We all accept that any home built before 1980 probably consumes energy rather than produces. And we know that most buildings today aren’t much better. Some dabble in industry-tested, user-approved microcosms of water conservation and energy production, and even fewer have thrown away the sound bites of “first cost” and “investment return” and have dove head first into responsible yet expensive net zero homes. Interestingly, The Center for Green Buildings and Cities at Harvard is exploring a strategy that may end up making a huge difference in the average home owner’s ability to achieve energy and water independence. They are currently experimenting with retrofitting a pre-1940’s home to attain net zero. The measures for success will be varied and at this point will still act as a testing grounds for possibilities.
Many of us turn a few knobs and, miraculously, hot water comes out without much thought other than our energy and water bills. However, the water that ends up in the drain retains a certain about of embodied energy that is capable of being recovered. This water is now technically graywater, but you’ve paid valuable money for the energy used to raise its temperature. It makes sense to recapture this energy and there are a few great products that can help with this.
Heat recovery is nothing new, however it is becoming more main stream and affordable than ever before. If you’re looking to cut a few bucks out of your energy bill while looking for a relatively easy way to help make a bigger impact on your regional energy footprint, then a small addition to your water circulation lines may be the answer.
What if everyone could make 1 simple change in their personal habits that would, as a whole, benefit a larger population? First, we instinctively ask ourselves the question (no matter how large our green flag may be): what do I have to give up to make this happen? And if ultimately we can manage the risk, we may accept the proposition. This is the challenge for today’s green energy suppliers. In order to make it convenient for a large group of people, they need to make it competitive with larger corporations. What if you were told it would only end up costing you between $3-5 a month extra to have your electricity provided by 100% renewable energy? Cory, a representative of Green Mountain Energy, offered this option to us this weekend.
To the untrained eye, this image may look fairly conventional. However, this home, and many others, are the product of the quickly advancing industry of building science. You’re looking at a growing trend called advanced framing, also called (OVE) optimum value engineering, that is responsible for lowering construction cost and improving building performance. Developed in the 1960’s by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, advanced framing is finally starting to become integrated into an overall building performance strategy. Here’s how:
By now both sides of the story are painfully clear: 1) we are responsible, 2.) the planet is responsible. And then there are the skeptics. Either way sea level rise has been getting a lot of attention lately. However, it seems this polemic argument is very near-sighted. One side trying to raise awareness, the other trying calm the alarm. Each focused on proving a point, which takes time away from the heavy lead times involved in making actionable decisions. Let’s presume for the sake of this post that sea level rise is a fact. Let’s also take the worst case scenario that in the next 100 years due to rapid glacial melt and antarctic dissolution, that we can expect to see up to 4 feet of rise. This calls into question the very identity of coastal populations, 15 of which happen to be the largest cities on the planet (NYC, Cairo, Tokyo, Sao Paulo to name a few). Some of these major cities have already been confronted with the decision to abandon or protect their territories and have begun to enter into a new relationship with the sea. While this argumentative chatter can and has filled volumes, there are some designers and politicians dedicated to applying physical solutions to what is a very existential threat.
If you like buzzwords, it’s hard to beat Prefab + Sustainability, maybe throw a “Green” in there somewhere. Honestly though, trends play a critical role in society’s readiness to adopt large-scale transitions. These widely accessible words, thoughts or actions can become influential in politics and economics, which ultimately can lead to convention. This will occur whether or not we like or agree with the branding involved. However, if there are trends that speak to living responsibly and leading a balanced and efficient life, then these trends, at least for me, become much more palatable. Here is a great article entitled “The Marriage of Prefab and Sustainability” by Sarah Fister Gale that discusses the merits of both and why they belong together.
What do you think? Is this simply a smart marketing move, or a valid direction?
Here is a great article by Eric Reinholdt at 30×40 Design Workshop regarding the beauty and responsibility of letting wood be what it wants to be. He maintains a rational, sustainable perspective stating that:
Rejecting this unending cycle of maintenance and accepting weathering as part of a home’s design aesthetic makes good environmental, economic and design sense.
The idea of letting materials “wear in” requires one to suspend their traditional notions of beauty and nobility in architecture and design. What comes to mind when you think of these concepts? Are we too accustomed to “day 1” photography and flashy magazine imagery? Would you or have you specified this process in your projects? Please feel free to leave a comment below.