Traditional AND Sustainable Residential Architecture in Los Angeles

Sustainable solutions we can all apply

By Tim Barber

Temperatures in downtown Los Angeles hit 90°F on March 24, 2022, and water levels in the LA reservoirs are well below their average fill levels, according to the LA Times. The effects of climate change grow increasingly severe around the globe. 

Single-family residential homes can push sustainable design in Los Angeles even further than  commercial or government buildings. Because they are less expensive and faster to build, single-family  homes can try nascent technologies and set early trends. Our cultural icons and influencers live (and  work via Covid-19) in these homes, setting an example for ways we can live and work responsibly at  home. 

Start here: Only 10% of the energy consumption of a residence occurs during construction. The other 90% is consumed over the entire life cycle of the building (University of Michigan). For life cycle energy conservation strategies, residential work begins with passive systems: controllable natural light, natural ventilation strategies, overhangs, double pane LowE windows, thermal mass, extra insulation, cisterns and greywater for landscaping. With low-tech strategies, it is possible to meet and exceed Title 24 requirements, the energy standards for California buildings promoting energy efficiency in every home. 

Tim Barber Architects is known for traditional, residential architecture, applying wisdom from the past  to design homes to endure long into the next century. The firm also leverages state-of-the-art  technologies, including solar panels, inverters and batteries. Here are some sustainable technologies we  all can apply to designs for 2022: 

  • Use thermal mass to make a building more temperature-stable. Thermal mass is any masonry material that holds temperature like a battery holds electricity. Concrete, solid brick, stone, rock  work – even tile floors. The more thermal mass, the better. 
  • Ventilate attics and crawl spaces with temperature-controlled fans by drawing in outside air and  pushing inside air out. 
  • Specify “Cool Roof” materials to reduce temperature penetration by as much as 25%.
  • Insulate underfloor areas and use open or closed cell foam in attics. 
  • Use LED technology in all lighting, with smart-home controls.
  • Use ENERGY STAR appliances, improving power, space use and performance. 
  • Place solar power systems and batteries to provide power for off-grid living with backup. Electric  car chargers can use the stored power, and a home can be partly powered during ever-more frequent power failures. 
  • Low flow showerheads can save as much as 1,460 gallons per year per family member (EPA). 
  • Low flow faucets save up to 700 gallons per year per faucet with no sacrifice in water pressure. 
  • VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) HVAC systems are super efficient, zoned home heating and  cooling systems. Programmable smart thermostats save even more energy. 
  • Catch water tanks and cisterns conserve water and reduce irrigation requirements. 
  • Efficient greywater systems reuse and conserve water on-site, supporting landscaping with little  maintenance. Laundry-to-landscape systems require no tanks, no pumps, no chemicals and no  filters. 
  • Use safe and healthy finishes, sealants and paints, reducing potentially life-threatening illnesses.  Healthier habitats are valuable investments, with benefits including higher resale value and  increasingly lucrative lease contracts. 
  • Keep a pool covered during the offseason and at night, reducing the make-up water needed by  30%–50% and reducing chemical consumption by 35%–60%. It only takes 1 Btu (British thermal 

unit) to raise 1 pound of water 1 degree, but each pound of 80ºF water that evaporates takes a  whopping 1,048 Btu of heat out of the pool. 

  • Design and build homes to last, with materials that require little maintenance and careful  craftsmanship to survive time, trends and the elements. 

Now, for some good news: LA’s greenhouse gas emissions are 24% below 1990 levels. LA has been  ranked the #1 Solar City in America 6 out of the past 7 years with over 500 MW of local power installed.  Los Angeles now has more electric vehicles and commercial electric vehicle chargers than any other city  in America. Los Angeles is on its path toward becoming a ‘Sustainable City’… but we have a lot more to  do. A recent survey found that an overwhelming 85% of respondents want to live in an eco-friendly  home ( For sustainable architecture, the technology is available and affordable, the need is  clear, the demand is high and the time is now. Let’s work together to be part of the sustainable solution.

Tim Barber Architects designs artful, sustainable homes that are sympathetic to their surroundings, tailored to unique lifestyles and inspired by tradition, innovation and the environment.