Today's Eco-Friendly Home
In the past, being eco-friendly required living off-the-grid, building a geodesic dome, using passive-solar-heating and eating tofu. But, now, thanks to decades of data and 50 years of building experience, all that has changed. In fact, our whole understanding of homebuilding has changed. Today, it is easier than ever to build efficient houses that are durable, comfortable, and affordable. Better still, with proper planning and little effort, these new homes can protect the climate and even enrich the environment. Designing such a house, requires a team that is focused on finding the perfect balance of three key elements: the home, the inhabitants, and the environment.
There has been a significant leap forward in understanding the physics of how buildings work (building science) over the past several decades. Forensics, for example, has provided a better understanding of how and why buildings fail. There has also been an evolution and increased availability of insulation materials world-wide. At the same time, we have seen advances in air sealing products like membranes and sealants and there have been substantial innovations in heating and cooling systems technology including the development of heat pumps and recovery ventilators. All of these advancements in the construction field have led to huge decreases in energy use and significant improvements in the durability of homes.
When it comes to living in a house, the term “comfort” can have a wide range of definitions. It can include thermal comfort, physical comfort, visual comfort, and even financial comfort. Fortunately, today’s eco-friendly home can provide all of these and more. Good insulation and air sealing moderates indoor temperatures and reduces heating and cooling costs. Having good indoor air quality and using safer materials improves occupant health. A home can also provide visual comfort, by incorporating natural materials, being mindful of the movement of the sun, and providing views to the outside. Many of our clients are choosing to build their retirement home with the goal of growing old in their new house. Therefore, the design needs to be well-thought-out and flexible enough to allow them to safely and comfortably age in place. While tax credits, rebates and state incentives help with initial construction investment, with retirement often comes a fixed income and the need for predictable energy costs. With modern heating and cooling systems, a tight well insulated building shell and incorporating solar panels, a home can become Net Zero, or have no energy-related operating expenses.
A new house should connect to the landscape and blend into its surroundings, not dominate or ignore nature altogether. The home should create a sense of place inside and out and minimize its impact on the environment. By eliminating the use of fossil fuels a house also avoids releasing carbon into the atmosphere. When an area is disturbed during construction or trees are removed, care should be taken to restore or enhance that area after construction is completed. Any trees which were harvested during construction can be integrated into the interior of the house, and provide structural beams, flooring, stairs, cabinets or shelving.
Landscaping should not be limited to a few ornamental bushes around a house’s foundation. Outdoor spaces, like decks and patios are easily incorporated into the design, extend a home’s useable living area and do so at a minimal construction cost. A house site can provide food for pollinators, wildlife, and the residents, by growing flowering plants, fruit trees, nuts, and perennial crops like berries or asparagus. Doing so will create a habitat where plants, animals, and people thrive, for decades to come.