Rising energy costs, human influence on climate change, and the depletion of natural resources are primary reasons for building ‘green’. But many people are reluctant to attempt it for a variety of reasons. They think they’ll end up with a house that’s unattractive and uncomfortable to live in, or that they’ll need to give up some of the conveniences they’re used to, or that it will be very expensive. In reality, today’s green house is often a more appealing and comfortable house than its extravagant neighbor and offers its owners much lower ownership costs over the years. Helga can help you design the home that fits your site and your lifestyle and delivers lifelong ‘green’ benefits as well.
What is Green Design?
Green design is not a new idea. In fact, it used to be the norm, and nobody bothered to give it a fancy name. It was simply a common-sense way of building, creating a structure that could provide comfort and shelter to its inhabitants through careful consideration of its environment. For example, in hot climates this meant large overhangs to protect from the sun, openings to provide cross-ventilation, and high ceilings to allow heat to escape upwards. In cold climates, it meant few openings on the windy and northern sides, with larger sun-welcoming windows on the south side.
Vernacular designs developed over time to maximize living comfort in their specific regions. They convey a sense of place – even if we don’t know the name of a style, we instantly recognize these lovely homes as being of their locale. They belong.
Sadly, as technology has given us more and more capability to control our indoor environment, many of these old lessons have been abandoned and forgotten. But the good news is that the old principles still apply, and modern technology can enable them to reap even bigger benefits. Here is a brief summary of the elements of a green home.
Energy efficiency doesn’t need to mean turning the thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer. A home with very few air leaks – a ‘tight building envelope’ – and good insulation will go a long way toward maintaining a comfortable temperature, ensuring that your heating and cooling system works less and uses less fuel (be it oil, electricity, natural gas, or wood). Minimizing thermal bridging – the transfer of heat and cold via conductive materials – makes a big difference. And if your home is designed to take advantage of its site, it will make the most of its solar orientation and the prevailing wind direction. Careful planning of windows and overhangs lets sun in when you want it and minimizes it when you don’t. Allowing good cross-ventilation will eliminate the need for both heating and cooling in temperate seasons.
Of course, it’s also important to consider efficient use of space. A good design will accommodate your lifestyle and needs without wasting space that must still be conditioned and maintained.
There are now many choices for wonderful building products that are made from renewable resources or recycled materials. Local products are a great choice, as they eliminate the need for transportation fuel (and cost!). And whatever you choose, it’s important to consider maintenance over time – if you can avoid frequent painting, for example, you’ve saved on materials and labor.
Manufactured components, such as SIPs (structural insulated panels), allow for greater efficiency of material usage than is possible on a job site. On the factory floor, materials can be planned and laid out to minimize waste, and scraps can be re-purposed.
Being respectful of the building site is important, too. It can be challenge, but well worth the effort, to preserve trees and other natural features of your lot. Taking advantage of mature existing trees can not only enhance the beauty of your home, but also help cool it in the hot summer months. Consider minimizing the hardscape areas around your home, opting instead for permeable surfaces that will allow stormwater to be absorbed rather than running off, causing flooding and erosion.
Because an efficient house is a tight house, it’s important to have a good ventilation system that brings fresh air into the house. But you don’t want to lose the heating or cooling when the air leaves the house – an ERV (energy recovery ventilator) can exchange the air while recapturing the energy from the exiting air and transferring it to the fresh air being drawn in.
Interior finishes are also important to consider. Helga can help you choose paints and stains that don’t ‘off-gas’ – release chemicals into the air – long after they are dry.
You’re going to live in this house – you should love it! Design matters, from basic layout to the smallest detail. Helga will work together with you to design the house that delights you every time you come home.