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What Does Sustainability Mean to You?

That thing is huuuuge!

I was walking through my neighborhood and came upon a newly constructed house among the rest of the older homes on the block.  I noticed this house not only because it was new, but also because it had a sign on the front lawn proclaiming how “green” it was.

Based on the size of the house (over 4,000 sq. ft), the bulk its massing, compared to surrounding homes, and the big expanse of lawn, this was by far the LEAST ‘green’ house on the block.  They did not remodel the existing home but instead tore it down and did not use the existing foot print.  Just two people lived there.

I have a different idea of what ‘green’ means;  Use existing building stock whenever possible by renovating or remodeling.  Keep the scale in line with the number of people who will use the space and be aware that increasing density means decreasing sprawl.  That’s a good thing.  Respect the neighboring buildings and homes and create only the space you absolutely need.

Make use of every square inch you own, including the yard, the decks and patios, the basement, the attic, every room in your home and even the backyard!  Make spaces multi-use and adaptable for different activities. My grandparents had two living rooms. One was the family room that was used daily and one was the formal living room that no one was allowed into. Ever. Except on Christmas Day. What a waste of space!

Use every bit of natural light that is available. Think hard about the placement of windows.  There are three things windows are for; light, air and views.  Sometimes a window cannot do all three but if it can do even one of these, consider its placement and its type; high, clerestory windows for light but not for a view or air, privacy glass if you need light and air but don’t want people to have a ‘view’ in.  You get the idea.

If you love to mow grass and pay through the nose for water in the summer to keep it green, plant more grass. But honestly, don’t say you’re doing it for the kids because kids love trees to climb, bushes to hid in and water and dirt to play with so don’t plant the grass for them.  Same thing with dogs (yes, even the tree climbing part for my dog when motivated by a squirrel).  Use your lot for native plants, drought tolerant plants, edible plants, and cover for birds and other wild life.  Take the kids out front to the paved sidewalk to ride bikes and mingle with neighbors and to the park for grass.

When choosing materials for your home go for the ones that will last a lifetime and are recyclable; wood, tile, cork, stone, glass, steel and concrete.  You may read about the how much energy it takes to make concrete but when you consider there are still Roman structures standing because they were built with stone and cemented together with sand and cement (concrete), it seems the energy to make it was worth it.  And you can always grind it up and use it again. In other words, these materials are durable and long lasting, and you can recycle all them.

If you maximize your existing space and create only the additional space you need, use the right materials, and use a well thought out design, then feel free to slap the label ‘sustainable’ on your project. Much easier than most people think!  Once you have nailed down these items, you move into the realm of energy efficiency which encompasses your heating/cooling systems, Energy Star rated appliances, WaterSense plumbing fixtures and LED lighting fixtures.  Fun times saved for another post!

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