Thursday, November 24, 2011

Net Zero - Part III

This house is net positive, meaning it "creates more energy than it uses," and its existence is proof that sustainable architecture can be beautiful and upscale.  The architect, Thomas Doerr, designed this home to use passive solar heating along with quality insulation and solar power.  Many aspects of the design show thoughtful decision making processes, looking for the least impact on the environment along with truly beautiful craftsmanship. 

My favorite quote from this video is, "Their electric meter spins backwards."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Net Zero Home - Part II

Since we know it's possible to build net-zero, creating buildings that do not need to use the local grid, it's important that new construction meet that goal (or better, net positive, which is making more energy than the building uses).  However, reusing existing buildings is always best whenever possible for many reasons.  For one, it preserves our heritage.  Also, it protects natural habitats, since reusing existing development prevents new construction and sprawl.  Finally, it usually takes less material, which reduces overall consumption and waste.

This video shows how one family was able to renovate their 110-year-old Folk Victorian home into a net zero home by using quality insulation, changing their light bulbs to compact fluorescent, using energy and water efficient appliances, installing geothermal heating and using solar power.  Despite all these changes, their home maintains all of the original charm and character, both for the present and future generations.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Net Zero Home - Part I

As Winter approaches, many face energy bills that skyrocket as temperatures plummet.  There is another way to build, though, that requires minimal to no heating and cooling from municipal supplies.  It is possible to construct a building so that it sustains itself through proper insulation, quality materials, geothermal heating/cooling and solar power.  In fact, it is possible to sell energy to the local utility company rather than buying it, if one's building is designed so well as to be net positive on occasion.

This video shows the first net zero house in Michigan, which is known for its cold climate.  How many people in frosty northern climates would love to pay no utility bills in the middle of Winter?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shipping Container Living = Cool + Cheap

Did you know that shipping containers are very useful for living in as a house?  They can withstand earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and all sorts of disasters.  They are cheap and readily available all over the world.  Here are some great examples of what you can do with a shipping container:

The video below shows a very cool weekend retreat created by a couple of architects as an educational tool.

The next video shows a time lapse view of constructing a house of a more typical size out of shipping containers.  It didn't take long!

Next is a short clip showing how shipping containers are used for student housing in Amsterdam. 

Finally, this last video is somewhat long, but it shows all the possibilities of shipping container living that have already proven successful. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Living Small in the City

We've looked at tiny houses for the past few days, and they are wonderful.  However, in the interest of urban density, which is needed to preserve habitat and drastically lower carbon emissions, which is paramount to reigning in climate change, let's move on to what a "tiny house" would look like in the city.  These apartments are too big by some standards to qualify as tiny per se, but, at 590 square feet, they are still quite modest.  I like that the architects Eva Prats and Ricardo Flores have designed this building around the concept of community, with the understanding that social interaction is a key ingredient in our happiness.  I also like that all of the apartments have balconies for the residents to enjoy outside space.  It's nice that there is a courtyard with plants and a fountain, because this will create a wind-free, moderate micro-climate from which people can benefit, even if it's just by opening a window.  It's nice, too, that a "low rent" community gets to live somewhere so beautiful.  This looks like some of the high scale luxury apartment complexes I've seen, yet it's a reasonable and low-impact place to live.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Smaller Life Can Lead to Contentment

For Dee Williams of Olympia, Washington, she found a contentment in 84 square feet that she couldn't find living larger.  Living smaller led to simplification, and simplification led to ease.  It's not possible for her to complicate her lifestyle too much, and her carbon footprint is miniscule for an American.  She has a lifetime of security, never having to pay rent or a mortgage, and she always has a place to call home.  Her utility bills are $8 a month!  She may need a different sleeping arrangement one day when she is very elderly, but when that day comes, she'll probably be happy to sleep in her living room, or she will have had the opportunity to save up a healthy retirement with the money she didn't spend during her lifetime.  

Why do we think we need so much space?  Maybe all that space, with its accompanying chores, bills, rent/mortgage and carbon footprint just isn't worth the price, especially in an economic climate like this one.  Living small is easier, cheaper and friendlier to the environment.  It's something to think about.  I know my family needs to consider space requirements in the months to come as we consider our housing options, and we're going to keep these ideas in mind.

Take a look at this video of Dee Williams' home from PBS to explore her home:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tiny House = "Reduce"

Remember the three “R’s”?  “Reduce” is the first, and most critical of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” motto of the environmental movement.  The miniature cabins found in the small house movement are a great way to live smaller, taking up less space, fewer resources and creating less carbon emissions.  Plus, as sixteen year old Austin Hay has proved, even a kid can make one.  These houses don’t solve the world’s problems exactly, since urban density is paramount to lowering our collective carbon footprints, but they can solve an individual’s or family’s problems in a very low impact way.  For instance, how many families have had to foreclose on their homes that were too big and too expensive?  A small home like the Fencl (what Austin is making) by Tumbleweed Tiny House Company not only costs much less than a typical house in the United States, but it is also portable, so it can be your home indefinitely without being subject to the whims of fortune.  Austin Hay has put together a brilliant strategy of building his Fencl while he’s in high school and living with his parents then taking it to college and beyond.  He’ll never have to pay rent or a mortgage.  All he needs is a place to park, an electrical outlet and a place to deal with his graywater.  I’m not sure what his system is for graywater, but he mentions using a composting toilet in the video below.  You can check out Austin’s website for updates. 

This video of Austin’s tiny house project was created by Kirsten Dirksen of