Detail Work

By Amy Knight

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The House We Live In: A Series on Building the Sustainable Home in Tucson, Arizona


We are now in the final phase of design: Matthew is generating construction documents that include various technical details like electrical, plumbing, and mechanical plans. It’s not as exciting as choosing a floor plan or selecting materials, because most of it is behind-the-scenes stuff that I never think about, and never want to have to think about—it should just work. But there have been a couple of actual choices to make.

For instance: outdoor lights on switches, or light/motion sensors? Plumbing and rainwater system with PVC or alternative materials? Whole-house surge protector, or not? They are still choices I have to make, and some of them have environmental consequences, but it doesn’t generate the same amount of enthusiasm as the more visible, higher-level thinking. What I want now, really, is to start building. I want to drive past my lot and see progress there, not only on my computer. Of course, we can’t do that without complete plans. And even if we could, I wouldn’t want to—I continue to believe that a decent share of obstacles and hiccups can be avoided by thorough planning. But people keep asking! And I keep seeing photos of spaces and reading articles about environmental concerns and wanting it all to be more tangibly underway.

Matthew is working fast, and I can see it unfolding, one system at a time. We’ll be collecting bids and choosing a contractor soon. It’s been a tough and troubling two weeks in the world, and having concrete projects to work on that combat some of the damage we may start seeing as a country that has elected a climate change-denier to be the president certainly helps to keep my mind in a productive place. I hope you, too, are finding ways to feel, and be, productive, along with whatever other feelings we all have.



Amy Knight is the fiction editor for In this weekly series, she chronicles the process of designing and building an eco-friendly house in Tucson, Arizona. The series will explore both how it’s done and what it means, from the perspective of someone who wants to do the right thing but knows almost nothing about sustainable building. Look for new posts every Monday. You can email Amy at or leave a comment here. Visit her website, or follow her on twitter @amypknight.

Photo of lightbulbs courtesy Pixabay. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.