This process can be engaging and fascinating. It can also be overwhelming. After digesting all the advice in this blog (and beyond!), you will likely be striving to make the perfect choice at every junction, and you will inevitably come to the realization that you cannot. There may be competing criteria, budget limitations, code issues, availability concerns, and disagreements between all the partners in the project.
My best advice is to take some time to honestly rank your criteria in order of importance.
If there are one or two goals you simply do not want to compromise, then be willing to make them your priorities and let some of the other criteria be of secondary importance. This often makes it easier to make those decisions that cannot satisfy every criterion you have for the project.
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It can also help to focus on what I call “bulk achievement.” Look at the decisions that will have the largest impact on your criteria — those that involve large quantities of material (insulation, cladding, flooring) and major mechanical systems. If you can meet your criteria in these areas, it’s okay to compromise in some of the smaller areas.
The notion of “bulk achievement” can also refer to choices that come close to your goals, but don’t quite meet them. For instance, if you want a home that is 90% more energy efficient than code, but budget restrictions limit you to 70% improvement, that is still a “bulk achievement.” Or perhaps you can eliminate all questionable chemical content except for a few small components of the building; this is a huge improvement on the unregulated toxicity that is the norm.
By engaging consciously in a serious attempt to make a better building, you will undoubtedly create something that is far better than what would have been available to you in the conventional marketplace. Any improvements you can make in any of the criteria areas are significant and important.