by Bill Hutchins, AIA, principal of Helicon Works, an ecologically responsive architecture and building collaborative
The creative process of making an ecologically responsive home explores many considerations. Green building goes light years beyond conventional construction.
• Once you’ve reflected on what you really need in a home and are clear that you must build, do not build on untouched land. Consider renovations first, additions second and then infill lots.
• Build small and build local, both material sourcing and labor. Sustainability is all about building community, in many ways.
• Build a healthy, nontoxic home that nurtures you.
• Use available renewable energy sources whenever possible—solar, wind and/or biofuels are often viable options.
• Build a highly insulated and sealed home, which keeps out unwanted temperatures.
• Create regenerative landscaping, which implements stormwater management strategies, as a beautiful garden.
• And, and this is essential, build well, so our homes will endure for centuries.
Each of these notions needs to be balanced with an open-ended design, to fluidly respond to inevitable change.
Perhaps the harshest reality of our condition, building green is not going to turn the tide of environmental destruction, and all the concomitant issues that are happening. We need to stop consuming in significant ways, which go far beyond building less and/or greener when building.
The ‘not so big house’ movement has much to offer, but it assumes we’re basically consuming the same—a 2,000 square-foot-house isn’t, in the big picture, much greener than a 6,000 square-foot-home.
So please, before you consider building ask yourself this question: Must you build at all? Many existing homes simply need to be cracked open, to breathe internally and with the land. Rather than adding a new space, why not try a bay window in an existing room? Or put a new window in a room to expand the internal flow. Or repaint an existing space. Or remove a wall or two. Or...you get the picture.
Granted, that’s all a daunting challenge. If you must build, given the above complexities, you may want to consider a team of people with varied expertise and experience, usually with an architect as the manager. But everything is a step-by-step process and we all take on only what we can during each step.
Again, there is no such thing as pure green building; we all do what is possible and feasible given the spectrum of life’s choices and circumstances. Yet, if we have an ecological awareness and a deep desire to honor all things—even if we have to make compromises because of issues such as finances—we will build more viable and enlivening homes.