Design for Life: Myth Busters

Carol Venolia breaks down green building myths.

| July/August 2005

As interest in ecologically respon­­sible dwelling grows, some fairly destruc­tive myths are spreading unchecked. These stories can needlessly undermine the enthusiasm of good-­hearted souls, and all too often they’re accepted as gospel without much examination. It’s time for a closer look.

Myth #1: Ecological building costs too much.

The misconception that ecological build­ing costs more than conventional construction is widespread. This gets to the heart of what living in harmony with nature is all about: Thinking in terms of whole systems, not isolated parts. The parts never really are isolated; that’s the central myth. Acting as if they are isolated is what really costs, both ­financially and environmentally.

When a building is created without regard for its context—site, climate, cultural milieu, real human needs—­substituting “green” materials for toxic, resource-inefficient materials may indeed raise the cost of construction above the average for a given building type and region. But context-ignorant buildings are no fun to live in, so why would you want to do that?

The first step for building or remodeling with nature is to design in response to your site and climate. Make the best use of sun, shade, the earth, and breezes to heat, light, and cool your spaces; use graywater and rain to water the garden. Depending on your circumstances, such a house may cost no more to build than the norm—and it could cost less. Lower operating costs are an additional life-long bonus. Best of all, you get a home that’s dynamic and interesting—that involves you with the gifts of nature.

Here’s another great way to create a natural home that costs less: Pay attention to how you live as a basis for design or alteration. Make a home that uses space well—that responds to your true needs, makes multiple use of spaces, and addresses storage cleverly. By not building more space than you need, you save money twice—in construction costs and in heating and cooling bills.

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