Common Sense Conservation
Earth Day is this coming Friday, April 22, 2011 — a good time to remember that building sustainably is the right thing to do (see the Earth Day website for events and activities.). Begin with a thoughtful design that suits the climate and the site and aims for longevity. The choices you make for the shell of your house — including the foundation, walls, windows, and roof — and in how you orient your house to the sun, will result in the greatest savings in energy, natural resources, and money over the long term. Health is another consideration — i.e. use formaldehyde free insulation and no- or low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint — such as Yolo Colorhouse, shown above, available from Ecohaus. The U. S. Green Building Council’s Green Building Guide provides a good introduction to what’s possible. Here you’ll find information on a vast array of eco-oriented topics. The section on bathrooms is
especially useful in explaining what to look for in low flow-fixtures — since the bathroom is one of the most resource-intensive rooms in the house. The Green Building Council website is also where you’ll find the LEED rating system (an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and the useful LEED for Homes Scoring tool, where you can find out if your home qualifies for LEED certification.
Another important resource is the website for the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® program, which lists all the home products — from LED (light emitting diode) lights to dishwashers to fans — that meet national environmental standards. This is the source for those appliance labels that say ENERGY STAR® and give you a quick calculation on, say, a particular refrigerator’s energy use and savings on energy bills. The EPA’s WaterSense® programs is a similar labeling system for water-conserving appliances and fixtures.
More Efficient Building Shells
Structural insulated panels (SIPs) — like those manufactured by Premier (shown here) are an energy-efficient building system made from thick expanded polystyrene (EPS) sandwiched between oriented strand board (OSB). The high-insulation value is built-in and the panels allow for faster construction time. Many of the designs at Houseplans.com can be converted from conventional 2-by-4 or 2-by-6 framing to SIPs by Premier. Another possibility is to use the Vitruvian system of panels made with EPS and light gauge steel (diagram shown above). We have a range of plans designed for Vitruvian panel construction. A sampling of SIPs plans can be found in our Alternative Building Collection.
Talk of conservation, especially water, brings to mind the role of water in defining the shape and character of our life. In Rome, for example, it has been a powerful design force for more than 2,000 years. A fascinating and important book by Katherine Wentworth Rinne — The Waters of Rome: Aqueducts, Fountains, and the Birth of the Baroque City (Yale Press, 2011) — explores this subject in depth and I recommend it highly. Here you’ll learn how the city’s aqueducts got built, how the waterworks work, and why, and how each major fountain became an expression of power by emperors, popes, and the most powerful Roman families. It’s a waterwise whodunnit by a true scholar. This where resource cultivation and conservation began in earnest!