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Looking to Build? The time is now!


The number of building permits issued post-recession has grown steadily nationwide, according to a recent article in Maine Biz. It’s not often that retirees and Millennials necessarily find themselves on common ground, but these two groups are working together to drive this trend. What does this mean for you, a forward-thinking person wanting to build a net-zero home? Open your planner, your smart phone calendar, or just grab a sharpie and write “START PLANNING OUR NEW HOME NOW!”


You see, according to the Census Bureau’s 2016 Survey of Construction, custom home build times are estimated to be 10-16 months, while production homes are estimated at 4-6 months.


That may be well and good, but as we enter this new year, certain trends in the industry may have an adverse effect on these estimated times.  For one, low unemployment – good on many fronts – has led to labor shortages in construction companies – bad on the home building front. As the Washington Post pointed out, increased tariffs on building materials means their price and availability have become less stable and less predictable. In addition, the construction industry has reported an 8% increase in backlog, meaning many companies are in the midst of finishing the old before being able to take on the new.


Up here in Maine we’ve experienced that many quality site-builders are booked out one to two years, and their subcontractors can be even further out. (Your house may be standing, but you’ll have no bathtub or shower for another year. Nobody wants that.)


Let’s also remember Mother Nature – her unpredictability is trending every year and 2019 is no exception. Weather - snow, sleet, rain, hail, excessive heat, strong winds, lightning - will happen.


Modular construction is subject to some of the same pressures of this year’s construction trends. As more people are enlightened to the ease, speed, and efficiency possible with modular technology, the demand for this building style has grown. There are a limited number of manufacturers making pre-fabricated buildings, and they now have a greater strain on their current capacity. The build time for a modular home will be short, but the “begin to build” could be an additional several months down the line.

Never fear! Though we don’t have a magic wand to wave and eliminate all of these pressures on the industry for you, we do have built-in solutions to help navigate around some of them. Off-site construction has the benefit of being sheltered from the elements, so production happens regardless of what Mother Nature throws our way. And even with the slightly longer waits for fabricated pieces to come out of the factories, the build time on site is not affected.


Trends often generate long lines. We’ve all witnessed the phenomenon of people waiting down the block to get a table at the most recent trendy brunch spot. As we’ve seen for 2019, trends in the construction industry have the same effect, but instead of waiting in line for one meal, you are waiting for the literal roof over your head! Let’s act on that note you wrote to yourself at the beginning of this article. Get in touch with us today and we’ll find a spot for you at the front of the line, helping your net-zero home become a reality this year. You can pass right by all the lines at those trendy breakfast places and make delicious waffles in the comfort of your own beautiful home.


Happy Halloween from the Sawlty Dawgs at BrightBuilt Home and Kaplan Thompson Architects (oh, right, Yarrrrrchitects) 


Every year, we mark our calendars for a few key events that we make the most of with our in-house creative genius(es). This year, Adrienne (always up to something) and Ben (our new volunteer-in-chief) led the charge to pull together the annual Halloween ridiculousness.  Everyone of course was willing to oblige.  

With the help of the salty spirit of the crew and some handy props Parlin just happens to have lying around the house (like, ya know, a cannon), we properly transformed into scoundrelly little YARRRchitects.  Puns are always worth it. 


Fa- Er..Ahem...Autumn is Here! (Because we don't like to say "Fall" when houses are in the air!)


The cooler temperatures have arrived, so it seemed like the perfect time to have an entire house go up in a day.  The photos above show a custom BrightBuilt Home that was just set this week in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. 

Slabs of glass, tall ceilings, a ground floor master bedroom, generous open-concept living spaces, and 3 bedrooms and an office upstairs round out this tidy modern farmhouse. It's all set and ready to get its winter jacket of bright white clapboards and standing seam metal roof. 

We're happily working with Decumanus Green on this home, and are so excited to see the finishes come together inside and out.  If you're interested in learning more about our options for fully custom designs, please don't hesitate to reach out.  

ADU, ADU, to You and You and You

The ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) craze is gearing up to rightfully take over backyards, side yards, rural landscapes, and suburbia, with the aim to address housing needs in cities and for multi-generational households.  


The latest addition to our own personal line of Accessory Dwelling Units - AKA the BrightBuilt Sidekicks (see our In-Law Flat & Guesthouse) - is a 420 square foot contemporary nod to accessory living.  With a minimalist footprint, the Sidekick Studio offers ample space for an individual or couple seeking to live on simpler terms, while still offering all of the comforts of a larger home.  To find out more about Sidekick design options or options for financing through a local lender contact us today. 

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A Custom Fit: Design Feature, the BrightBuilt Custom Home


If you love our designs, but have found that, due to your site, your needs, or just your spatial preferences, the designs in our portfolio don't quite work: fret not. At BrightBuilt, we can develop a fully customized house plan for you - from scratch - to be built off site and delivered to your (potentially-particular) site, and perfect for you, your needs, and your bottom line. 

The home featured above was designed for a couple who sought to build an energy-efficient "forever home" that was befitting their interests, their routines, and their desire to comfortably host family and friends visiting the area.  

Here were some of their particulars: 

  • Light-filled, airy, and efficiently sized open concept living-dining-kitchen

  • A "conservatory" room - large enough to accomodate a grand piano and a weekly gathering of a woodwind quartet

  • Ground floor master with walk in closet and generous en-suite bath

  • Guest Bedroom

  • Guest Bedroom/Office Space

  • Guest Bathroom

  • Large walk-in Pantry

  • Entry area with ample room for a small powder room

  • Large mudroom - to include washer/dryer

  • 2 car garage

  • Workshop space - to be accessed directly from the home

  • Loft space overlooking the living area below, to be used as a sitting area and play area for visiting grandchildren

You can see the results of our design efforts above.  The clients love their new home, and they enjoyed the process of designing it as well! 

In their own words...

"Our experience with BrightBuilt was fantastic from start to finish. The creativity and attention to detail throughout the design and building phases made the entire process a pure joy."

To learn more about our process, or to find out how we can help you bring your ideas to life, please don't hesitate to get in touch! 

A Custom Fit: Design Feature, the BrightBuilt Custom Home


If you love our designs, but have found that, due to your site, your needs, or just your spatial preferences, the designs in our portfolio don't quite work: fret not. At BrightBuilt, we can develop a fully customized house plan for you - from scratch - to be built off site and delivered to your (potentially-particular) site, and perfect for you, your needs, and your bottom line. 

In the above images, we demonstrate that high-performance doesn't have to look flashy or modern. This home, recently set and completed in Mid Coast Maine, looks like it's been there for 200 years!

Working with the BrightBuilt design team, these homeowners developed a layout derived from modern design trends and lifestyle norms, and set within a form that is straight out of the early 18th century.  With exquisite interior and exterior detailing, courtesy of the master carpenter who calls this home, the look, feel, form, and day to day are a perfect fit.  

In their own words: 
"We would like you to know that the house design and function inside and out makes it the best house that we have ever built and lived in. It is not only well-sited on the lot, receiving ever-changing light throughout each day, but the overall layout makes the house very easy to move around in and live in. Our heartfelt thanks again to you for the excellent design work on the house!"

The custom pathway allows homeowners to marry the advantages of off-site construction with the architectural insights our office has to offer - resulting in a perfect balance of vision and execution.  

To learn more about our process, or to find out how we can help you bring your ideas to life, please don't hesitate to get in touch! 

Materials Matter: Having a Light Bulb Moment

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The humble light bulb has come a long way since its invention. Modern bulbs are designed to consume considerably less energy while producing the same amount of light and lasting substantially longer. Recent improvements in light quality and the ability to dim have made non-incandescent bulbs a viable option in virtually any setting. Energy efficient alternatives to traditional incandescent bulbs include compact fluorescent (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs. They might come with a slightly higher price tag in the immediate future, but they can last for years and will help you save significantly on utility costs. 

Check out the links below for more about the latest improvements on Thomas Edison's mighty invention: 

Department of Energy: Lighting Choices to Save you Money

Consumer Reports: Choosing the Best Energy-Saving Lightbulbs




Materials Matter: Don't Let your Appliances Take You to the Cleaners.


Looking to find a replacement fridge, or outfitting an entirely new Kitchen?  Make sure you take a closer look at the energy consumption of any appliances you're aiming to purchase.  It will save you on your bottom line, and will keep those treasured plug loads low to keep your solar array cranking into net-positivity.  

There are guidelines and information galore, and it's important to read the fine print on all aspects of the product in question - from wattage consumption, to cycling, to sound generation, and more. 

Energy Star is the benchmark for energy efficient appliances in the United States and it is not difficult to find a broad range of options from almost every manufacturer. Although Energy Star appliances sometimes cost more to purchase, they will save you money on utility costs over the life of the equipment, and you can sometimes immediately save with local and national rebate programs.

Energy Star certifies almost every type of appliance, some types of building products, and various electronics. Many people choose Energy Star for major kitchen appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers, but do not necessarily think about other certified products, such as:

  • Air purifiers
  • Televisions
  • Telephones
  • Heat Pumps
  • Venilation Fans 
  • Ceiling Fans 
  • Light Fixtures & Light Bulbs 
  • Computers & Peripherals
  • Water Heaters
  • Washing Machines and Dryers 

A notable exception is that Energy Star does not currently certify residential ovens, ranges, and microwaves.

In addition to the Energy Star label, compare and contrast on the specifications between units. You may find that, while two fridges share an Energy Star certification, they may still perform very differently from one another. 

Chilling Out When the Heat is "On"


If you're currently suffering from the heat and humidity outside, like us, then you'll understand just how important the systems are in your home.  We often focus on how warm our homes can be during a frigid New England winter, but did you know that they function just as well in summer? A BrightBuilt Home keeps you cool and free from the oppressive humidity!

There are three main components, sun-shading, insulation and air-sealing, and mechanical systems, that work together to give you a break from the summer heat.

Sun-shading: Our homes are "solar-tuned", often facing due South, which means the sun can come streaming in through those large windows in the wintertime, to take advantage of the passive heat.  This is, of course, not ideal for summer, so every BrightBuilt Home is equiped with awnings or shading trellises to keep that summer sun from beating down on you while inside.  You'll still have that nice bright daylight, just without the heat. How can you beat that?

Insulation/Draft-free construction: Similar to how insulation and air-tightness helps keep you warm in winter, it also keeps you cool in summer, by limiting the transfer of heat though your walls, floors, and ceilings.  As a function of the high-performance envelope of the home, in summer time the cool will stay in, and the heat and humidity will stay out!

Mechanical Systems: The benefit of using Air-source heat pumps to heat your home is that they also have a cooling funtion - Perfect for getting a blast of cold air when you need it.  Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV) also play a large part in mitigating that humidity - when the air exchange happens (bringing fresh air in, and taking stale air out) the ERV core does not allow humidity to transfer.  Pretty cool!

Of course, all of this to say, you can feel comfortable in your home no matter what's going on outside, AND it doesn't have to cost you much (or anything)!

(Our Vinalhaven, shown in the pictures above, serves as a perfect model to illustrate some of those cool features we speak of.  Take a peak at the design!)

Materials Matter: Going with the (low-) Flow

Good design and construction will help you improve efficiency by limiting the amount of heat that can transfer through the exterior, but a good green home also takes usage into consideration. Your home has a long life span. Start it off right with sustainable systems and materials that enable you to keep your environmental footprint small while still living comfortably in the modern world.



Water consumption is an important part of living a sustainable lifestyle. Low-flow fixtures and toilets help reduce water use during daily activities like washing dishes and showering. Virtually all major manufacturers offer low-flow solutions so you can choose from a broad range of fixtures to match your style. The technology has improved over the years so most of the time you aren’t even aware that you are conserving water.

Water reclamation systems that reclaim greywater from sinks, dishwashers, tubs, and showers are a great way to conserve water, especially in areas that are subject to drought. However, these systems tend not to be cost-effective in New England because water shortages are rarely a problem. Of course, water conservation is always a good practice, so if you want to invest in these systems it is always an option.

Materials Matter: Use the Right Stuff in your High Performance Home


Good design and construction will help you improve efficiency by limiting the amount of heat that can transfer through the exterior, but a good green home also takes usage into consideration. Your home has a long life span. Start it off right with sustainable systems and materials that enable you to keep your environmental footprint small while still living comfortably in the modern world.


Building elements are made up of all sorts of materials, and some are more eco-friendly than others. In addition to having a negative environmental impact, poor quality building materials can also affect your indoor air quality and the healthiness of your home. Make sure your builder uses materials that are labeled no- or low-VOC and do not have added formaldehyde. Some of the materials that might have unwanted toxins include:

  • Adhesives
  • Insulation
  • Sealants
  • Caulk
  • Flooring
  • Tile
  • Carpet
  • Countertops
  • Plywood
  • Sheathing
  • Paint and polyurethane

Eco-friendly options are almost always available and have become equal or nearly equal in cost, but if your builder doesn’t know that it is important to you, they might use whatever they have on hand or the cheapest option.

The Breakdown on Thermal Breaks

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A thermal break is a building element that limits the flow of heat between materials. Think about your morning cup of coffee. If the paper cup is too hot, you put a sleeve on it so you don’t burn your hand. That sleeve is a thermal break. However, the base of the cup and the open top are still allowing heat to escape. 

Of course, if you’re being sustainable, you use an insulated travel mug that has a thermal break all around it. When the lid is off, heat flows out, but when you put the lid on, you have just maximized the thermal breaks on your coffee cup. 

You have to do the same thing when building a green home – maximize the thermal breaks. This means ensuring that there are thermal breaks around the entire exterior, including under the slab so heat can’t escape into the ground.

There are many types of thermal breaks employed throughout a green home. Every single wood stud or rafter that makes contact with the inside drywall and the outside sheathing of the home is a potential location for transfer of cold air and needs an additional continuous blanket of insulation outside of it (or in between members) to ensure substantial heat loss doesn’t occur. Triple-pane windows use the inert gas between the panes as a thermal break. Energy efficient windows and doors are constructed from less conductive materials on the inside and outside to ensure that heat does not flow through the frames. Areas without thermal breaks are weak spots that counteract all of the other measures you have taken to minimize heat transfer. 

It might not be the most glamorous part of the project, but it is critical to consider this important concept when building a new green home.

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Crushing on the Cushing: Week One of this Month's Featured Design


The Cushing is our nod to the classic New England Farmhouse.  With a generous open-concept first floor layout, a ground floor master suite, banks of sun-soaking windows, and room upstairs for 2 bedrooms, laundry, 1-2 baths, and a bonus room (which also could become another bedroom), this design packs a lot into its compact, classic form.  

The Cushing shown above perches on a hillside with optimal southerly exposure - allowing the home to be passively heated well into the colder months of the year.  The living space provides a light-filled, tree-bounded respite for the home's family, and the 2-floor distribution of sleeping spaces allows for all to have a solid sense of personal space. 

In his own words, the home's co-owner (and carpentry detailer and systems explainer extraordinaire) remarks on his experience of living in this variation of BrightBuilt's Cushing design: 

"We are loving the last couple of weeks. Sunny days are keeping the house at 65-70, and the temp only dropped 4 degrees last night when it was 24 degrees out side. Wondering how long we can hold off on using the heat."

If you're keen to learn more about ways to tailor this design to your family and your aesthetic preferences, please let us know.  Opportunities abound for turning this design into a warm, inviting, personalized, and relaxing respite for all to enjoy.

Insulation: The Puffy Coat of the Built Environment


Increasingly, wall and roof thickness to accommodate additional insulation plays a major role in limiting heat transfer. A green home with a roof and walls that are thicker than a conventional home has better thermal comfort because less heat is allowed to escape in winter. You also get the bonus of having a much quieter home since thick, insulation-filled walls and roof filter out more sound from the outside.

Insulation also helps reduce unwanted heat loss and heat gain in a home. The more insulation there is, the less heat can transfer through the walls and roof. A green home has more insulation than a conventional home, sometimes up to twice as much, which makes it warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

Environmentally friendly insulation materials like natural cellulose are proven to safely insulate homes without risk of fire or unwanted toxins. Spray foam is also an effective insulating material, but because it has potential toxins, particularly during and immediately after the application process, it is less desirable. Many homeowners who want a sustainable, healthy home choose to limit its use to only the areas that are the most difficult to access. Although sometimes effective, some batt (or blanket) insulations like fiberglass have greater potential health impacts and can leave gaps within the wall cavity even in the best installations.

Regardless of the type of insulation you choose, it is important to properly insulate the entire exterior shell, roof, and slab to limit thermal transfer, ultimately limiting the potential for condensation and mold growth inside the walls. Ice dams, a common roof problem for New Englanders in wintertime, can be prevented by specifying sufficient insulation and applying it properly.

Creating a Draft-Free Home

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You already know that one of the major challenges when building a green home in New England is heat loss in winter, but there is less concern about heat gain in summer. One of the reasons for this is the difference between standard comfort levels and the outside air temperature. When you consider that 65° to 72° is comfortable for most people, a hot summer day is only a 20° to 25° difference. On the other hand, a cold winter day might range from a 35° to 80°+ difference in temperature. That’s quite a leap to get from the outside air temperature to your indoor comfort level, and any lost heat will require more energy to maintain the desired temperature.

One of the primary ways to combat heat loss in a home is with good air sealing, particularly at the corners and transitions, such as where the walls meet the roof, windows, doors, and foundation. During construction, you can test for air leakage with a blower door test to ensure all the gaps are sealed before the home is finished. A blower door test works by creating a pressure differential between the inside and outside of the building. This difference in pressure forces air through of all the holes in the structure, and a tighter building requires less air to achieve the desired pressure differential. A blower door test also allows you to find out where the holes are so they can be sealed properly, for both air and water.

There are several ways to calculate how well a home is sealed, but the two most common are ACH50 and effective leakage area. ACH50 stands for air changes per hour at 50 Pascals. For comparison, common ACH50 numbers include:

  • An older inefficient home might have 8-15 ACH50
  • The current building code requires 7 ACH50
  • A green home might have 3 ACH50 (likely the threshold of the forthcoming new code)
  • Net-zero and Passive House homes have less than 1 to 1.5 ACH50
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Another way to evaluate the air leakage in a home is with the effective leakage area (ELA) metric. This number tells you the area of a hole that the building would leak if all of the small holes and gaps were combined. For example, a higher ELA might be like having a hole the size of a manhole cover constantly open in your home. On the other hand, a lower ELA might be like having a hole the size of a small jar lid. Obviously it is more desirable to have a smaller hole constantly allowing air to pass in and out of your home, which is why it is so important to ensure that proper air sealing is done while the house is being constructed. A tighter home with good air sealing means you will have lower energy bills, better comfort levels throughout the year, and a draft-free home.


Stay tuned for an upcoming blog about fresh air and ventilation, a key component in the conversation about air-leakage and air-tightness in your home!

Opening the Door (or Window) to Performance Possibilities

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While paying close attention to the shape and volume of your new high-performance home, it's also important to pay attention to the holes you punch through its shell.  The openings in a home are yet another chance for air to escape or enter. On a clear spring day you want your open windows to bring in fresh air, but on a cold winter day you want as little heat as possible to escape your cozy home. Even the best window is not as energy efficient as the minimum standard wall. Windows and doors are the primary source of both heat loss and gain in a home.

Consider these three factors when making design decisions about windows and doors for your new green home:


You want to strike the right balance of natural light and ventilation without risking the chance of too much air leakage. Too many windows might allow too much solar gain, and too few will not allow enough natural light and ventilation.


To maximize solar gain in winter, more windows should be placed on the south side of the home, with fewer on the other sides. Consider where shade will fall on the south face during summer. Windows on the east and west offer less opportunity for shade control as the sun angle is so low in morning and late afternoon. Grouping windows together also helps reduce the opportunity for heat loss because it reduces the number of transitions between walls and windows.


It may seem counterintuitive because the glass in a window
is thinner than the surrounding frame, but in most windows
the glass is actually thermally better than the frame, as the air between panes has an insulating effect. Also, the edge of the frame is a transition spot where air leakage and heat loss can occur. This means that having a few larger windows is better than having a lot of small windows if reducing heat loss is one of your goals.

A lot of factors come into play when deciding how many windows your new home should have, where they should be placed, and how large or small they should be. This is yet another case when an experienced architect can provide guidance for optimizing natural light and ventilation while balancing with energy efficiency.

What's Your Ratio? Your home's surface to volume ratio counts for more than just math!


Last week we took a look at the how the number of surfaces (different planes, an abundance of corners, etc.) can impact a home's performance. In addition to the number of surfaces, the surface area-to-volume ratio is also an important consideration when building a green home. The more surface area a home has (the total area of the exterior walls, roof, and floors), the more opportunity there is for heat to escape or enter. Likewise, the higher the ratio, the greater the risk of loss.

The geometric shape that has the minimum surface area to volume is a sphere, but that’s hardly practical for a house. A cube is the most reasonable, compact shape for a home to minimize heat transfer. Of course, other factors come into play, such as optimizing glass area on the south-facing wall and ensuring that sufficient light can penetrate to the interior spaces, often making a rectangular shape more desirable than a cube. Plus, sloped roofs make more sense in regions that receive a lot of snow, such as New England.

The key is to strike the right balance between all of these factors to produce a green home that’s right for you and your building site. An architect with a background in green building can use sophisticated modeling tools to calculate how adjusting various factors, including surface area and volume, will impact the performance of the building.

To illustrate why this metric is so important, consider two shapes that have the same volume but a very dfferent surface area:

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Both a 10’x10’x10’ cube and a 10’x50’x2’ rectangle have a volume of 1,000 cubic feet, but the surface area is quite different. The cube’s surface area is 600 square feet and the rectangle’s is 1,240 square feet. That’s more than twice the opportunity for heat loss on the rectangular building. The rectangle in this example also requires more building materials for the walls, roof, slab, and flooring, which means a higher cost for the building.

Designing an Energy Efficient Home: Simple is Good

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If you are building a custom home, you have the freedom to implement the design features that suit your aesthetic and optimize the natural characteristics of the site in order to develop a structure that meets your needs while respecting the environment at the same time. 

A structure that is simpler will have fewer opportunities for failure than one that is more complex. In the context of a green home, failure primarily means air and/or water leaks. The more transitions a home has, such as corners and connections between the walls and roof, the more likely it is that unwanted water and air will be able to enter your home. Air leakage is a concern when building green homes because when warm air escapes to the colder outside air, mechanical systems have to work harder to maintain the desired temperature. The same is true when warm air comes into the house in summer and cooling systems have to run more frequently. This leads to more energy consumption, higher utility bills, and a bigger environmental footprint.

To reduce the chance for air leakage, the exterior of a green home should have no more than three to four roof planes and six to eight corners. To put it in visual terms, a cube or rectangle has four corners, an L-shaped building has six, and a U-shaped building has eight. Additional features like dormers and bay windows add more corners and roof planes, adding complexity and increasing the chance that warm air will leak out of your home.

It’s worth noting that simpler structures also cost less to build because fewer materials are required. So, you not only get the bene ts of long- term savings from less energy consumption, but you also save on construction costs.


Site, Undisturbed: How to lessen your impact on a building site.


Building a green home requires considering more than just the structure itself. Even the greenest home couldn’t be reasonably considered sustainable if you had to cut down an entire forest to build it and then covered half the site in an impervious parking area. This is an extreme example, but how much you need to disturb the site is a factor that must be weighed if your goal is to minimize your environmental impact. 7 

The greenest solution is to build on an area that has already been developed so that you don’t have to remove any additional plant life. However, this isn’t always possible. If your property has a lot of trees, think about ways you can position the house so that you have to cut down as few as possible. Can you use that wood in the construction of the home or for some other beneficial purpose? 

Think about all of the possible options for the placement of your new home and choose the one that requires the least amount of tree removal and blasting, while still allowing you to optimize the orientation and shading. 

Another factor to consider with respect to site disturbance is the amount of impervious surface you will create. Features like driveways and walkways are practically necessary, but you have the option to limit the space you will cover. You can also choose materials that allow water to penetrate into the ground, limiting runoff from your property.

Your home’s distance from the road will also impact site disturbance, especially if you will require a long driveway or significant digging to install utilities and other services.