Whether you’re a first time home builder/renovator or an experienced professional, figuring out how to build green can have a steep learning curve. Let us help!

Book cover for "Essential Sustainable Home Design."


Endeavour has helped hundreds of people on their path to a successful green building project with our “Design Your Own Sustainable Home” course. The course curriculum inspired the book Essential Sustainable Home Design which provides an in-depth resource for you to use through the full development cycle of your project. 

At the heart of our system is a Criteria Matrix you can use to clearly set your goals and express them in a way that will help everybody on your team — from designers to contractors to suppliers to building officials — understand what you want and how they can help you.

We hope you find the free resources on this page and throughout the Endeavour website helpful in getting your project on a good footing.


An “eco friendly house” can mean very different things to different people. Just consider all the different terminology that’s used: sustainable, healthy, eco-friendly, natural, green, efficient, environmentally-sensitive, net zero… It’s no wonder that your foray into this world can be confusing!

An Endeavour, we don’t believe that there is a single approach that is a “silver bullet” to meet all building needs at all times in all places. Anybody who doesn’t admit that their green housing ideas have flaws and drawbacks is not being honest with you (or themselves!). No approach or material or system is perfect, but the advantages can line up with your ideals and the disadvantages can be things that you can easily live with. You need to know what’s important to you if you want to choose wisely.

You need to be very clear about your own objectives so you can make informed and consistent choices — from initial site selection through building your design and construction team to specific material and system decisions. Setting firm and appropriate goals at the outset of your project is the only way to articulate your ambitions and measure your results.




Having worked with a wide variety of clients, our team at Endeavour noticed that regardless of the terminology people were using to express their ideas about their ideal building, we could identify a consistency to the underlying criteria. Over time, we realized that we could organize these criteria in a way that helped our team and our clients to articulate their ambitions for the project and to measure the results.

We ask our clients and students to choose a “level” within each criteria category that most closely reflects their ideals. These choices become a guide as the design and construction process moves forward. Each time a new question arises, we come back to the Criteria Matrix and check that our choice and our direction aligns with the goals we set.

How to use our criteria matrix

How to Use our criteria Matrix

  1. Fill out the Criteria Matrix at the very beginning of your planning process by circling level 1, 2, 3 or 4 for each criteria. Follow your gut instincts, your values and whatever degree of knowledge you have to initially position yourself on the matrix.
  2. Do research for your project based on your first version of the criteria matrix. Explore potential team members (design professionals, contractors), materials, assemblies and systems to see if your initial goals bear a close resemblance to your research findings.
  3. Make any adjustments to your matrix positions that your research results might indicate. Perhaps some of your goals could be more ambitious, or maybe some appear to be more difficult to achieve.
  4. Use the criteria matrix to begin discussions with potential team members. This will give all parties a clear understanding of your overall intent for the project.
  5. Finalize a version of the criteria matrix through an integrated design process, in which all team members participate in order to understand the goals, have an opportunity to consider them, and discuss them in a coordinated meeting.
  6. Check all major decisions against the criteria matrix to ensure that you are staying true to your intentions.

Does your notion of an “eco friendly home” involve reducing or minimizing the impacts your home will have on the planet’s ecosystems? 

A building can require hundreds of different materials that come from sources all over the world, each with unique impacts on local and global ecosystems. In order to assess the ecosystem impacts of your project, you will need to consider questions like these:

  • Is the source for the material based on a renewable or nonrenewable resource? Is it a scarce or abundant resource?
  • Are renewable resources actually being regenerated? In a responsible way?
  • What ecosystem disruptions accompany the harvesting of this material? How is land, water and biodiversity being affected? What kinds of pollution result?
  • What ecosystem disruptions accompany the manufacturing of this material? What kind of air-, water- and soil-pollution result?
  • What kind of water use and treatment are associated?
  • What kinds of mediation efforts are being implemented?

These questions can be difficult to answer. You can rely on your own research, or you can use some of the rating systems highlighted in the Criteria Matrix as the basis for your decisions.

Carbon Footprint and Energy Impacts

Do you want to avoid contributing to climate change with your building project? 

Long disregarded as a consideration in green building, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) released during the harvesting and manufacturing of building materials is a formidable contributor to climate change, accounting for as much as 20% of all human-caused emissions. Depending on your material selections, your building may have as much as 400 kg/m2 of GHG emissions, or have net carbon storage of up to 250 kg/m2, or anywhere in between those extremes. You can make a huge difference to your climate impact by considering questions like these:

  • What GHG emissions are associated with harvesting, manufacturing and transportation of this material/product?
  • Is carbon being stored or sequestered in this material/product?

The Criteria Matrix offers suggestions for carbon targets. Tools like the BEAM material emission estimator can provide data for achieving your carbon footprint targets.


Energy Efficiency

Do you want a home that costs less to operate through a high degree of energy efficiency?

For most homeowners and builders, energy efficiency is a central component of a greener home. In recent years, the advent of accurate energy modeling software has made it relatively easy to set and achieve your desired level of energy efficiency. Today, designing an affordable net zero energy building is well within the range of possibility. Consider questions like these to figure out your energy efficiency targets:

  • What level of efficiency am I aiming for? Can I set a target based on the current code minimum requirement?
  • Is there a rating system that aligns with my target?
  • What will I use as a fuel source?
  • What equipment will support my targets?
  • Will my lifestyle choices support my energy efficiency targets?

The Criteria Matrix offers suggestions for energy efficiency targets and the rating systems and programs that support them.


Indoor Environment Quality

Do you want your home to be a healthy place for you and your family?

The average person spends about 90% of their time indoors. This puts the health qualities of the indoor environment at a premium, as most of us receive nearly all of our air, light and water from indoor sources. And yet building codes barely consider these issues and only recently are there standards and programs that comprehensively address indoor environment quality. To ensure a healthy building you will want to think about questions like these:

  • What are my strategies for receiving fresh, filtered air?
  • What are my strategies for moisture management and mitigation?
  • Will my building be free of Red List chemicals, or will I use the Precautionary Principle?
  • Will my lifestyle choices support my air quality goals?
  • Where does my water come from and what kind of filtration strategies may be needed?
  • Are natural light patterns considered in my design?

The Criteria Matrix offers suggestions for rating systems that can help to support your indoor environment quality goals.


Construction Waste

Do you want your home to have a minimal impact on landfill and waste streams?

The amount of solid waste that accompanies conventional construction is substantial, representing between 10-20% of volume in municipal landfills, with an individual new home generating as much as 8,000 pounds of landfill waste. At the same time, it is possible for a new home to generate as little as 100-500 pounds of waste. To ensure that you don’t produce more waste than you intend, consider questions like these:

  • Am I prioritizing low waste material choices? Do I understand the waste implications of each material to be used?
  • Where will waste from the building site go? What materials are landfilled, recycled and/or reused in my area?
  • Will my building site be set up to support proper waste management?
  • What happens to waste and recycling once it leaves my site?

The Criteria Matrix proposes different levels of waste output and programs that support the implementation and measurement of waste reduction strategies.



Do you want some degree of self-reliance built into your home?

There are many degrees of resilience that can be considered when designing a home, from the ability to maintain essential water, food, heat and power capabilities during short disruptions, to long term independence. It’s important to define how much, if any, resilience you want to design into your project by thinking through questions like these:

  • How much time do I want to be independent for water, power, heating/cooling and food? Is my resilience measured in days, weeks or months?
  • What are the potential weather/climate circumstances that could affect my home?
  • What are the potential human/political circumstances that could affect my home?
  • What infrastructure is near my home?
  • Are the materials and system in my home able to be repaired or replaced in adverse circumstances?

The Criteria Matrix defines some time frames for self-reliance that can be helpful in crafting a resilience strategy. The Resilient Design Institute offers good guiding principles for resilience.


Occupant Input & Durability

Do you want your home to operate with minimal input, or do you want to actively participate in the operation and upkeep? What kind of maintenance, repair and replacement cycles best suit you?

This category is all about the amount of interaction you choose to have with your home, in terms of both regular functionality and the frequency of upkeep chores. There is no “right answer,” and your personal preferences are the guiding factor, and the strategies and systems you employ will be highly dependent on your ideas about input and durability. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What degree of personal input are you willing to perform to maintain your home’s functionality? Daily, weekly, monthly, annually, as little as possible?
  • To what degree is functionality compromised if tasks are not performed in a timely manner?
  • What is the expected lifespan of key building components and systems? What is the required maintenance regime and ease of replacement?

The Criteria Matrix suggests a range of frequency cycles that can help determine appropriate systems and strategies.


Material Costs

Do you have a fixed budget for your building that you must meet in a practical way?

Green building has an unfortunate reputation for costing more, but this does not have to be the case. While no building in a code-regulated setting can be described as “cheap,” there are always less-expensive and more-expensive options, and a convoluted path for a homeowner to navigate between the two. In order to meet your budget requirements, consider your answers to questions like these:

  • Do you have an honest figure in mind for your maximum budget?
  • Do your initial plans account for the full value of your maximum budget?
  • Does your building size match your budget?
  • Are quality, performance, maintenance and replacement costs among your considerations?
  • Are you supporting fair labour practices and supply chains?
  • Are you balancing material costs and labour costs?

The Criteria Matrix suggests some costs per square foot as a way of establishing a budget range. It is important to recognize that these costs are variable depending on your region.


Labour Costs & Sources of Labour

Do you know who is going to be involved in making your building?

The process of building is a cooperative effort, and relies as much on building relationships as raising walls. You shouldn’t underestimate the importance of your personal relationship in the success of your building project. Finding the right people to work with is at least as important as choosing the right materials and systems. We like to say that “people, not materials, make buildings” as a way of reminding ourselves of the importance of the human factor in building projects, especially projects with ambitious “green” goals. In order to establish the right team for your project, consider questions like:

  • Who will be doing each scope of work, from design through to final finishes?
  • Does the required expertise exist locally?
  • Are you balancing labour costs with material costs?
  • Do you have signed contract documents with each person contributing labour to the project?
  • How are labour costs being calculated? Time-and-materials or fixed quote?
  • What is the value of your own labour contributions to the project?

The Criteria Matrix defines four overall labour strategies, each of which has permutations you will need to address in your project.


Code Compliance

Do you understand how your local building codes work, and what’s required to get a permit?

The permitting process can be stressful, and made more so by proposing materials and systems that are not typical. Despite plenty of anecdotal evidence to the contrary, there is no legal justification built into any building code for denying a permit because of the use of an alternative material or system. All codes include provisions for working with materials that are not directly recognized by code prescriptions. The degree to which you want to remain within the “accepted solutions” of your local codes or move into “alternative solutions” will shape your entire design process. Consider questions like:

  • What elements of your building design are considered “accepted solutions?”
  • What elements of your building design are considered “alternative solutions?”
  • Are there local or regional precedents for any of your alternative solutions?
  • Do you understand the “threshold of evidence” required for alternative solutions in your jurisdiction?
  • Do you have advocates who can help you with alternative solutions?
  • Do you understand the procedures and timelines for alternatives solutions in your jurisdiction?

The Criteria Matrix suggests four approaches to code compliance, and each one will have implications for your building design and construction.



Do you have a vision of how your building will look and feel?

Never before have so many aesthetic options been available to homeowners everywhere. We are no longer limited to the materials and vernacular of our region, but can pick and choose from a vast palette of options, including millions of images online. It is important to understand how all your other goals will intersect with your aesthetic desires.

The Criteria Matrix does not include any definitions or ranges for your aesthetic decisions. We simply suggest that you check your aesthetic goals with all of your other goals on the matrix and be sure that there aren’t any direct conflicts between the way you want things to look and the way you want things to be.

You may want to consider questions like these when considering your aesthetic options:

  • Does the siting of my building directly influence my aesthetic options? Property size, orientation, height limits, lot setbacks, parking needs, exterior finishing requirements?
  • Do my performance targets directly affect my aesthetic options? Solar orientation, roof overhangs, mechanical equipment, window sizes, wall and roof thickness?
  • Do my material choices impose aesthetic considerations? Shape, massing, surfaces, textures?

Other Criteria

The Criteria Matrix is not an exhaustive list of potential criteria. It provides a lens through which you can view your decision making at every step and make sure your “green” goals are being met.

This list of criteria doesn’t include all of the very personal criteria you are likely bringing to the project. Some of your personal criteria may be related to your “green goals.” Some related goals we’ve incorporated into projects that impact our design choices include:

  • Local/regional sourcing of materials. A “hundred mile” house (or any kind of defined limit for importing materials) will shape many design decisions.

  • Site requirements. Topography, soils, vegetation and other specific site considerations will impact design decisions. Minimizing site impacts will particularly influence foundation options.

  • Accessibility. We always design to accessibility standards, even if it’s not on our client’s agenda. We encourage you to do the same.

  • Building program. A single family home will have different considerations than a multi-family building. A public building will have very specific needs and requirements. The Criteria Matrix will not offer suggestions on how to meet these programming needs, but will help to align them with your wider sustainability intent.

Icon with a computer with a checklist


If our Criteria Matrix has provided you with a useful framework for thinking about your eco friendly house, check out our Material & System Encyclopedia. Here you will find in-depth information on hundreds of different materials and systems, and all of them are rated according to the same criteria categories you’ll find in the Criteria Matrix. 

Once you’ve used the Matrix to provide overall guidance on your project, you can see which green housing ideas most closely match your criteria. There are no absolute right and wrong answers in green building, but if you understand your own criteria you can get as close to perfect for your own needs as humanly possible!


Contact Information

Follow us on Social media!