Homeowners are motivated to build a “greenhome” or to renovate their existing home for a variety of reasons, such as: saving money as utility costs rise, an enthusiasm and respect for nature, to achieve a healthy living space, and even to enjoy the advanced technologies associated with energy efficiency. Yet, a “greenhome” is a process more than a sum of products. Record the process, perhaps in a journal1, including websites and data about what and where the materials and services were purchased, various installations and reconstruction stages, experimental discoveries and failures, a record of costs and savings, and a record of temperatures to measure efficacies of eco-friendly materials and technologies. A journal, like that of a gardening journal or a travel journal, can help to keep the ball rolling and to act as a display of accomplishments for others who may follow in your footsteps.
Building “green” is many things, but it is not a social agenda nor a social tax. Implementing new technologies and features may cost more than traditional supplies and construction materials, but most of the time you receive the money back by future savings on utility costs. Adding “green” features to your home can be simple or complex, costly or inexpensive. Suit your own style, whether modern or traditional. Green innovations are endless and resources are plentiful. Below is a fictional narrative of a typical day in a “greenhome.”
ENTER THE HOME
The sunny morning starts as I brew a few cups of coffee with my energy-efficient coffee machine2. As I wrap my two pieces of toast in a recycled paper towel3, I glance at the yearly energy savings spreadsheet4 we composed the night before. Only $450 for a year’s worth of gas energy?!… How wonderful!
From our rooftop patio5, I enjoy the view of our English kitchen landscape6 below as I sit on my recycled lounge chair7 and rest my coffee cup on a side table made of cork.8 My feet fall off the sides of the lounge chair to rustle my toes in the luscious grass that covers our balcony roof. The park-like landscape is designed with beautiful prairie grasses, wildflowers, quaint stone paths, benches, a veggie garden, and a petite menage of seasonable flowers. The rustic garden’s purpose is to mimic our area’s natural landscape and thus encourage regional wildlife to thrive. Rainwater is collected from the house’s drainage system in a pickle barrel and then used as gray water9 for our irrigation system.
by MJ Ostergren
Amongst the wild grasses rests our property’s jewel, the straw bale garage10 - a feat of traditional technology that we proudly display in our backyard. Neat stacks of straw bales are tied together and then covered with white stucco. Once thought to be a historic construction type easily compromised by driving rainstorms, the building technology secrets are now more available than ever. (In fact, we took a class at NASA before designing our structure.) We can be assured that the structure will last at least as long as the rest of the house. Similar to a Gothic cathedral, the interior is beautifully illuminated with colored light shining through the thick sculptured walls. The garage is used for many different functions, including a semi-outdoor dining space.
After reading the newspaper and watching a microcosm of our natural wildlife, I begin to feel the heat of the hot August sun. I know where to go to find a refreshing reprieve. I walk past the roof-mounted photovoltaics,11 which are solar panels that generate part of the electricity for the house, and enter the cool, moist interior where my bare feet hit the stone floor12 and skylights13 illuminate my path to the kitchen. Our stone house, recessed approximately two feet into the ground, is naturally cool during the day due to the mass cooling affect of the stone walls, chilled through the evening and night hours then radiating cool energy during the day -- i.e., the mass-cooling affect.14 In the winter, we allow light to penetrate the main living spaces, heating the stone floors and in turn helping to heat the space naturally.
Compact florescent fixtures15 light the bowling alley restored kitchen countertop16 as I prepare a cool lemonade. “Such a beautiful piece of intelligence, “ I comment to myself upon opening the energy-efficient refrigerator.17 Glancing through our low-e kitchen windows,18 I notice the sundial19 in our garden, reminding me that I must hurry for an appointment downtown. Prompted with urgency, I dash across the elegant, glossy bamboo flooring20 to program the “smart home”21 daily functions. Next, I step into our bathroom with the claw-foot bathtub (found at a salvage yard in Chicago22) and begin to apply sunscreen.23 The cell phone starts to ring, “…you paved paradise and put up a parking lot…24” Dressed in my vintage blouse25 and favorite jeans, I step into the electric car26 and I am on my way.
PICK UP THE JOURNAL
Below are materials and services mentioned in the fictional greenhome tour. I hope they help to catalyze your own green makeover process.
Choosing a journal that inspires you to write and to collect ideas is essential in this process.
Purchasing energy-efficient appliances, no matter the size, helps save energy and money. This machine brews coffee at the exact temperature recommended for coffee. It doesn’t waste extra heat and it doesn’t burn your coffee.
For the most part, paper towels are paper towels. Why not add a little “green” to your life and purchase recycled paper towels? Fortunately, they are fairly inexpensive as well.
This village is an experimental green housing project. They have done research and calculate that the average home gas bills for one year range between $250-450 for heat, hot water and cooking.
There are many varieties of roof top gardens available. A grass roof reduces the cost of air conditioning in the summer by as much as 30%. Furthermore, it reduces the amount of water drainage which in turn reduces the sewer load and thereby increases urban cleanliness.
The English kitchen landscape or the French potager garden is full of wild flowers, foliage and sometimes vegetables growing together in a wild-like arrangement. The Shaker Lakes landscaping is an excellent contemporary example of this style of landscape gardening that encourages wildlife to thrive.
This chair is not only made from recycled materials; it has a modern flair.
Similar to the recycled lounge chair, the cork side table is noted for its high design quality. Cork, like bamboo, is a rapidly renewable resource.
Water collected during a rainstorm doesn’t need to flood the street and cause backups in the sewer system. Gray water can be used for many things which do not require purified water. In the future, it is predicted that there will be water shortages and the cost of water will skyrocket.
Straw bale technology is now proven to be effective for all climates, from the dry Arizona desert to the moist Florida marshy lands. An infinite amount of information is available. An expert engineer at NASA teaches classes for this construction type. The website below is a good beginning to your research.
This is one of the most cutting edge technologies mentioned. The technology is developing even as we read this article.
Stone floors are green for two reasons. They are more sustainable in the fact that they hold up longer than carpet. Carpet is quickly destroyed in a building and then its degrading half-life is tens of thousands of years long. There are resources to recycle carpet. Avoiding carpet is ideal. The second sustainable aspect of stone flooring is that the sun naturally heats the stones, which in turn radiate heat throughout the day and into the cold winter’s night. Several different types of stone are capable for storing heat, a classic passive solar technique.
Natural lighting is believed to encourage a more healthy psychological human environment.
Building a thick concrete slab or stone can help to naturally regulate the heating and cooling in the home, therefore reducing the load on the HVAC system. This is another passive solar technique.
Lighting uses a great amount of energy. If you simply replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, there will be a significant amount of energy savings to your home.
This experimental kitchen feature is gorgeous and greatly desirable. It is a recycled use of both wood & polish which renders a savings in material and labor costs.
Many different energy-efficient appliances are available. Though if you could choose one appliance to purchase with energy efficiency, refrigerators would be ideal because they run constantly and consume a great amount of energy.
http://ge.ecomagination.com/ (go to contact, then do a search for refrigerators)
Low-e windows reduce the amount of UV heat that penetrates interior spaces. Doing research about windows gives you a good return as a homeowner. There are many different features; find what suits your home best. Remember, however, to use clear glass for south-facing windows and high efficiency windows for the east, west, and north sides.
This can be a fun way to tell time, especially for children. It doesn’t require batteries or electricity to function.
This type of flooring is gaining popularity for its beauty apart from its sustainable qualities. Bamboo, like cork, is a rapidly renewable resource, thus saving trees.
“Smart home” technologies are advancing quickly. If you can imagine it, you will be able to find it within about five years. A “smart home” idea can range from a gadget that “smartly” controls heating/cooling to monitoring home functions such as lighting, heating/cooling and even locking doors through a website from a remote location.
Historic restoration is also sustainable. Historic architecture salvage yards like that mentioned, the famous one in Chicago, can be great resources. Why allow beautiful historic clawfoot tubs to rot in landfills?
A strong motivation for building a “greenhome” is that it is a friendly, healthy new way to protect humans. Suncreen is an analogy for how “greenhomes” protect the human and the environment.
This Joni Mitchell song (Titled “Big Yellow Taxi” from the album ‘Ladies of the Canyon,’ 1970) could easily be used for “green” themes. Unfortunately, we waste many beautiful things through careless planning. Although, adding “green” to your life is not a social tax issue or a social burden, rather it is an exciting opportunity to try innovative home technologies and materials.
Reusing is sustainable. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
To save on gas, we hope all vehicles will become more and more eco-friendly. Kermit the Frog sings “it’s easy being green” for Ford commercials.
Stephanie, an NCARB registered architect and LEED AP, draws upon her studies in architectural history and theory from Sarah Lawrence College and her master’s degree in architecture from The Ohio State University. Providing copy for publications and performing marketing work for the construction industry, Stephanie works as an independent freelancer from Columbus, Ohio.Website: greengaloredesigner.blogspot.com/