In the near future green building and green remodeling won’t be identified as such because a sustainable design approach will have overtaken and replaced the status quo. But for now, green and sustainable is the exception to conventional building and remodeling. It is the best way to improve the performance of existing homes by making them more luxuriously comfortable, secure, healthful and significantly less expensive to maintain. When we don’t have the option of choosing the site and sustainably designing our building from the ground up, green remodeling is the best choice.
Green design and remodeling embody a common sense point of view and an evolving methodology. Green design offers us the way to live well and sustainably in a world that no longer holds up the shiny promise of unlimited resources.
Humans have proven themselves ingenious at adapting. By cleverly living and building in a way that is tuned to the pitch of the prevailing climate and landscape we achieve balance, sustainability. So, green building and remodeling, as we begin to take it seriously, is simply a form of adaptation.
It’s all about food, fuel, water and shelter. When deciding where to camp temporarily or settle permanently, people have always sought a place that drained well, was protected from storms, shady in summer, exposed to southern light in winter, close to water, firewood and food. People designed their dwellings and based their living habits on nature. The size, orientation and composition (building materials) of their dwellings drew upon the physical assets of the site. Hm. This sounds an awful lot like the basic principles of sustainable design and green building, doesn’t it?
Riches & Waste
Obviously, “then” wasn’t a perfectly benign world. Resources were used and waste was produced just as now. The difference is scale. Now we use more riches than can be replaced and produce more waste than can be disposed of safely. Elementary, my dear.
How We Got Here
Humans are so clever and so smart that we have finally outsmarted ourselves. We figured out how to make a house that could be as hot or cold as we like with the flick of a switch. Very smart. Then we started making houses that had nothing to do with the building site or the climate of the region. Very dumb. We quickly forgot how little is required to achieve comfort. Today, we find ourselves moving mountains (actual mountain tops and valleys demolished by strip mining for coal) to get the energy we need to run our ravenously inefficient houses. The house has become the problem. The way we build them makes us helpless.
When we follow a green design model, our methods, our materials, our planning and our production are intended to make beauty that lasts, that draws from the beauty of the world we live in without harming it irreversibly. Our intention is achieved by using less—less energy and materials going in and less waste and energy going out. The end product is more valuable than the resources that went into it and its value lasts for a long time.
Our case study Passive Solar Addition is a good example of a green remodeling project that employs sustainable design principles in the orientation of the structure to take advantage of the sun.