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Expert Advice on Sustainable Home Architecture: An Interview with Gary Matczak of Gary Matczak Architects

By Gary Matczak

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

We are a small firm of 5 professionals that offer a full range of architectural services including architectural and landscape design, construction administration services, feasibility studies, code analysis, and even some forensic work.

Can you briefly explain what sustainable architecture is?

Sustainable architecture is generally thought of as the endeavor to consciously approach design and development choosing methods and materials that best minimizes the overall impact on the environment. As products and technology develop, efficiencies in requiring less use of raw materials and overall energy consumption are hoped to continue their decline.

Why should clients consider sustainable architecture or green building design over "standard" residential design?

Sustainable choices can be made in everything that we do in the world today. Often, burgeoning concepts, products and technologies come with higher initial costs, with the offset being in the efficiencies returned over time. However, many of the developed ideas brought to the consumer in time become the norm for us all.

What are some of the most frequently used sustainable features used in Pennsylvania house design?

The most common sustainable features in home design in our region include some very visible types of elements like building products made from recycled materials, high efficiency lighting, and solar and wind energy collectors, while some more subtle we experience in subliminal ways such as high performance insulation systems, in-floor radiant heating, storm and grey water collection and storage.

What newer sustainable architecture trends do you think homeowners should know about?

In my mind, things like orientation of the home on the site providing for the design consideration of simpler things like passive solar heating and cooling season air conditioning simply using cool air from the basement and circulating it through the home rather that electrically doing so. Both of these concepts come at little to no cost and continuously pay back by reducing energy consumption.

Interestingly, today's Pennsylvania building codes bring forward many requirements in terms of efficiencies that were born from sustainable concepts, knowingly or not. Whether you are building a new home, or replacing that old furnace, many older methods and materials are not current with today's standards, or in a lot of cases simply are no longer available, like the incandescent light bulb.

How do the building costs and long-term costs usually factor into sustainable design choices?

While some of the more trendy items like solar collectors come with a significant up front cost, the concept of the payback overtime is what sells the technology to the consumers. These types of technologies are continuing to evolve with the hopes that eventual payback time is shortened. Unfortunately, sometimes good stewardship comes with a cost that simply is not redeemable in a monetary sense.

Do you have any advice for people in Pennsylvania who want to build a new home?

Find an experienced, licensed and insured contractor that has a ton of references, and then actually check them out by calling them directly. Also, check out some of the major subcontractors and suppliers that they propose to use on your project. Make sure that you have a good set of design documents along with a contract reviewed by your retained legal counsel. As an architect, I recommend you have as detailed description of the scope of work as possible.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your company?

We can be contacted at 814-836-8500, or on the web at Our offices are located at 4509 West Ridge Road in Erie, PA.

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About The Author

Gary started his professional career in 1979 with the firm of Heidt Evans Salata...

Phone: 814-836-8500

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