June 23, 2009Sustainable Architecture Is Changing the Face of Way Homes Are Built in California
By Andrea Frascione, staff-writer
‘‘We have to figure out a way to artificially cool the planet while the atmosphere is still super-saturated with greenhouse gases,’’ said Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
Climatologists believe that the long-term effects of this trend will help slow the Earth’s warming. Most vacation destinations in the Greek islands and Italy’s coastal regions have been employing this age-old trick for centuries. But, the California Energy Commission recommends going a step further than simply painting one’s flat-topped roof white: cool-roof products are now available in either a reflective coating or a special membrane designed to deflect heat.
The U.S. House of Representatives was appointed the official testing-ground for finding methods of conserving and making renewable energy in order to fulfill the proposed bill passed June 10. Since the Capitol building is already white, it will need to go a bit further! The proposal, if taken seriously, aims to reduce its annual $52 million electrical consumption. The only problem is that the budget for this initiative is about half that amount.
Pre-fabricated homes are the latest in energy-conserving architectural technology. Most concepts and pricing are based on square-footage, such as Logicalhomes, whose designs ultimately adapt to fit the size of the structure desired. However, some projects, like Weehouse, are a curious reminder of stackable building blocks and seem to be based on the mobile home. Customizable in every way, these simple, quick and energy-efficient green homes are changing our urban landscape and the way we live. By keeping home design to simple shapes, whether square, rectangular or even round, the hot or cool air doesn’t have to travel very far to create a constant circulation, nor does it get ‘lost’ in nooks and crannies. By strategically positioning windows to face south and making the garage an integral part of the house - as opposed to an under-heated, basement junkyard - the liveable space becomes intelligent rather than just an afterthought. One Canadian living concept making the green grade is EspacesHaus. Similar to the aforementioned versions, though infinitely more adapted to northern climates, this ‘community’ of smart-dwellings integrates nature into its designs: giant glass walls on the main floor give off to a central zen-style courtyard, replete with local vegetation.
Despite advancements in pre-fab methods of construction, there is still a viable market for architects, but the building methods and materials have changed significantly in the past few years. Terunobu Fujimori’s designs are the perfect marriage between sustainability and natural beauty. Even though they bear an uncanny resemblance to a child’s wildly imaginative tree-house from the outside, his structures are, assuredly, pure genius. Incorporating not only domestic wood, but rooftop gardens into his designs, his creations are a quintessential 21st century responsible architecture.
On the Santa Lucia Preserve (formerly Rancho San Carlos) lies an Adirondack-style home made almost entirely out of dirt! PISE (or pneumatically impacted stabilized earth) was the method of construction for this spectacular home sitting on a 5 acre parcel of land located just outside of Big Sur. The walls – measuring two-feet thick – are the insulation, themselves. Aluminum roofs and natural wood accents make this architectural feat as beautiful as it is eco-friendly. Some high-tech constructions are, and have proven to be, the most sustainable of all designs. Architect Richard Rogers - famous for his vast range of creations including Pompidou Centre in Paris, France as well as the Oxley Woods housing project in Milton Keynes, England - says of designing with green in mind,
‘‘The practice endeavors to employ technologies that sustain rather than pollute, that are durable rather than replaceable, and that add value over time rather than falling prey to short term economies.’’
Considering all renewable energy options, the installation of solar panels is the quickest and easiest way to go green when constructing a home. Those living in the northern part of the country must be careful, though, in choosing the right type of solar panel, as some are less efficient than others when lacking sufficient heat and direct sunlight. There are three distinct kinds: mono-crystalline solar panels are the most efficient for sunlight absorption and conversion into electricity, however they are the most expensive. They do somewhat better in lower light conditions then other types of solar panels, such as polycrystalline ones, which are the most common type on the market today. Amorphous solar panels consist of a thin-like film made from molten silicon that is spread directly across large plates of stainless steel or similar material. These types of solar panels are the least efficient of the three but are the cheapest to produce. Those living in the south can take advantage of this lower-cost option because there is enough exposure to light and heat throughout the year to compensate for its slightly less efficient properties. One advantage of amorphous solar panels over the other two is that they are shadow protected. That means that the solar panel continues to charge while part of the solar panel cells are in shadow, such that may be created by tall trees in wooded areas.
Other low-cost, low-maintenance, high-impact ways to reduce your imprint on the environment include planting more perennials in your garden: they require less water and sunlight and thrive in most climates. By interspersing them with a few vegetables, you’re saving on salad items you would normally pick up at the supermarket, which are delivered there by train or semi. Composting your potato peels and coffee grinds is a great way to add mulch to your garden, while producing less waste for the garbage can. Can’t give up your water-pressure for a low flow showerhead? Then, opt for a dual-flush toilet at the very least. Use natural light to your advantage: close the drapes in summer to deflect heat and keep them open in winter to let the sunshine in!
Andrea Frascione covers the business, eco-entrepreneur and lifestyle beat for RushPRnews. You may write her for story ideas and comments at email@example.com
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