Sycamore Tree Cascades Shadow onto Sycamore House


We have been quietly incorporating sustainability into our projects since the firm’s inception, leaning heavily on concepts that are inspired by and work with nature, rather than work against it. As awareness of the climate crisis and environmental degradation grows, we find that clients are increasingly more open to considering more technology-based, active systems.


Sycamore House Exterior During Daylight
Exterior of Sycamore House During Daytime

The Sycamore House

Designed for firm Founder and Design Partner Michael Kovac, the Sycamore House was one of the first LEED Platinum homes in California. The project was considered a laboratory for the firm to explore all aspects of sustainability, and the knowledge and insights gained through the design process and subsequent long term use of the home continue to inform the firm’s current work.


Passive Strategies

The most impactful and inherently dependable elements are those that are grounded in natural forces.

Hot air rises and high thermal mass moderates large swings in temperature. If the building is shaded, whether by trees or building elements, heat gain to the interior is prevented.


Green Roof On Top of Sycamore House

Green Roofs

Green roofs provide microclimates for birds and beneficial insects, reduce heat gain to the interior in the summer and loss in the winter, reduce stormwater runoff, and look beautiful.


Material Selections

We have a strong preference for selecting authentic, natural materials such as wood, stone, hand-troweled plaster, and metal. These tend to have wonderful tactile qualities and improve with age as they patina. Materials that require extensive maintenance are avoided.

Local sourcing is preferable whenever possible, as this reduces the carbon footprint, allows for more control over the process, and helps the local economy.


Solar Panels on Top of Sycamore House

Active Systems

When appropriate, we wholeheartedly support the integration of active systems such as the use of Photovoltaic panels.

Photovoltaic panels with battery storage are very reliable, increasingly cost-effective, and provide peace of mind as the aging power grid strains under increased demand.


Water Management Visual Diagram

Water System Management

When fitting, we integrate solar hot water arrays, often for heating swimming pools. Greywater from showers, washing machines, and the like can be a good way to reduce freshwater demand.


Smart Technology

Smart home technology can automate window shades in sync with the movement of the sun.

Sycamore Tree Cascades Shadow onto Sycamore House

Sustainability: Conclusion

Today, by taking the lessons learned from the Sycamore House, KOVAC continues to prioritize sustainable design thinking.

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