Sustainable Design References for the Homeowner

June 5th, 2010Green BuildingsComments Off on Sustainable Design References for the Homeowner

Creating the plans for a Green Home is similar in many ways to the design and material specification process of a normal house. There are, however, some key differences in this process that begin very early on and require the homeowner to carefully review existing needs and wants and then apply them to a project that will, in essence, be smaller, more energy efficient, water conserving, durable and connected to the site.

Great – only positive synergies and absolutely no downside, right? Well, maybe…

The design process of a green home requires an integrated approach from the very beginning, one that includes the future occupant (you) and a team of specialists including the architect, engineers, contractor and material suppliers. You are now an integral part of the team and it may be somewhat daunting for many who don’t have this type of experience or are less inclined to become active in the process because of a perceived shortcoming in the skill-sets required. This is a situation we all face in our careers or chosen professions and when encountered, we dig deep into our life-long-learning bag of tricks and apply these principles to tackle the new challenge. Becoming an active and valuable part of an Integrated Design Team and working on something of paramount importance , your home, will become one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

Lori Ryker, author of Off Grid Homes: Case Studies For Sustainable Living (2007, Gibbs Smith) says it very well:

“Homes are expressions of day-to-day experiences. They provide us with a place of refuge and memory making. From within our dwellings, our lives unfold and are invented, while personal beliefs are explored and expressed… Homes have the ability to express and embody an understanding of ourselves and our relationship to the world around us. They express who we are, who we want to be, and how we will be remembered.”

How can you take this idealistic and compelling view and distill it into a working knowledge of the principles needed to make it happen? By doing some homework…

For those who prefer to read books:

One of my favorite books, when it comes to home design, is by architect Sarah Susanka. The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live (1998, The Taunton Press) is a great primer in looking at what is normative in today’s homes, the areas we actually tend to utilize and how to look at design with a new set of criteria that allows us to create more intimate and connected spaces. Take the time and do some of the exercises she recommends – they will assist in rationalizing room and space requirements and help pin-point your needs vs. wants.

Another great all-around design primer is The Essential House Book: Getting Back to Basics by Terrence Conran (1994, Conran Octopus Ltd. Crown Publishers Inc.). This book looks at every aspect of home, from a sense of place through to understanding layout, materials and systems. A room-by-room approach allows for a very thorough and complete understanding of concepts and applications. The photos are great (albeit a little Europe-centric) yet I find I use it regularly as a reference tool when reviewing designs in order to establish the perfect balance.

Another great reference tome is The New Moderns: Architecture and Design for Living by Jonathan Glancey and Richard Bryant (1994 in paperback, SOMA Books, Bay Books and Tapes, Inc.). This book applies a similar approach to The Essential House Book but connects with a New Modernist design genre that fits well with smaller, more efficient, homes.

Lori Ryker’s book, (2007, Gibbs Smith), utilizes a case study format to describe both the active and passive systems that make up a sustainable home. Cases are taken from around the world and the book combines both technical references and extensive interior/exterior photography to provide the reader with current projects and leading-edge technologies. The chosen homes connect well with the sites and a truly vernacular feel is evident in the architecture.

For those who prefer online tools:

Dwell Magazine is an excellent resource for both material and design links related to sustainable homes.

Architectural Record is another vast site that connects with the official magazine of the AIA (American Institute of Architects). AR’s emphasis on residential designs and materials, along with critical review of these projects, allow the reader to build a stockpile of current and relevant images relating to their own home.

For those who are a bit more technically-minded:

The Green Building Advisor website has a large amount of current and useable information available in the form of blogs, technical articles and material/product specifications.

More technical yet, but with a truly North American perspective is the Building Science Corporation. This website connects readers with books on building systems, seminars, technical white papers and building envelope section drawings that are climate specific. Their focus on energy efficiency combined with enhanced Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is timely and directly linked with the growing Green Building Movement.

These tools will help you connect at a level that will fortify the Integrated Team approach, allow you to become a more active design participant and take on a new level of ownership, well before the project becomes three-dimensional.

Enjoy the process, because it is the journey that defines who we are as individuals and feeds the creation of the environment we call home.