If you have a digital camera or camera phone, take some local driving tours and start collecting photos of homes and buildings you like. Scout virtual designs on green home Web sites, and do the same with technologies that appeal to you and your family. If you hope to conserve water or eliminate toxins inside, or grow your own food out back, take notes and add them to your image collection. Just as someone might go to their hairdresser with some pictures of the new hairstyle they want, meeting a potential architect with a portfolio of home designs you like can get everyone off on the right foot.
Libraries and bookstores offer monographs, which are similar to art books but include portfolios of home designs. These offer unlimited ideas for each room of a house, as well as a vocabulary for connecting with an architect. If you fall in love with the designs of a famous green architect like Renzo Piano but could never fly him over from Italy to work on your home, you can have a point of comparison and vivid ideas of how his details or plans could work with yours and the architect you choose.
You can dream and brainstorm and even talk to owners and architects who have what you want or know how to design it. If you have your heart set on a style or building material that won't be environmentally friendly in the locale you plan, or if you choose a style that looks great but is known to be an energy hog, an eco-responsible architect can work with you to find that combination of wants and needs that will fit. Working with pre-set plans and experienced builders can give you what you want, but with an architect, there is more room for making it exactly what you envisioned.