So what is sustainable and what does it really mean if you are considering building a new house? Some would have you believe that it is just about using the latest certified materials, good insulation, and solar panels or geothermal, or some kind of new “green” technology. A lot of the buzz around “green” building is stuck very much in the fad mode of thinking. It’s the latest cause you’re supposed to be interested in. The reality is much simpler, much broader, and much more radical for today’s American society. Live simple
We have somehow allowed ourselves to be told that we need to buy more stuff to get this economy going. Buying lots of stuff is the American way? When did our national identity get caught up in the act of consuming? Rabid consumption is NOT sustainable. To suggest that to survive as a nation we must consume more is a suggestion that sits on top of the pinnacle of extreme absurdity. Those who settled this country survived on what ever they could find around them. They were not consumers. They were producers, and they produced what they needed, then produced for the country, then the world. That is a sustainable model of living.
We live in a world where garbage is pretty much all that is produced. Most things are made for a very short shelf live. This is a concept consciously implemented by manufacturers. If they make things that don’t last very long then you will have to buy more very soon. Sounds like a sustainable business model, except we, the rabid consumers, along with the environment, are the patsies in the scheme. This unsustainable model of living represents a constant drain on our wallets and a constant source of material for landfills.
So this gets us back to architecture and green living, which begins with sustainable living habits and building practices. The housing bubble was built on the foundation of houses that will last for maybe 30 years. Some of theses houses are so badly built they are tear downs today. Speculative builders are literally building garbage. These houses will overwhelm our landfills in 30 years or sooner. Houses that were built in the ‘60s and ‘70s are now being torn down as out of date and unsalvageable. They were the beginning of the speculative market, and by today’s standards they were well built.
As a nation, even as a species, we cannot sustain this way of dwelling, and we are making ourselves miserable trying to do so. As Americans we tend to have houses that are way too big to maintain, with spaces that are so specialized that we rarely use them. Many of these uses could be utilized within a single well-designed space, or even be built communally and shared. We put a lot of money into houses that are consuming huge amounts of income and always stressing out about how we don’t have enough money. This economy is tough, but it is also a really good reality check.
We need to find our way forward into a simpler way of living. A way of living that doesn’t require too much stuff. We need to understand that building cheap is not building smart. We need to take responsibility for our presence on the earth. We also need to build beautiful houses that inspire us to want to keep them. If it is a beautiful house that you want to maintain you will be more likely to do it. If the house is well designed to take advantage of natural air circulation, and the seasonal changes of the sun you will have a house that is a living structure.
You will take joy in opening windows, sitting outside in the shaded porch, feeling the breeze of fresh air, and the warmth of a sun-filled room in the winter. If it is designed with a strong connection to the outside you will be more likely to use those outdoor spaces as living becomes more seamless. You will take pride in owning a home that you know will be there for generations. There is a definite calming effect of living in a home that is simple and uncluttered, that meets your needs efficiently and clearly, that is scaled to fit you and your family. People used to build this way. We can learn a lot from the way they did, but we have also learned a great deal since then and new technologies can work sustainably and should be considered.
I hear from so many people that are looking to downsize and simplify. This attitude is a growing trend and it is a wonderful sustainable trend. If you are interested in looking at sustainable living further, a good book to read is “The Original Green” by Steve Mouzon. He examines the old way of building and defines a good foundation for sustainability. A glance backward can also mean a more defined step forward and incorporating the many new and bright sustainable technologies available. In all things, we must ask the question of whether or not it will last for generations and is the maintenance simple enough that we can routinely do it ourselves.