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) and the big expanse of lawn with no other landscaping this was by far the least ‘green’ house on the block.

I have a different idea of what ‘green’ means;

First, use existing building stock whenever possible by renovating or remodeling. Second, adding space only when need.  Third, realizing good design and durability are key components to sustainability.

When adding to a space, 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.

Make spaces multi-use and adaptable for different activities. 

Make use of every square inch you own, including the yard, the deck and patios, the basement, the attic, every room in your home and even the backyard!  You don’t need a giant dining area for the two times of year you host large gatherings. Be creative!  Take the biggest room in the house and make it your ‘dining room’ for the night. Or host in the summer when everyone can be outside and inside.  You’ve doubled your space!

Use every bit of natural light that is available.

Think hard about the placement of windows and rarely turn on a light switch.  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.

Lawns are a luxury so if you have one use the heck out of it but if you don’t use it, think about replacing it (especially if you hate mowing it)

Lawns require you to pay through the nose for water in the summer to keep it green and if you’re walking on it extensively, even more maintenance is required.  Don’t claim to keep a lawn for the kids because kids love; trees to climb, bushes to hide in and water and dirt to play with (and then they turn a certain age and never want to play outside again :-).  Use your lot for trees, native plants, drought tolerant plants, edible plants, and cover for birds and other wildlife.

Choose durable materials for your home.

Select ones that will last a lifetime and are recyclable; wood, tile, cork, stone, glass, steel and concrete.  Or use materials made from recycled materials.  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.

Use salvaged materials whenever possible and re-use materials in your home. Consider donating any re-usable items you remove from your home such as cabinets, shelving, doors and windows.

If you maximize your existing space…

…and create only the space you need, use the right materials and a well thought out design then you have more money in the budget to get what you really need.  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 subjects I’ll save for another post!

Let’s start talking about how your dream space can become a reality while also using all the tools you are comfortable using to make as little environmental impact as possible.

Learn how to change spaces in your home by starting small.
Get the guide to find out!