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A Small Design Build Firm Goes Green

by Janet Kinzer

Alan Abrams, my husband, has been designing and building and renovating houses since he was a young man.  He’s been a green builder, building with a focus on sustainability for more than a decade now, and that is about how long we’ve been together.I remember, very early in our relationship, when he told me that he wasn’t going to work with another client unless that client was interested and committed to some form of sustainable living.  “Every project I work on from now on,” he said to me, “will incorporate some form of “green” whatever green means to that particular client.”  He didn’t care if it was a green roof, storm water retention, low VOC finishes, recycled materials, permeable driveways, or high-end heat recovery systems:  there had to be a commitment on the part of the client to something that was better for the earth or he wouldn’t work with them. Ever. Again.

Abrams Design Build was going green.
Is that a Viable Business Plan?  Really? 
I’m a federal bureaucrat, married to a small-businessman.  I don’t know a whole lot about the business, but I have learned over the years that it usually means persuading someone to part with about *twice* as much money as they hoped.  The design/build client is brave soul.
Alan’s typical client is someone who has lived in their house for a few years and loves their neighborhood. Often they have a family in transition: a new child, children getting older,a child returning, a parent coming to live with them. Always, always, always, they are conflicted about their house because there is a problem.  Too few bathrooms, a laundry in the basement, a tiny kitchen, no family room.

His clients bring him to their homes and share with him their problems and their dreams. Then they give a year of their lives and a whole lot of their money...and he is going to turn them away if they aren’t committed to sustainability?

 That is a business plan?

Yes it is.  For the last ten years that business plan has actually worked.  Of course there is give and take, ideals are compromised when budget comes up against reality, but the home owners of Takoma Park and Silver Spring, surprise us with their steady commitment to green building.  They know it means a healthier home, a more comfortable home, and beautiful living.  They want their renovated home to be greener, and they want an addition that is special.  That is why they seek out a Design Build firm like Alan’s that is committed to greener, healthier, sustainable homes.
Alan Becomes his Own Client

And now, to the purpose of this blog.

Like most of Alan’s clients, I too have hungered for a little more space, that  bigger kitchen, the second  bathroom, and a room for my dad to stay in when he comes from Chicago.In March we close on a nearly 2,000 sq foot apartment on the top floor of an 18 story building, Parkside Plaza, on Sligo Creek Parkway in Silver Spring. Two bedrooms and two baths, lots of space and big views but in rough condition, sadly dated, and in need of a full green renovation.Of course, I have hired Alan Abrams to renovate that apartment.  And then it occurred to me that we are very typical clients of the Abrams Design Build Firm: a two income couple, in transition, loving our home but with some on-going problems and a desire for change.And that is what this blog is about: following this blog will  give you a window on the design build process as we experience it, as we try to walk the talk on sustainability.

What does sustainable design mean to the designer when he is designing his own home. What is green building when the green builder is renovating his own home?   Alan and I will be blogging about the design build process as we experience it over the next months: the choices we face, the decisions we make, and – of course, the budget we must stretch.