secluded from the rest of the home. This area includes the master bath, a walk-in closet, and a large bedroom with stunning mountain views to the south and east.


Situating the home onto the site has been a challenge, but we love a good challenge at Greenovision. The homeowners have 20 acres at an elevation of 7200 feet, which seems like a lot of space for situating the home, however, most of the site is at 16-20% down-sloping grade. This is a very steep grade and makes for a driveway that is barely drivable when covered with snow or ice. A driveway of this pitch can also be challenging for construction equipment to access. We needed to find a home site near the top of their property to minimize driveway length and to maximize solar gain exposure and mountain vistas. We also needed a spot that was not too steep of a slope and was far enough back from property setback lines. We had to test out a couple different home locations. Our original site required a driveway that was just too steep and also would have required a tall concrete retaining wall, which would not have been a good use of budget. Trying out different possibilities is crucial in home design to help solve difficult problems. In the end, we came to a practical and affordable solution and our clients are pleased with our problem solving.

The Quinn Creek home is designed and will be built to be energy-efficient, with passive solar and passive cooling strategies. We are pleased to have put a great team (general contractor/builder, geo-technical engineering company,  surveyor, and excavator) together to help with the project.  Some excavation work began in fall 2014 and construction is slated for spring/summer of 2015. Stay tuned!







Ephemeral Design: Don’t throw beauty out the window when designing energy-efficient homes

julypics 039

Written by Mark Pelletier and Emily Varmecky. Edited by John Burbidge.

Think of the most beautiful and uplifting home you’ve been in. What did you remember most, the builder’s material contributions—the granite counter tops, the walk-in closet, and the bathroom vanity? Or was it the feeling that you had while in the home—the feeling of peace and comfort created by a thoughtful designer who integrated the subtle and ephemeral qualities of nature with the built form?  And most importantly, why has this sort of designing all but disappeared in our home designs?

With rising energy costs and increasing concerns on the health of our planet, energy-efficient homes are more important than ever. In the green building industry, we are in a time period that is epitomized by the increased importance of designing and building homes that are more sustainable and energy-efficient. With the focus of green homes on efficiency and budget, has beauty been left out of the design process? An argument could be made that most energy-efficient homes have become technological containers rather than beautiful and uplifting living spaces.

livingroom copy

In order to meet modern technological criteria, energy-efficient homes have become increasingly complex and now require an array of specialists, technicians, and building subcontractors to create them. Each one of these specialists is hired to implement and install technologies such as super insulation, heat recovery ventilators to provide fresh air, and LoE triple pane windows to keep heat loss and gain under control. The builder’s primary concerns when building a house are of the solid and concrete: the materials, tile patterns, and drywall textures. These are all important parts of the technology and construction of an energy-efficient home. However, the craft of creating beauty within the home is getting less emphasis and a smaller piece of the total budget.

Most homes today have flat 8-foot high drywall ceilings with boxy geometries. These homes are predictable and static, and sometimes they don’t even function properly. The rooms and spaces have been engineered to be static to keep the heat in, yet with fewer and smaller windows to keep the neighbor’s lawnmower noise out. Often there is little to no thought put into what views these windows are broadcasting into the home ,to the extent where often you are viewing the driveway or looking into the neighbors bathroom.  The only dynamics in the room are the flickering TV or an electric fan to ward off the stuffiness. The odors present are often unnatural: off-gassing carpet, some cleaning agents, maybe an artificial bathroom freshener. Hue or color changes in sunlight throughout the day can clash with poor paint schemes, becoming too bright, too saturated, or even mixing to create unappealing colors.

A beautiful home, on the other hand, feels alive, familiar, and comforting. Ephemeral and uplifting dwelling spaces that are also energy-efficient employ a delicate balance between science and art. To illustrate the ephemeral aspects of beautiful design, think about the changing, the momentary, and the transitory features of nature. Imagine sitting next to a bubbling stream watching the sunlight casting shadows of huge billowing clouds across a forest floor of small wildflowers. The air smells of warm earth and freshly flowing pinesap. The aspen
trees give off a strong green hue against a deep blue spring sky. Imagine the same beautiful spot in the fall, then in the winter, and how all of the scents, colors, shades, sounds, and feelings of that place change over the seasons. Observe how this environment is about distance and space, largeness and smallness, openness and closeness, heights and depths; how it is all constantly and subtly changing.


I think we can all remember some spaces that we have been in that have integrated natural phenomena into them and how they feel dynamic and alive. From dawn to dusk the sunlight casts different qualities of light and shadows throughout the room. There are direct views of the constantly changing outdoors: a cedar waxwing that lands in a tree, the changing sunset, a blizzard of snowflakes blowing horizontally. Within the home, the movement of firelight from a stove flickering and casting an orange glow creates a sense of coziness and well-being. In the summer, a gentle breeze from the open windows flows across your forehead causing a cooling sensation and the floral scents of a lilac bush sweep past.

Designing the ephemeral qualities of the natural environment into our homes replaces the need for expensive cover-up materials, finishes, air conditioning, and artificial air fresheners. Designing the home to showcase the beauty of the natural world is not about a purchased item or a technology. This type of designing comes from recognizing how ephemeral qualities make us feel truly alive. Every home site, be it rural, suburban, or urban, has at least one beautiful natural element to share with the inhabitants within. It might be a grand vista of the mountains, a small view of your backyard garden, or even just a single tree or piece of sky. How best to showcase these elements comes down to thoughtful design.
When designing homes to be beautiful and unique, the designer must consider void (empty) space as important as solid materials and textures.
julypics 038


Making adjustments to heights, widths, lengths, and angles gives the home interior dynamics that can’t be arrived at through 2D plans and elevations alone. Adjustment of window locations, their heights off of the floor, and their proportions are essential considerations in order to harvest the available beauty of the outside environment. Moving shadows of shimmering foliage need surfaces on which to be cast. Part of beautiful, spatial design comes from recognizing cues that
occur outside as well as inside the home then adjusting geometries, colors, textures and even furniture to highlight, contrast, or blend in with the existing phenomena.

window view copy

Natural light, shadows, and colors are completely free resources that you can enjoy within your home, but must be integrated through proper design. All of this and more is possible and not prohibitively expensive. Let’s not throw beauty out the window in a misguided quest to save money…lets bring it in to create thoughtful and energy efficient homes that inspire us.

A version of this article was published in the Summer 2014 edition of Distinctly Montana Magazine. “Ephemeral Design” begins on page 67  and our snapshot and bio is in the Contributor’s Section on page 10.

Follow up on 67 Gray Street Remodel


I recently returned to follow up on 67 Gray Street remodel to photograph the results.  There were a number of talented finishers that all helped to make this design become a very nice home.

Dining room Before


Dining room After


dinning2   dinning4      dinning3   porchview   ceiling2

Ceiling with old beams, new pine ceiling and drywall soffits

Kitchen Before


Kitchen After

kitchen3  kitchen2   kitchen

Living room Before

fireplace   2ndfront

Living  room After

fireplace    livingroom2


New Hall and staircase

 hall    stair2nd  stair                       stair-3rd

New 3rd Floor Office and Bedroom



Benefits of Energy Efficient Homes


The benefits of energy efficient homes

It is difficult to make energy improvements to a home that is already built, so it is important to implement energy-efficiency strategies and technologies while the home is still in the design phase. Spending more up front on energy-efficient design, technology, and materials will ultimately result in a more affordable home because the yearly savings on your energy bills will exceed the costs of the additional infrastructure. Contrary to popular belief, energy-efficient homes can be designed to be beautiful with an aesthetically-engaging contemporary edge.

There are many benefits to designing and building an energy-efficient home including:

  1. Year-round energy savings that result in a more affordable home
  2. Less dependency on third-party provided energy, which is especially important as energy becomes increasingly more expensive and less reliable
  3. A healthier living environment because better quality materials contain fewer off-gassing toxins
  4. Energy-efficiency technologies promote fresh air flow within the home
  5. Less maintenance because better-quality, energy-efficient materials are often more durable
  6. Lowering the carbon footprint of your home and using fewer non-renewable resources

Design strategies and technologies

We at Greenovision are not only experienced in architecture and construction, but we are also trained in design and technology strategies that will bring energy savings to your home. Through well-conceived design, we aim reduce material waste during the construction phase and energy waste as you live in your home for years to come. Here are just a few of the energy-saving techniques we implement while designing a new home:

  1. Passive Solar Heat Gain. In passive solar building design, windows, walls, and floors are made to collect, store, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer. Although passive solar design is simple in methodology, Greenovision is trained and experienced in passive solar strategies and will ensure that your home’s solar potentials are utilized most effectively. Orientation of the house to the South, correct window types and heights, adequate roof overhangs, heat-retaining mass (such as radiant concrete flooring), and air exchange are just a few of the important components of a passive solar home.
  2. Passive Cooling and Air Exchange. Passive cooling strategies can help eliminate the need to run energy-consumptive air conditioners and fans. By investing in passive cooling design, you will save money on home cooling costs. It is also important to design an air exchange system into your home to prevent moisture build-up and create a comfortable indoor humidity.
  3. High-Insulation Materials and Quality Construction. Building and designing your home with a high insulation value is important for keeping heat in during the Winter and out during the Summer. While creating the construction drawings for a new home or remodel, we at Greenovision call for advanced framing techniques to reduce thermal conductivity. Our drawings and designs also call for high-insulation windows and other materials as well as  construction techniques that keep the home tightly sealed. In addition to hiring a knowledgeable designer, hiring a quality construction crew is key to a well-crafted and energy-efficient home.
  4. Active Solar Design and Technology. Active solar elements of a home energy system consist of solar electricity (photovoltaic panels) and liquid solar hot water heating. Designing alternative energy systems into your home will help increase energy-efficiency and decrease dependency on non-renewable resources. Active solar systems should be designed into the home from the start, making their installation easier as well making the panels more aesthetically-integrated into the home.
  5. Radiant Heating. Hydronic radiant heating is an energy-efficient method of home heating in which water, housed in tubing throughout the floor system, is heated and circulated. The water heats the mass of floor, which then radiates warmth into the home. At Greenovision, we typically design homes that combine hydronic radiant heating with passive solar heating for maximum efficiency.
  6. Bright Interiors. Designing a home with plenty of well-insulated windows not only provides views of the outdoors from within, but also allows ample sunlight to enter the home. By illuminating rooms with natural light, the homeowner eliminates the need to run energy-consumptive light bulbs during the day. Proper window design and placement is necessary to encourage privacy and prevent over-lighting.
  7. Healthy, Long Lasting Materials. All materials are evaluated for life cycle, recyclable attributes, beauty, and ability to perform multiple tasks. We promote paying more up front for quality building materials, rather than building with cheaper, low-quality materials that are usually unhealthy, energy-inefficient, and have a short life-span. By building with quality, long-lasting materials, the homeowner eliminates unnecessary repair and maintenance, which ultimately saves money and is better for the environment.
Latest design of a passive solar home

Latest design of a passive solar home

Computer models of a passive solar home design

A Passive solar home design I have been working on.  Lots of initial concepts and models.

Material Study Renderings get the ideas across FAST!


Recently I have been doing some material study renderings for a client who is a board member of the Firelight Meadows Condo Association in Big Sky, Montana.  I was hired to design exterior remodels for the associations’ duplexes, four-plexes, and condominiums.  The idea is to make changes to the buildings that represent traditional mountain home aesthetics.  I was asked what method of imagery would ‘sell’ this project to the other board members.  I suggested the Photoshopped method, which gets important visual concepts across far better than drafted 2-D CAD drawings.

original materials
original 4-plex
with first set of modification
old roofing and first trus type
new trus, new roof
final 4-plex rendering with metal roofing
2-plex back original
2-plex back modified
2-plex front original
with modifications

Such material study renderings can convey difficult to visualize textures, colors, materials far more realistically than drafted drawings. Rendered drawings are more like imagery that most people look at every day in design magazines, on the internet, and coffee table books.  This is important because not every client can read drafted 2-D drawings where elevations are flat and not in perspective.  Even as a designer and builder who has worked extensively with typical CAD-generated construction drawings, I still prefer to work in a model where I am able to see a building as a volume with 3 dimensions rather than with flat elevations.  Above are some examples of the Firelight project that show how a building can be designed with such Photoshopping methods.

Collaboration between designer ,builder, client=success

Collaboration between the designer and builder keeps things interesting and more importantly often ‘hits the nail on the head’ in regards to efficiency, economy, and customer satisfaction.  Diversity in design and construction allows the glass to continue to be filled while offering a variety in projects.

Over the last several years I have had the  opportunity to work with Art Albin, owner of AACraftsman, a Bozeman Montana residential construction and remodeling business. Art knows that working closely with the designer is the key to getting his projects off to a good start.  It is important with home remodeling projects to get started with the clients involved with the designer and builder.  This connection ensures that the goals of the homeowner are met.  This plays out as follows:

Often the builder may be approached by a customer who wants their home remodeled .  Most good builders steer the client towards having a designer assist in the process because they know that the time spent here will in the end save time, money, and the headaches of building something that the clients don’t want or cant afford.  When the builder, Art in this instance, calls me into a project we usually visit the customer together.  This is important because Art will see or hear issues about the project that I might not because I am focused on some aesthetic or programmatic concern.  The reverse might be true where I may see opportunities in the design that the builder does not immediately see or think of.

Meeting with both designer and builder allows two sets of ears to hear more.  Most clients are not single, but are often a husband and wife, or a family.  Often the husband  has his concerns that need to be addressed like how the entry to their home is icy after a storm because there are storm drainage issues.  His significant other, however, may be interested in how the entry could be more welcoming or could offer a place to sit.  When Art and I spend time with the client/clients, we are able to glean important information that is pertinent to the whole design.  The images below are of a project that Art called me in on.

rendering of concept

Quick rendering of concept


Another quicky

Concept to Design to construction diagram


Final built product

After Art and I have meet with the clients, we spend some time discussing what we both found out in our meeting with them.   During this meeting we come up with general design parameters for the project that we agree upon.  After my first design iteration we meet again to look it over before producing a set of concept drawings for the client.  At this point small changes are made if there has been some part of the design concept needs further attention.  The client now has their chance to see what we have come up with, look over the drawings, comment on the design, and let us know how they like the design.  It is a process that takes gradual revision to finally get everything dialed in.  The design and communication time is time well spent for it heads off the potential of the builder misunderstanding what the clients actually want.

From here Art and I meet again and talk about further details, methods of construction, materials to be used, etc.   I then go back to drawing what will be a ‘bid set’ of drawings which will help Art in estimating materials, schedule, and other subcontractors bids on various parts of the project.  If we are in a town, a building code jurisdiction set of drawings will be provided to the town building department as it is important that we comply with the necessary codes before anything is built.

After the first bid set of drawings is completed and bids, materials estimates and such come in, there are sometimes revisions that occur due to budget issues or slight design changes. Very rarely at this point is it necessary for major revisions as most of this has already been understood and agreed upon by the designer, the builder, and the client. This is the beauty of a design/build approach.  The process from the start has been witnessed and understood by all in verbal, written, and drawn/modeled media.