It’s Not Ugly Being Green

Green and sustainable home design techniques can – and should – enhance your home’s aesthetic appeal

By Tim Barber

Building or buying a green home is ethically, functionally, and economically appealing, but the aesthetic implications terrify my clients. They ask, “Can you hide all the sustainable stuff?”

We say, “It’s not ugly being green!”

In fact, green can be beautiful with thoughtfully integrated sustainable materials, features, and systems. We have learned that homebuyers prize locally sourced materials, natural light, indoor-outdoor living, good landscaping, and low- maintenance properties. We use the following methods to enhance the curb appeal of our homes:

Consider the Context

California’s diverse topography and climate do not tolerate a “one-size-fits-all” approach. In dry regions, we use exterior materials such as masonry, concrete, and stucco to optimize heat gains and release. In coastal or rainy regions, materials like western cedar siding and brick effectively absorb and release water.

Fire zone communities – increasingly common throughout the state – require more extreme design. To shield homes from flying embers, we discreetly integrate interior and exterior sprinklers and specify flame-resistant slate, clay tile or cementitious roofing, low-maintenance, high-performance fiber cement siding, and non-wood eaves. The man-made protective materials look similar or identical to their more flammable counterparts, making fire-zone homes both beautiful and safe.

Homes in flood zones are also difficult to protect. We elevate structures “low-country-style” and disguise mudslide slough walls as citrus terraces. However, even the most carefully designed homes are not guaranteed to withstand natural disasters. To protect our homeowners’ investments and lives, we encourage them to carefully consider the context of these sites.

Find Your Best Light…

A home’s orientation to the sun greatly affects its sustainability. In energy-efficient homes, the sun’s path informs the massing, room sequence, and window placement, capitalizing on daylight when we desire it and shade when we need it.

Finding a home’s best light helps us design the shapes of the roof and specify energy-efficient roofing, such as solar roof tiles and the new Tesla shingles. With careful site planning, photovoltaic or hydro solar collectors are concealable and remarkably effective.

Keep it Cool

Southern California’s “Cool-Roof” codes require roofing light reflectance. Common materials such as tile, slate, and asphalt shingles reflect solar energy well and radiate absorbed heat. The current trend for gray, standing-seam metal roofs is on target. Overhangs, covered porches, and pergolas oriented to the sun conveniently shade outdoor spaces. These attractive exterior features allow highly desirable indoor-outdoor living on sunny days and optimize light-bounce from the porch floor.

Vented attics with open cell foam rafter insulation defend against heat gain. Extra crawl space venting reduces cooling costs and protects structures from moisture damage. These vents are beautiful when integrated in the design.

We focus on passive ventilation, with operable windows at high areas and attic vents to allow warm air to rise and escape while creating points of visual interest on the facade. Low emissivity (or Low-E) doors and windows reduce heat gain and loss and can open to welcome in breezes. Low-E fenestration also prevents UV damage, protecting homes’ precious interiors. Exterior screens further reduce heat and help preserve the finish of the sashes.

Make the Site Do the Work

California’s MWELO codes restrict the amount of irrigation landscaping may use, but cactus and gravel rarely appear on our projects. We know that every site has microclimates – sunny and shady areas – providing opportunities for a variety of beautiful landscapes.

Fast-growing, drought-tolerant, and native plant perennials are sustainable and low-maintenance. They cool the soil, reduce home-cooling costs, and are verdant features of any yard.

Invisible laundry-to-landscape systems are also ideal for maintaining lush landscapes. These tank- less, pumpless, and filter-less systems automatically divert shower and laundry water to prespecified mulch pits and safely irrigate larger plants.

However, some of the best sustainable landscape strategies are ancient. Mature trees are able to shade structures and slow evaporation for maximum energy efficiency. They screen views of neighboring properties and bear fruits and blossoms, making them a boon to curb appeal. Sometimes, we learn from the past.

Our USGBC LEED Gold-rated residence in Studio City exemplifies how we use these techniques to design beautiful and sustainable homes.

Tim Barber, AIA, LEED AP, is a USGBC member and the owner and principal architect of Tim Barber Ltd., a Los Angeles-based residential architecture firm. He can be reached at