What Is Your Home Contributing?
There is undoubtedly a lot of greenwashing out there today, especially in the construction industry. As soon as “sustainability” became a money making moniker, so too was born an industry of aggressive and predatory sales tactics by various companies who are just out to make a buck. Somewhere in the process the lines have blurred between what’s actually an ecologically sound purchase and something green. Making a conscientious consumer decision is more difficult than ever. But what about the companies and individuals who are trying to affect meaningful change in the world? How do we know who to trust and who is just blowing smoke?
If you’re thinking of building a home, your architect and builder are there to work with you and achieve your goals for the home. But before you can achieve any goals, you’ve got to know where to begin. Where do we open the conversation about what your home is doing for you and for your community? The first piece is knowing a little bit about your home’s structure itself and how it affects the world around you.
1. Think Of Your Home As An Integrated System
In the same way that the body cannot function well without skin or lungs, a home cannot function well without a properly designed enclosure or a properly designed HVAC System. Let’s think about it for a moment — if your home has a well designed enclosure, it won’t let in/out as much external air. If you’re not getting as much outside on the inside, your HVAC system won’t have to work as hard. If your HVAC system isn’t working as hard, you won’t be spending your hard earned money on an energy bill and you’ll also reduce your ecological impact via energy reduction.
2. Think About Source Energy
Source energy is different than site energy. Site energy is what most people think about when they want to reduce their energy footprint and it pertains to the energy using things that you actually install in your home. While it’s great to think about reshaping your lifestyle with energy saving devices, what most people don’t know is that the majority of their contribution to energy use actually comes from the place those gizmos and gadgets are manufactured.
If you open an honest discussion with your architect and builder about source energy, you’re empowering yourself to change the industry by proving the demand for new kinds of home construction. Think about where those pretty countertops come from. Think about what kind of materials might be used on your house — it’s important.
3. Think About Water
If you sit and think about it, how many minutes/hours/days have you spent over the course of your life waiting for the tap to get hot? It seems a bit silly to think that even in an age of tankless hot water heaters that we should wait at all! With Texas barely on the upslope out of a drought, water is a very precious thing here in the lone star state (lest we forget about California’s recent plunge into dryness.) As it so happens, many homes still use plumbing techniques that don’t optimize hot water delivery and consequently waste your time and water. Talk with your architect & builder about a how to achieve a more efficient hot water delivery system.
4. Think About Glass
Big windows and glass features are distinct markers of contemporary architecture and with good reason — they provide tons of natural light for a space and offer stunning views of your city/landscape. It’s important to achieve the aesthetic you want. This is your investment and, more importantly, the place you will live. But consider the basic physics here — walls can be insulated well and hold in the cold/hot air. Even the most advanced window doesn’t add a lot of insulative value to a space. So when you’re discussing how the glass in your home will look, don’t sacrifice design; just be smart about it or that electric bill will be higher than you care to see.
5. Think About Moisture
Nobody wants mold. That’s almost unnecessary to even say. It’s bad for your health, it’s bad for the building materials’ durability, and is incredibly expensive to remediate. What most people don’t know is that the same moisture that causes mold can cause a number of other issues in your home. The explanation gets a bit complex and scientific, but the bottom line is that you will be more comfortable with drier air and your home will last much longer without expensive repairs when it has some way to dry itself out.
Talk with your architect and builder about the kind of vapor and air barriers in your walls and be sure to discuss how dehumidification will be a part of your mechanical design if you're in a humid climate.
6. Think About Size
It’s important to have a spacious and comfortable home environment, especially if you’ve got a large family. It can provide tranquility and a sense of privacy and independence. But where do you draw the line between a reasonable amount of square footage and excess? This is a big question, but it is a question a lot of fortunate homeowners who want to build their dream home often arrived at as an afterthought. Have the discussion with your architect. You may find that bigger does not necessarily mean better and that incredible design can come out of thinking of a space’s use in very practical terms.
7. Be Realistic
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the way your home is being built. It’s important that your architect and builder can answer complex questions and can think about ethical solutions to reducing a home’s impact. Your home can be incredibly comfortable, healthy, and safe without sacrificing your dream-home vision. Your community will be a better place for it. The world will be a better place for it. And you’ll be contributing to changing the construction industry in a positive way.