What is Sustainable Design?

March 20, 2010 at 6:38 pm Leave a comment

It is helpful to understand what terms like “Sustainable Design,” Energy-Efficiency,” and “Green” mean. It is also key to understand what “green washing” is. There are a lot of misunderstandings about these terms and there seem to be a range of definitions thrown around, depending on who you are speaking with.

Many people are under the impression that it’s automatically more expensive to build an energy-efficient or “green” home, that all new homes are energy-efficient, or that these terms don’t really mean much of anything, at least not that they might be more comfortable, every bit as attractive if not more so, as livable, be able to save on heating and cooling costs, and have cleaner, healthier inside air, all without sacrificing anything! Of course, if you want to live in a home that costs NOTHING to heat or cool, that too is quite possible using today’s technologies and expertise, but it will cost you more.

There are LEED-certified homes, EnergyStar homes, and a newer standard, imported from Europe called “The Passive House.” There are also architects and builders who have been building homes that could fit the definition of sustainable or green for 30 or 35 years, though there are new materials and technologies that make the process easier and the homes even more energy-efficient now than they once were.

Most of us have heard at least some of the terms mentioned here. We’ve read about them in the news, watched stories about them on T.V., or we’ve seen magazine articles or online blogs, but how many of us really understand what they mean and what their implications are for us, for our children, and for the environment?

If someone told you that you could build a home for x dollars that was in the price range you were considering and that had the layout you wanted, the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. that you desired, the kitchen of your dreams, and all of the other features you were looking for, you’d probably be interested if you were in the market for a new home. What if someone told you that for the same x dollars you could have a home built with all of these same features but that was also significantly more energy-efficient, that your utility bills would be significantly lower, that your house would be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than a conventionally built home, that it could still be everything you dreamed of but that it would cost you less to live in it now and far into the future in addition, that it would leave a smaller carbon footprint (or none), perhaps not use any fossil fuels, which option would you pick? This is not a trick question. There are no hidden shortcomings to the energy-efficient home. It is a matter of finding a design/build firm (or possibly an architect and an EXPERIENCED green builder), with years of real-world projects under their belts, that could make all of the difference!

Deciding halfway through the design/build process that you want your home to be energy-efficient (or more energy-efficient) will end up costing you more money. Putting the right team together from the beginning is what is most important.

If you are wondering what “green washing” is, here is a short explanation. There are a lot of builders, R.E. agents, even some architects, and others, who are jumping on the “green” bandwagon because they think it might give them an edge in a very difficult R.E. market and in hard economic times and they know that it is just a matter of time until “green” is the norm. These are people who have picked up a little knowledge about the green movement and are marketing themselves as “experts.” Consumers have to be very careful always, but especially in today’s R.E. market and economy.

Through the various posts on this website, along with its links, you can find out about Clark Hill Woods in New Boston, NH, about the town and some of it’s special qualities, how to qualify for tax incentives and how much they are, what a solar hot water system is, what solar photovoltaics means, how to find a lender who understands that an energy-efficient home is worth more than one that isn’t and who will appraise the “green” home higher than a conventional one. Being an educated buyer/consumer is the best way to get your money’s worth now and far into the future! A big plus to building a sustainable home now is also that its value will be higher in the future than a non-sustainable one. In fact, within a few years it may not be possible under local, State, and/or Federal building codes, to build a home that is not energy-efficient!

For more on what “Sustainable Design” means, I have provided a document that you can download. It is the opening chapter of a book called “The Philosophy of Sustainable Design,” by Jason F. McLennan, Ecotone Publishing Co., LLC, hardcover, 2004. The book is available from Amazon.com here. You can download and read the first chapter of the book by clicking on the link shown below the book cover image.

"Philosophy of Sustainable Design," Jason F. McClennan

Philosophy of Sustainable Design, Chapter 1


Entry filed under: Build a green home in NH, Builders, Building Green, Clark Hill Woods, Clean Tech, EnergyStar, Solar, Sustainable Design. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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