Tag Archives: green homes

Home of the future — 2015 edition

Despite there being a whole lot of pessimism in the architecture and construction industries today (thanks a lot Mayans), we will someday need new homes built. I know it sounds like a farfetched idea that somehow the current building stock won’t last us for another hundred years, but these new homes will need to be built adapting to current trends in design and energy use.

I came across this article on Yahoo! about homes built in 2015. Yes, 2015 sounds like this futuristic time when cars will fly, all diseases will be cured, and people will be able to share their music libraries between two different iPods. How different will our homes be in this future?

Probably the most obvious, due to many outside forces, is that homes will be smaller. Less to heat, less to cool, less to clean, less volume to fill up with crap, and less to build. Humans can definitely get by with less than 2,400 square feet of space, but Americans may have a harder time than most other cultures. But there are many “design devices” that can be used to make a smaller house seem much larger, such as increased window area (which will have to be cleverly shaded when the sun is not wanted) and placement of windows, and more open-space within the interior. Higher ceilings (but not too high) also work incredibly well. (They allow warm air to rise above the occupants, and simply make a room feel larger.)

Other design attributes listed from this article:

Spacious laundry rooms–as long as the laundry room is serving as another space, such as a hobby space or as a space to practice your jai alai.

Master suite walk-in closets–sure, just go against everything I said about smaller spaces.

Porches–an exterior space that, with the correct placement of decently sized exterior doors (like a Nana wall), can make an interior space feel much larger. It also adds a connection between the resident and the rest of the neighborhood by providing a place to enjoy your home while potentially meeting neighbors walking by. And it looks like the Cleavers house, which corresponds to my theory that architecture is slowly resetting itself back to 1950.

Eat-in kitchens–the death of the formal dining room means having another place to eat other than a tv tray next to the couch.

Two-car garages–come on, who doesn’t want a garage large enough to do doughnuts inside of while driving a Mini Cooper? Or at least an alternate space to play jai alai when the laundry room is occupied?

Ceiling fans–sort of like a fashion designer saying that the future of pants is a button with a zipper? The point is that we will become more dependent on efficient means of cooling like a ceiling fan than on air conditioning. We have an automatic response of turning on an A/C when the temperatures eek past our comfort zone. Our future society will need to learn that it’s okay to be 85% comfortable.

I look forward to a future of doing doughnuts in my garage learning to live more sustainable.

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The future of sustainability is in the past

There are two types of architecture in the world (at least in the industrialized world): the typical “box” architecture (includes every shopping plaza and big box store, apartment complex, and residential neighborhoods built after World War II) that primarily resides in suburbia and other newly developed areas, and an architecture designed to consciously behave in a more ecologically responsible way (a.k.a. green architecture).

The typical “box” architecture is primarily designed completely dependent on active technologies that provide a hospitable indoor environment. These buildings are typically designed in the void of space-time and have absolutely no design characteristics that respond to any local climatic condition. Sure they may use a regional aesthetic (like looking like colonial architecture if the building was in New England, or using an Taos adobe appearance if placed in New Mexico), but almost never do the buildings take advantage of natural resources like being placed on the site a certain way based on the path of the sun or using the architecture to promote natural ventilation (whether it be a cross ventilation or a stack ventilation).

Before the popular residential use of air conditioners there were actually people living in Phoenix, Arizona. It absolutely blows my mind that people decided to live there, but they had an advantage over people who live there now. The homes constructed in Phoenix before the wide use of the air conditioner were designed for the desert climate. The homes implemented some very incredibly simple strategies for responding to the intense heat of the desert, which included tall ceilings (which allowed the hot air to rise above everyone), tall windows that opened at the top and bottom (the top opening would allow the warm air to escape and the bottom opening would allow cooler air to come in), and a veranda around the house (which had a roof to shade people from the sun, and it provided a place to sleep outside in the cool breezes of night).

But something happened when the air conditioner came into use. Instead of using the air conditioner to complement the passive technologies that worked to create a hospitable living environment, the design of homes rejected what worked and became completely dependent on the air conditioner. I lived in Arizona for seven years, and the house my family lived in was the typical suburban one-story home built in the early 1960s. It was a decent house, but it looked exactly the same as any house I saw while growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis. And about once every two or three years the air conditioner would go out, and that absolutely sucked. The house had the typical eight foot ceilings which brought the warm air closer to people inside the house, and the typical convoluted floor plan that nullified any chance of cross ventilation. In a word- it sucked.

The LEED Rating Systems is a measuring stick used for determining the shade of “green” a building is. It usually takes a lot of effort to make the design and the construction of a building meet the LEED sustainable standards. If you go through the LEED checklist of requirements you may discover the same thing I discovered a long time ago – most every building constructed before the 20th century would at a minimum be LEED certified. Of course there are a few exceptions such as fine hotels that may have imported all of their stonework from Italy, but for the most part homes and businesses were constructed of local materials and were designed to respond to local climatic conditions.

And they were designed like that not because people before the 20th century gave a damn about the environment, but because if their buildings didn’t respond to local climatic conditions then it was nearly impossible for people to live in that climate. How well does your home respond to the local climate if the electricity and the water were shut off for a year? Most likely not very well.

If you want to know the best design for a building for your neck of the woods just look at the people who lived there over a hundred years ago.

Green Homes at The Edge

Can you build five 10,000 square foot mansions in an environmentally sensitive location and still be considered sustainable?  That’s what U2 guitarist The Edge is proposing in Malibu, California.

The Edge (aka David Evans) states that these homes will be the most environmentally sensitive homes in the world, but the real question is can something that large be environmentally responsible?  The short answer – no; the longer answer – kind of sort of, but not really.

The short answer of no relates to the basic concept that if you’re providing a residence for a few people (husband, wife, a few kids, and maybe an in-law or two) do you really require that much space?  If you can use less space then the house can be built with fewer materials, and thus require fewer trucks to haul the construction material, and use less energy in heating and cooling the house, and so on.

The “kind of sort of, but not really” would be the correct answer if the house did not only be a simple residence but also provided more energy than it used, and essentially becomes a miniature power plant.  Another way is if most of the attributes of the house were multifunctional, such as the proposed moat going around one of the homes was sized and placed in a manner that it also provides passive cooling to the house.  Maybe the leaf-like shape of the roof will help harness the potential wind energy, create a sort of venturi effect and increase the speed of the wind, thus creating more energy harvested from the wind.

Building five mansions at this location breaks the first two rules of green homes – do not build on environmentally sensitive land, and do not build obscenely large houses.  These mansions can still implement a multitude of sustainable materials and systems that will in the long run save the owners some money.  If you ask yourself if you could get by with less (which includes not only physical size but also the spiritual and emotional aspect of having enough room to live comfortably) and the answer is “yes” then it’s not really as sustainable as it could be.