We hear a lot about “green” or “sustainable” design today and I have conversations with every client about this subject at some point during the design process. More often than not, I’m the one bringing it up in an effort to find out if this is important or not to my clients. The typical response is that they have heard of sustainable design but are not too familiar with the details. The conversation then turns to the various programs available to certify green construction and details of the processes. This talk typically ends with the decision to consider sustainable options when making choices throughout the design and building process.
Sustainable building often focuses on reducing energy consumption, conserving water and other natural resources, reducing our carbon footprint and reducing material waste.
I have found that many of the most cost effective solutions for sustainable building are all around us, and we often overlook the fact that we can advance our building expertise by looking to our past.
Our ancestors had to build comfortable homes and buildings without the benefit of city water, sewer or electricity. They did this with some very simple strategies that are just as effective today, such as the following examples:
Line up doors and windows to allow cross ventilation, a gentle breeze can effectively cool a building. High ceilings allow warm air to rise leaving the air we occupy more comfortable without air conditioning.
Take advantage of deciduous trees to provide shade during the summer and allow sunlight for warmth in the winter.
Wide roof overhangs and balconies also provide shade and reduce the need for air conditioning. Properly designed overhangs shield the sun in the summer when it’s high in the sky and allow the sun to warm the interiors when it’s low in the winter.
This home incorporated stone salvaged from and old ship’s ballast, today we often use reclaimed brick and wood for flooring and ceiling beams. This strategy reduces our need for natural resources and also reduces our carbon footprint by using local materials to reduce transportation costs and efforts.
A cupola can bring daylight into the middle of a building, reducing the amount of lighting needed. If the cupola is vented, it can also create a natural flow of air to help cool a home.
Water conservation is often a major concern during summer months and our ancestors had several methods of solving this same dilemma. We’ve all see rain barrels and wells. Both of these are making a comeback primarily for irrigation needs. Rain barrels can be the old fashioned barrel at the base of a downspout or more modern versions of the old cisterns (storage tanks) usually buried below ground. These tanks were typically filled with rain water or natural springs to use when needed for drinking, bathing and cooking.
A great way to reduce our carbon footprint is to reduce the amount of time spent driving our cars. Our generation was not the first to have a “Live/work” environment. Some professionals such as doctors had their offices built adjacent to their homes.
In general, building green or sustainable is part of our tradition and it’s a smart way to design our buildings. Now that we are aware of sustainable design we are talking about it and learning more about it, at an accelerated pace. We now have several programs that measure how sustainable we are, and help us share the strategies that work and those that don’t. Whether your concern is saving the planet or building efficiently, sustainable design merits our efforts; after all, being smart about how we build will always enhance our quality of life and will never go out of style.