Design Principals

The Design principals followed by the Living Design Group are based primarily on a set of values and secondly on the objective of reaching engineering simplicity.

Our Mission: By placing the value of a healthy ecology in the foreground of design, our work is minimizing energy and material use, reducing pollution, preserving habitat, restoring ecosystems, using natural infrastructure, and fostering community, health and beauty.

A key objective of ecological design is that it be accessible to all, rich, middle class and poor alike. Although most architects enjoy a big budget the question has be asked: is this a responsible design, taking into account impacts on nature and the limited budget of the public? Will my design and construction use utility resources in a sustainable manner?

The Living Design System (LDS) is an integrated design approach of several disciplines.

Another way to say ecological design is to call it “natural healthy buildings” which captures a good part of the definition without being too abstract.

Benefits of a Natural Healthy House

Below is a summary of the advantages of natural, solar, and energy efficient housing. Natural refers to the use of material found in nature near the construction site, such as wood. Many houses we have built use straw bale insulation in the walls because that is what we find nearby. Straw bales are not appropriate in some places such as the far north or the southern deserts.


Local natural materials, such wood lumber, along with other key resource efficient design elements, can potentially cost less than conventional construction and often costs the same as conventional. Yet the end result is usually higher quality construction. Many environmental house builders have been charging a premium for house construction, often 30% more for a net zero home for example. Net Zero homes are not an example of ecological design and have numerous very expensive features.

Durable and Low Maintenance

Careful design choices are required to create a long lasting building. For example, a cement stucco finish on a straw wall and metal roofing, results in a durable house with low maintenance costs. No repainting or staining is required to the house exterior. In addition, durable and simple interior finishes contribute to less interior maintenance. Overall a well built straw house can last an estimated 120 years and is virtually fireproof. The goal of ecological design is to design and build structures that will last over 100 years.

It is not uncommon to find buildings in Europe that are 400 years old. These durable examples are built with various material such as stone and big logs.

Reduced Heating and Cooling Costs: “no furnace is required”

The heating load of LDS designs are 75% to 80% less than conventional housing. For example, a straw insulated wall has an R-value of about R-35. Another environmentally appropriate choice for wall or ceiling insulation is loose cellulose in a 30 cm wall which will approach R-40. Combined with properly designed window sizing and placement only a small wood or gas backup heater is required. Thermal mass (or a heat sink material in and under the floor) is a key part of our designs. This mass stores heat and creates increased comfort for the occupants. In reverse this same mass in the summer prevents a temperature build-up in a building is a natural air conditioner. Our buildings show dramatic performance during very hot days: an outside temperature of plus 35 C will create only a 2 or 3 degree rise all day in the solar mass house – typically reaching a maximum temperature of only 23 C. Night time outside air circulation will bring the interior temperature back down to 18 or 20 Deg C.

Reduced Electricity Costs

Through careful HVAC design, appliance selection and the use of LED lighting, electrical energy demand for the house can be reduced 50% or more while not sacrificing any conveniences for the occupants. An advanced design strategy can result in a house which uses 80% less power than conventional houses.

Reduced electrical consumption means a building can be affordably powered by a solar renewable energy system.

Passive Solar Design “a big advantage in northern climates”

Passive Solar Design is an architectural method to use the sun to provide a significant portion of the heat needed for a building. This works extremely well in northern climates right up to the 65th parallel. In passive solar buildings a thermal mass serves to store excess heat of the day for night-time release. Many large window on the south side of the house capture the solar energy. These houses are typically very bright inside, especially in the winter when the sun angle is very low.

A Healthy Interior Environment

Good indoor air quality (IAQ) is important for all and for the very young and old especially. Northern climates have moisture and condensation challenges which must be addressed in the early stages of design. Asthma and other indoor illnesses are preventable with appropriate design details and proper choice of interior finishing materials. Unhealthy chemical off-gassing is prevented with this approach.

LDS does not generally recommend basements. With no basement and elimination of associated moisture problems, mold and spore growth will not become a problem. Moisture is easily handled with a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) which is a standard part of the house. The HRV is a stand-alone ventilation system and is not connected to a furnace. There is no need for a furnace in LDS buildings.

Meets or Exceeds all Building Code Requirements

The National building code has allocations for the use of natural “alternative” building materials. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has actively promoted straw bale construction after much thorough research on the viability this type of construction. In any LDS project the local building inspectors are an enjoyable part of construction which will confirm that all code requirements are met. All our working drawings are engineer stamped to give assurance to the local authorities.


The natural way of building can make it easy to consider going grid-free. The energy load is low and the resulting costs to install solar and biomass systems for all needed electrical and heat energy is reduced. The energy system does increase the up front cost of a project, but can also greatly decrease costs if you are in a remote area with high grid connect costs. You may be interested in contributing personally to solving the global climate problem by staying off the fossil fuel grid. In addition grid-free mean no utility bills at the end of the month – just basic occasional energy system maintenance is required.

Stayed tuned for information and our examples on the following topics in the near future:

Water Harvesting, Water Treatment, Composting Toilets, Greywater

Management Solar Electric Energy Systems, Solar Hot Water

Wood/biomass Heaters and Boilers for Single and Multiple Dwellings