Sustainable. Energy Efficient. Two of the most overused phrases builders / contractors will use to get a competitive edge. But as a consumer, what does that really mean? What methods are they using to to 'walk the walk'? A good design builder will not only advertise this to you, but also constantly communicate the steps being taken towards conserving energy. 

Here at Leonardo Silva Architects, we take energy conservation seriously. It is an integral part of our design culture. In case you were not aware (because frankly, we don't use it as a marketing ploy), we are proud to be an ENERGY STAR partner. But what does this mean, exactly? It means we will take the time to have our plans reviewed by a third party home energy rater, who will make sure we are doing or due diligence. Or using the same terminology as before, walk the walk.

What a better way to show you our commitment to promoting energy efficiency than by having your next project achieve an Energy Star label?  

NO. REALLY. What's my project cost?

As a homeowner, the sometimes the hardest part is getting started. Do I hire a reputable builder? Do I go with the recommended contractor that has worked with everyone on my street? How about hiring an architect + design/build firm? WAIT. What's the difference? What can one do that the others can't? Once you hire someone, then comes the 'project cost' page on their contract. But what does it really cover? What are they offering that the other one isn't? Rather than make you second-guess your original decision, I'm here to shed some light as to what you SHOULD look for (and expect) be a part of your project cost. Here's the breakdown:

CONSTRUCTION BUDGET: these are the costs related to the construction cost of the home. They should include:

  • all material and labor (from excavation all the way to light fixtures)
  • general conditions (debris removal, final cleaning)
  • special conditions (site conditions, misc equipment, staging)
  • sales tax
  • general contractor fee(s)

DESIGN BUDGET: these are costs that fall outside of the original $/SQ FT costs. They include:

  • architectural fees (depends on job complexity, project type and scope)
  • design consultant fees
  • permit fees
  • site prep (which includes any site demo needed to commence project)
  • hardscape (sidewalks, driveways)
  • landscape


Keep this breakdown as a minimum go-to glossary of items to be broke down as part of your overall PROJECT COST. Happy building!


Demystifying best practices in home energy savings

Every year, more and more homeowners look for new ways to make energy improvements to their homes. Rightfully so, it is ofter hard to narrow down the numerous choices out there. Instead of weighting in with our own set of recommendations, we decided to share information from a reputable source. According to the Energy Department's recommendations, we should be doing the following: (in no particular order)

  • Install (and set) programmable thermostats. Nothing against new programs out there that can even be ran through your smart devices, the key here is to be sure to set to a schedule. Furnaces run more efficiently when the daily up and downswing of temperatures are kept to a minimum. Worst thing to do is to turn off one day, then crack up next day.
  • Utilize natural daylight. If you're moving to a new home, make sure your designer team does their due diligence to maximize daylight while minimizing heat loss. If you're looking on ways to improve your current home, simple solutions such as better performing windows, and the addition of solar tubes and/or skylights will be an investment well made.
  • Switch to Energy Star rated appliances. Something to keep in mind here is to still look at energy consumption when purchasing new. Just because they are rated does not necessarily make it a smart choice. Make sure to do your research alongside your design team.
  • Choose energy savings lighting. If you're main concern is aesthetics, CFL's and LED's are making huge strides to make more pleasing light bulbs that go better with your fixtures. Although very popular, the worst thing to do is to update your light bulbs with vintage / Edison bulbs! 
  • Use powerstrips to plug in your electronic equipment. Just because they are plugged into wall and off does not guarantee they are not drawing energy! Leaving for a long period of time? Turn off your powerstrips on your way out the door
  • Reduce energy for water heating. This can be achieved by purchasing low-flow fixtures, and even lowering the max temperature on your water heater
  • Mainting a regular checkup of your appliances. Even energy star appliances, when not installed properly or running like they should be, can be just as bad as those not rated! 
  • Consult / work with a home performance contractor. Their comprehensive energy audit of your home is something often missed by most contractors. Make sure this is part of your contractor's scope of work

Lessons learned, part I

New Year, new fresh ideas! Collectively, we have talked about new ways to keep costumers better informed, and simply, more educated. As a result, we are launching a segment in our blog called lessons learned. Title says it all! The idea is to draw upon project setbacks that occur all too often, and inform our future clients how to avoid these situations. Happy reading!

Too often, design builders are faced with the home stretch (80% and above project completion) when new unforeseeable issues surface. Too often these include less-than-acceptable structural members, HVAC blunders, and the worst "m" word a homeowner can be faced with: mold. Sure, sometimes we cannot avoid them, but with great project managing, attention to detail, and constant communication between all trade leaders, these issues can be avoided. Here's how:

  • Be sure a full system inspection is done. No if's and but's here! No matter how small the remodel or addition may be! Better to plan ahead than to backpedal.
  • Request a mold inspection, and if necessary, mitigation plan. There's no sense in building new and still creating sick buildings.
  • Measure twice, cut once! It's always easier to cut back a piece of drywall to inspect HVAC, structure, than to have to come back at the end (and do it anyways!).
  • Make sure your contract has a contingency set up for these (and any other) situations. No one likes to pay more than anticipated!

The older your home, the more likely you are to find these issues. Be sure your project manager pays careful attention to all systems, no matter the size or scope of your remodel. You'll be happier in the long run!

Saving energy- demystified

Whether it's a new client interviewing me for the job, or a friend seeking DYI advice, I am encountering numerous people asking me how to improve the energy efficiency of their home. It's easy to put on our salesmen hat and suggest solar, wind, even thermal alternatives, but that's not what I'm here to tell you. I want to make sure we take care of the small, most effective fixes first! 

Enough about that, let's get to the good stuff! Focusing on confort and the reduction of energy "waste", here are the four ways to do so:

  1.  Air seal the home to create a more tight, leak-free environment. This can be achieved by making sure all windows and windows are properly caulked.
  2.  Replace your attic insulation. Most home owners have regular batt insulation. An upgrade would be to install fiberglass. An even better solution: spray foam the area! Either one of these options will make a huge impact, for both summer and winter months.
  3. Replace most windows. Research shows Argon-filled, low-e, and even triple pane windows will help to keep a more stable temperature year round.
  4. Install window inserts on other windows.  Want to maintain the integrity and character of old windows? No problem. These inserts will help to keep drafts and noise out


Blogging intro!

Hello all. Welcome to Leonardo Silva Architecture's blog. Your source for educational tidbits, project updates, and general discussion into the everyday of our firm. We hope to inspire you, educate you, all while creating a better idea to why we're so nuts about making a lasting impression. Read on!

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