by: Michelle Laurie & Colleen Mahoney
Sustainability on a Budget – The Architect’s View (Part 1)
The term sustainable is a common term these days in our eco-aware world, but what does it really mean to build sustainable architecture? For an architect like Colleen Mahoney, who has a Master’s degree in sustainability, it means much more than installing a few energy efficient lights and solar panels on the roof.
Mother Nature Works For You
In Marin County, we often work on homes with southern or southwestern views toward the Bay. When a home has a heavy solar exposure it’s critical to have high efficiency tinted windows, good solar shades and lots of insulation. This investment is important for the life of the home and for every day comfort. We try to orient the roof to the ideal angle for maximum solar collection – just a few degrees can result in a 10-15% performance loss.
Mother Nature provides an excellent solution for protection from the hot sun – plant a good shade tree! If you want more sunlight in the winter– plant a deciduous tree. If a homeowner wants a nice outdoor space for entertaining – we think about solar protection by integrating a trellis or roof overhangs into the plans.
The most “green” decision a homeowner can make is in the choice of classic and durable materials. Think about the quality of the old Victorians built in SF out of redwood. The craftsman didn’t cut corners and the homes are still beautiful inside and out over 100 years later.
The lessons from those old homes? Hire a great architect who cares about the details. Hire a great builder who wants to build with craftsmanship. Give yourself permission to buy good quality materials and don’t cut corners.
Leave the Gas Outside
Off-gassing is when particles and chemicals are released from common household products, a particular problem in homes that are deemed ‘energy’ efficient. There are lots of ways you can cut down on these potentially dangerous gasses. Insist on using no VOC paints, use cabinets made from solid wood (and make a statement by buying wood that has the FSC – Forest Stewardship Council – label). Consider every purchase you are making in terms of its environmental impact – the new furnishings with fire retardants or furniture with toxic finishes.
Ventilation is key to dealing with off-gassing so always give a new or remodeled home time to air out!
Conserve Conserve Conserve
Conserve energy with the use of natural light and skylights. Use LED bulbs in your lighting and put them on dimmers. Conserve water – put in dual flush toilets and low flow faucets. Spend a few extra dollars to make sure the insulation is well installed in your walls, floors, and roof. And, then you can reduce the size of the furnace you need too!
Making considered choices throughout your entire building or remodeling project will result in a truly green home – good for the planet, and most of all, good for you and your family.