Buildings, not cars, are the major damagers of the Earth. Pollution from the heating and cooling of buildings exceeds that from cars, even in America. We just don't see it, except maybe from the chimneys of an older city on a cold Winter day. It happens at the power plant, and where the materials are made.
After agriculture, building is the second largest industry in the world. The manufacture of building materials consumes enormous energy, and exhaustible resources. To its credit, the building industry also uses the most renewables, i.e. lumber.
We are surrounded by technical innovations - in our cars, our communications, and our computers. Yet our largest lifetime purchase, our house, is built essentially the same as it was eighty years ago. The home that will literally define our lives for twenty, thirty, forty years into the future, is not future oriented.
Fortunately, this is about to change - the result of the emerging new practice of Environmental (sometimes called Sustainable) Architecture. Architecture must
look into the future. We can't always get it right of course, but we can use "open channel" architecture to make it easy to add new, even unforeseen technology, and handle climate changes decades down the road. A house built to 2005 standards is obsolete before it is finished - how will it protect and comfort its occupants in 2025? Housebuilding, now an archaic laborious task at best, needs to be taken into the Twenty-First century and looked at by the ecologist, scientist, architect and engineer on a clean sheet of paper.
The basic goal of Environmental Architecture is simple: attractive, comfortable, affordable shelter that does no harm to the Earth in its manufacture, or its use. In practice this means:
1. Maximum use of renewable building materials. Obviously this is wood - already accepted, even cherished, for its beauty, workability, energy-efficiency, and now renewability. It should be used as close as possible to its natural state, but not untouched, as modern science can alter wood so that it will not rot, burn, or become food for insects. Wood is solar energy transformed by photosynthesis into building material. Enough wood grows every day
in just the Southern US forests, to build 2000 homes. You don't get more sustainable than that.
2. Minimum use of non-renewable, energy-intensive building materials like steel, brick, vinyl, aluminum and insulation.
3. Catch the energy falling on the house, and latch on to the Geothermal Reserve in the Earth just beneath it. Use the excess heat from cooking, washing, and human activity in Winter, and design to get rid of it in Summer. Go with
Nature instead of fighting, or isolating from it.
4. Design and build for long useful service life. This makes housing affordable, as the cost is spread over many generations. In Europe the typical design life of a home is 300 years.
5. The house must be sturdy, disaster resistant. Bullet-proof.
6. No life-threatening or building threatening dependencies on electricity - as in power out = freezing temperatures = burst pipes = a flooded basement. No power dependent air-to-air exchangers. No brownout/blackout sensitive cooling, as in a summer heat wave.
7, The house must be Futureproof
, with access channels all around the structure to easily upgrade and add future technology. Making it convenient to run new cables, pipes and wires.
8. Capable of being "stand-alone" without connection to the gas mains, or electric utility grid. Even if street power is used at first, all homes must
be designed this way. Solar electricity will be used eventually, within the design life of any quality structure built today.
9. Buildings must be low-maintenance, and forgiving if repairs are put off. No hidden cavities that might deteriorate from the inside out when a leak isn't fixed right away. No "crawl spaces" where damage could go on for months without inspection.
10. If parts of the house can be made in a factory with quality-control and economy-of-scale, do it. If it can be offered in Do-It-Yourself Kit form, it will be more affordable, and more will be built.
11. The Environmental house must be more
comfortable and less
costly than the conventional house to make a significant dent in the housing market. Each 20% reduction in the cost doubles the number of families who can build it. Yet it is incredible what an Ecological dent even one
environmental house makes, preventing half-a-million pounds of pollution over thirty years. The goal, of course, is that every home be an Environmental home, reducing pollution to pre-industrial levels. Actually, this is more attainable than you might think, and won't take long, because the average conventional home isn't built to last and will soon need to be replaced!
Want to know more? Check the Source List
for some of the sources consulted in design of the Enertia® Building System.
© 1995-2011 by Enertia Building Systems, Inc.