The concept and purpose of sustainable design is to eliminate negative environmental impact through skillful and sensitive design, construction, and conservation. Here at Good Architecture we believe that sustainable design is more successfully employed when a house is also designed to be cherished for generations. Although negative environmental impact is minimized by using no non-renewable resources and an initial reduction in utility bills is possible by employing all the latest "green" technologies, more meaningful, lasting, sustainability is achieved when a home is handed down from generation to generation because the quality of the design itself is valued.
Our ancestors built for the ages and the best of their buildings have lasted for thousands of years. Even their everyday houses have lasted for centuries because they were designed with character that has been appreciated from each generation to the next. Most houses today are reduced to the lowest-common-denominator in both design and construction because home builders and architects, under pressure from homeowners, are forced to prioritize "architectural" emulation and quantity over quality. However, if a house is not loved, then chances are it will be demolished and carted off to the landfill after only a single generation and if the materials are not recycled, all of the embodied energy is lost. Investment in timeless, quality, design and construction can assure that a house will be valued, updated and passed on for generations.
Sustainable design and construction remains an evolving field. The reality is that it can be a technical and financial challenge to employ all available sustainable design technologies. Typically, today it is generally cost effective to consider a carefully selected combination of sustainable strategies according to budget and long-term cost-benefit performance predictions. A few currently available design concepts and technologies that continue to improve in efficiency, are becoming more cost effective, and can be additively employed toward improving sustainability in a new house are listed below.
Frank Lloyd Wright once quipped, “There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.” His pithy observation was accurate because the vast majority of houses designed and built today miss the mark simply because they do not take advantage of even the simplest common sense design strategies as they are so busy trying to solve insignificant, invented functional problems. Common sense design does not necessarily add cost to a project but simply involves paying attention to such age-old basics as building orientation, siting, natural daylight through window placement, solar shading, et cetera. We have always employed common sense design strategies as a basis for all our houses. Our common sense design strategies can reduce energy consumption while enhancing aesthetics and the “feel” of the house. One of the simplest but most effective common sense design strategies that we aim to employ in all our projects is axial alignment of windows. Although subtle, the aesthetic pay-off is big in that it can infuse and animate the house with natural light in unexpectedly delightful ways while also imparting organization to a space and contributing a strong connection to nature by virtue of always having the visual relief of a window perfectly aligned with your body whenever you turn a corner or enter a room within the house.
The American habit of building ever larger homes with many rooms each reserved for a specialized function results in excessively large buildings that are costly to heat, cool, and maintain. One of the most efficient strategies that can be employed is to simply build smaller houses. Smaller buildings minimize the area of site disturbance, consume less energy and thus are more respectful to the environment. While small house design is more challenging than simply adding more space to resolve a design problem, it can also allow for higher quality design and materials. Building small can challenge ones notion of what is most important in a house but can also be rewarding. A well-designed small house in which every square inch is functional and is actually used on a daily basis gives a surprisingly satisfying experience and relationship to the sheltering qualities of the house. Our proven experience with small house design, is exemplified in the design of our award winning design for an energy efficient, 750 square foot water front cottage. This project has given us valuable direct experience with the advantages and challenges of living in a small house.
Existing buildings possess a valuable asset known as “embodied energy.” This is an expression of the concept that the materials, resources and energy that went into the original construction of the building still exists much like a partially charged battery. Depending on the condition of the building combined with the programmatic requirements, embodied energy can become part of a sustainable design strategy both in economic and environmental terms. Any materials or structure that can be restored, renovated, or repurposed does not go to the landfill and minimizes the need to generate new materials, resources and energy to extend the useful life of materials into the future and create a viable building.
Photovoltaic Panels (PV’s) harness energy from the sun in the form of electricity and supplement electrical power received from the local power utility. When the electricity generated from the PV panels exceeds the home's power consumption, the excess power is transferred back into the grid and the electric meter runs backward. Many states (including Maryland) require power companies to purchase this excess power back from their residential customers at the same market rate they charge for usage. Solar Photovoltaic Panels are continually improving in quality and with the rising costs of energy they are becoming more cost-effective every year. Adding an array of batteries to store excess energy generated from the solar panels can further augment this type of system. The stored energy can then be used directly by the residence during power outages.
Domestic hot water heating is the second-highest energy consumer in a typical household. Using solar energy to pre-heat hot water can reduce this cost by 65% or more in the Northeastern U.S. The typical solar domestic hot water system includes 2 to 3 solar collectors, which absorb the sun's energy by warming a heat transfer fluid (propylene glycol). This fluid is then used to preheat incoming cold water before it is brought to full temperature by a conventional water heating system.
Passive solar design integrates building components - exterior walls, windows, and building materials - to harness natural energy and provides solar heating and cooling. This simple, low-cost method can increase overall energy efficiency of the house and can be part of simple common sense design. Passive solar design elements include day lighting strategies to limit the use of electricity, heat control techniques such as exterior sunscreens, proper solar orientation, appropriate ventilation and window placement, and passive solar heating strategies.
Geothermal heat pumps rely primarily on the Earth's natural thermal energy, a renewable resource, to heat and cool a building. Geothermal systems require only a small amount of electricity to concentrate and circulate heating or cooling throughout the home. The Earth's natural heat is collected in winter through a series of pipes (a loop) installed in a well or below the surface of the ground. Fluid circulating in the loop carries this heat to an electrically driven compressor and heat exchanger, and then the heat is distributed inside the house. In summer the process is reversed, and excess heat is drawn from the home, circulated in the loop, and absorbed by the Earth. Geothermal systems are compact and quiet. Geothermal systems use less energy because they draw heat from the Earth, a source whose temperature is moderate, instead of the outside air. Geothermal systems can also provide hot water, which can be very economical as the same loop may be used.
A green roof is one that is partially or completely covered with vegetation planted on top of a waterproofing membrane. A complete system can include plants, soil or growing medium, a root barrier, drainage and irrigation systems, waterproofing membrane, roof insulation, and roof sheathing. A planted roof can be maintenance-free or require weeding and watering, depending on the plant types used. Benefits include reduced heating and cooling loads for the building, reduction of the urban heat island effect, increased roof life span, reduced storm water run off, and the filtering of pollutants from the air and rainwater.
Spray foam insulation such as icynene or polyurethane insulation is a method of insulation that has been gaining in popularity for many reasons. The foam expands during installation to completely seal roof and wall cavities. This effectively eliminates air infiltration and air transported moisture, eliminating the need for cavity ventilation. Also, if polyurethane is used, a much higher R-value can be achieved. Polyurethane insulation provides 6.46 R/inch, more than twice the amount of fiberglass batt insulation. Icynene uses a mixture of carbon dioxide and water to eliminate HCFC-related environmental problems that are typical of spray foam insulation. (HCFCs are hydrochloro-fluorocarbons, which are used as blowing agents in extruded foam insulations. They are damaging to the ozone layer and are also significant greenhouse gases.) Polyurethane is available with a non-ozone-depleting HFC foaming agent, and will soon be available with a water-blown foaming agent which will not require HCFCs. Icynene has also been shown to perform well in indoor air quality studies, and may be a good choice for healthier indoor environments.
Paints, adhesives, solvents, sealants, cleaning agents, caulks, wood products and carpeting with low or no volatile organic compounds. These compounds are off-gassed by many common building materials, and contribute to poor indoor air quality. Elevated levels of VOCs have been linked to eye and respiratory irritation, headaches, and fatigue. We are committed to providing healthier indoor environments for all of our clients.
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