Sustainability

High Performance is the Standard

At High Plains Architects, we consistently apply sustainable design values to all aspects of our work, resulting in projects that are unsurpassed in the region in energy efficiency, water efficiency, use of salvaged and other green materials, and in the use of renewable energy sources. High Plains Architects is in the vanguard of green building in this country. The proof of this commitment to sustainability is in our projects and in awards we've received for our efforts:

  • Eleven LEED Platinum certified projects. - Home on the Range, Klos Building, Swift Building Lofts, Tracy Lofts in Billings, MT; Boys & Girls Club of Carbon County in Red Lodge, MT;  NOLS Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus in Lander, WY (Educational buildings + five student housing buildings = 6)

  • One LEED Gold certified project - Caretaker Residence at NOLS Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus in Lander, WY

  • In 2014 we received three Sustainable Building Awards from the U.S. Green Building Council Montana Chapter . Two were Residential Building Honor Awards for the Tracy Lofts and the Swift Building Lofts, and the third was a Commercial Building Honor Award for the Boys &Girls Club of Carbon County

  • Four commercial buildings that have earned the Energy Star - Home on the Range, Good Earth Market in Billings, MT;True Value Hardware in Red Lodge, MT; Little Big Horn Bank in Hardin, MT.

  • Three Seattle AIA “What Makes It Green?” project competition awards (Home on the Range 2008; Klos Building Remodel 2009; Swift Building Lofts 2012)

  • 2009 BetterBricks Award - Salutes individuals leading the way for high performance commercial buildings; first Montana recipient Randy Hafer, President of High Plains Architects

High Performance design, also commonly referred to as 'sustainable architecture,' 'environmentally-friendly construction,' or 'green building,' is gaining popularity. No matter what it’s called, more and more clients are realizing the triple-bottom line benefits of implementing high performance building strategies in their buildings. Planet, People, and Prosperity - the positive impact on the building occupants, benefits to the environment, and financial advantage of lower operational costs and higher productivity - all combine to increase the appeal of building green.

Here are some strategies implemented by High Plains Architects to achieve the Triple Bottom Line, organized by the various aspects of a project:

Respect the Landscape


Site Selection

Avoid developing on prime farmland, flood areas, wetlands and other fragile wildlife habitat, as well as open spaces and parkland. 

Eliminate Unnecessary Pavement

Oftentimes, driving lanes and parking lot aisles and stalls are larger than necessary, parking lots are sized for annual peak scenarios, and joint use opportunities for parking are ignored, leaving large expanses of unused pavement. This extraneous pavement not only raises costs but also increases the amount of stormwater that needs to be handled and raises the summertime ambient air temperature through the urban heat island effect.

Stormwater Management

Porous pavement, greenhouses, stormwater collection, green roofs, and bio-swales are all examples of strategies to treat stormwater on site, which reduces strain on storm sewer infrastructure and replenishes local groundwater reserves.

Encourage use of Alternative Transportation

Public transportation: Locate buildings within close proximity to existing routes and/or stops.

Bicycle commuting: Support bicycling by providing secure bicycle storage and shower and changing facilities for building users.

Discourage inefficient automobile use: Provide incentives for carpooling and fuel-efficient vehicles and provide minimum required off-street parking spots.

Avoid Greenfield Development

Building on brownfield sites, urban infill development, and reusing existing building all reduce the negative environmental, financial, and community impacts of suburban sprawl, such as road and utility infrastructure extension.

Prevent Urban Heat Island Effect

Utilize light colored site and roofing materials and reflective horizontal surfaces to prevent excessive heat gain, especially in urban environments.

Collect and Conserve


Reduce Water Demand

Low flow fixtures: Composting or dual flush toilets, waterless urinals, 0.5 gallon per minute (gpm) lavatories, 0.5 - 1.5 gpm showerheads, and Energy Star® and WaterSense® labeled water efficient commercial kitchen equipment minimize water use through fixture efficiency.

Landscaping: Drought-resistant landscaping and drip irrigation technologies minimize water used on the exterior.  Options like Xeriscaping require less maintenance and celebrate regional landscapes.

Supply Water from On-site Sources

Collect rainwater and snow melt from the roofs and store it in cisterns. For interior sanitary uses, water can be filtered and run through an ultraviolet light prior to use in sinks and showers. For modest landscape needs, water can be used straight from the cistern.

Minimize Demand, Maximize Efficiency


Minimize demand for energy

Building Orientation: A longer east-west axis maximizes the ability to control both direct and indirect sunlight while minimizing undesirable summer heat gain from the east and west and take optimal advantage of solar geometry.

Super-Insulated Building Envelope: High levels of insulation, minimal thermal bridging, windows with very low thermal transmission (u-value<0.15), high visible light admittance, and “tuning” to admit infrared light into south-facing windows but not east and west-facing windows result in a better insulated envelope. Use blower door tests to ensure that the building envelopes are very tight, minimizing unwanted air infiltration.

Daylighting: Light shelves along South & West facing walls and roof monitors can help to reduce artificial lighting.

Natural Ventilation: The use of operable windows and operable rooftop monitors create a stack effect which is highly effective at providing natural cooling and ventilation. In the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn, natural ventilation alone may be sufficient to ventilate and cool the building. Night flushing may also be utilized.

Exposed Thermal Mass: Thermal masses moderate temperature fluctuation inside buildings thereby reducing demand on heating and cooling equipment.  When coupled with natural ventilation, this strategy could result in smaller mechanical equipment loads, allowing them to be downsized.

Recycle waste heat flows

Hot air in the winter and cold air in the summer is often vented to the outside, wasting the energy used to heat or cool the air. Strategies and equipment can be utilized to recapture and reuse heat (or cold sources) within the building to temper incoming fresh air. Installing a Heat Recovery Ventilator is one way to avoid these unnecessary energy loads.

Supply remaining energy needs as efficiently as possible

Radiant floor heating and cooling: More efficient for a couple of reasons: the pump energy required to distribute the thermal energy is only 5% that of an air-based system, and infiltration is reduced because temperature differential between the inside and outside is smaller.

Ground-source heat pump: Uses the earth as a heat source (in the winter) or a heat sink (in the summer). This design takes advantage of the moderate temperatures in the ground to boost efficiency and reduce the operational costs of heating and cooling systems, and may be combined with solar heating to form a system with even greater efficiency.

Daylight and occupancy sensors: Save energy by turning lights off when there are sufficient interior lighting levels from daylight or when there are no occupants.

Highly efficient lighting and equipment: When daylight is not available, linear fluorescent and LED light fixtures provide artificial lighting with minimal energy use. Minimize outdoor lighting while also preventing light pollution. Select Energy Star equipment and appliances because they operate more efficiently and require less energy.

Maximizing percent of energy from renewable sources

Once a building's energy demand has been significantly lowered, the remaining energy required can be provided by on-site or off-site renewable energy. Many renewable energy sources come with a premium expense, so it is critical that all efforts to minimize the energy demand be employed first. On-site renewable energy can be provided by photovoltaic electric solar panels, solar hot water panels, wind turbines, or other renewable energy generators. Off-site renewable energy can be provided through the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs.)

Healthy, Durable and Sustainable


Make materials do double and triple duty

For instance, polished radiant concrete floors are simultaneously part of the structural system and the heating and cooling system as well as being the finish floor. This eliminates redundancy and construction costs by reducing the number of trades required and simplifying sequencing.


Source materials locally where possible

Reduces transportation impacts while assisting local economies.


Avoid harmful materials

Exclude VOC emitting materials, asbestos, lead, CFCs, PVC, neoprene, and halogenated flame retardants. 

Maximize use of green materials

Include salvaged, recycled-content, Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, and rapidly-renewable materials.
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