Tag Archives: Green Buildings

Are all sustainable homes the same? (The past, present and future of green buildings.)

This post continues on our the theme of what a sustainable home is – and are they all the same? We’ll take a quick look at past, the present, and where we are (or should be!) headed in the future with regards to green buildings. Talina Edwards Architecture is a Ballarat-based studio, specialising in sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes. We like to help answer your questions about environmental design. We recently began a series of posts covering the WHY, WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and HOW of sustainable design. 

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I recently wrote about “What is a sustainable house?” which looked at a definition, and listed ten characteristics that I believe constitute a truly sustainable home. But today I want to address how I view that “environmentally friendly” homes have changed in recent times.

I grew up in the bushy Eltham-area (in the outer north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne), which at the time was well-known as an artistic community, who were environmentally conscious with many mud brick homes amongst the trees. Local legend Alistair Knox was a designer, environmentalist, builder, landscape-architect and the arguably the ‘father’ of the alternative natural building movement. From the 1950s to the 1980s, and he designed and built countless earth buildings – for a full list see here!  So I was introduced to this “organic architecture” early on, to these homes made from natural materials of earth and timber, with large windows to connect to the native landscape, and a focus on a wood-fire hearth as the literal heart of the home.

So back then, then the emphasis was about what the house was made from. A focus on locally sourced, organic, natural materials (and living in a more connected way with the natural environment). 

This low-tech approach was (and is) also seen in the owner-builder alternative housing movement, in permaculture, in earth-ships, and also many primitive and vernacular buildings from around the world.

Mudbrick home Eltham Victoria

Environmental Design: the natural way
“Living in the Environment” by Alistair Knox 1975

 

Today, the focus is more about how the house performs. This is much more of a high-tech approach to the energy-efficiency of the building and its services.

There us so much talk about thermal dynamics and heating coefficients, or megajoules / kilowatt-hours / CO2 emissions and zero-carbon / R-values / ten-star rating / consumption per annum… numbers, statistics, technical jargon…

“Autonomous” homes (or those ‘off-the-grid’) of course need to understand all of this to meet their energy and water needs. These days though, many people seem to focus on these high-tech ‘add-ons’ to make their homes greener – instead of ensuring the building fabric is right first, or perhaps even looking more broadly at how sustainable their lifestyles are the choices they make.

To ensure a home “performs” well (which means that it is thermally comfortable with little need for additional mechanical heating/cooling) it is imperative that the building envelope is designed correctly. Today, sophisticated energy-rating software such as FirstRate (and international standards such as Passivhaus) focus heavily on science, statistics, and rigid criteria to get proven results for new buildings.

Unfortunately,  at times the ’embodied’ energy used to make manufacture/process/transport  some high-tech products/materials (e.g. metal or petroleum-derived plastic products or harmful chemical components/finishes) can outweigh the amount of energy that will actually be saved during the performance of the building…and can be toxic to our health, not to mention the earth. This can be a complicated mathematical equation to evaluate over the life of a building, with many factors and variables to be considered, so it can become even more confusing!

Solar Hot Water PV Photovoltaic Solar Power Energy

Green buildings: High-tech solutions
Solar Hot Water and Photovoltaics on Michael Mobbs’ roof in “Sustainable House” 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the first approach is a bit too hippy, and the second too nerdy…can we do BOTH?

YES! Both approaches are crucial for our future buildings to be more sustainable. And encouragingly, this does seem to be happening…

On the one hand, our souls crave the connection to nature, but we should also embrace new technologies which are making innovative breakthroughs all the time, which can improve our buildings and our lives.

On the other, if we continue our over-consumption and greedy ways, and think technology will save us, we are mistaken. It is only when we start thinking of the life-cycle of our built environment in the same ways as the natural environment that we will start to have truly sustainable buildings. 

As always, it is important to remember that sustainable design is NOT an aesthetic or a style, but a philosophical and theoretical approach to how the building is composed.  Please stay tuned to read more about the who, what, when, where, why, and of course we’ll get to the how of sustainable design.

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Are all sustainable houses the same? What do you think? What sort of sustainable home do you dream about living in? Does your heart lean more toward the warmth of timber and the texture of stone…or does your head get excited by the latest specs of photovoltaic panels? (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!)

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WHY do sustainable design?

Talina Edwards Architecture is a Ballarat-based studio, specialising in sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes. We like to help answer your questions, and this post is one in our series of informative articles about environmental design.

The first (and most important question) is:

WHY do sustainable design?

(We’ll also be covering what, where, when, who, and how…)

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This is where we need to take a step back, and look at the BIG picture. I think this quote says it all…

”We have not inherited the earth from our fathers, we have borrowed it from our children.”

Talina-Edwards-Architecture-Earth-Quote

So we want our children and grandchildren to live on a planet with fresh air, plentiful supply of clean drinking water, an abundance of wholesome and healthy food, with comfortable living conditions and shelter throughout all the seasons. I talk about this in my Elemental Design Philosophy.

It is now an undisputed fact that climate-change (or global-warming) is happening, and while some politicians and members of the community remain skeptical about the cause, scientists are more certain than ever that human activities are the primary cause for climate change. The burning of coal, oil and gas produces carbon (CO2 or “greenhouse gas”) emissions. So our planet is getting hotter and moister, extreme weather events are going to occur more often, sea levels are rising… which means more flooding and other a greater occurrence of other natural disasters and consequently problems with future food production.  These facts came from the latest research by The Climate Council – follow them to be kept up to date with the latest Australian research.

So how do we help reduce the effects (and speed of) climate-change? Emit less CO2. Use less of earth’s finite resources (coal/gas), use energy from renewable resources (solar/ wind). Use energy more efficiently and use less energy. We all recycle our household waste, we all try to avoid plastic shopping bags, we’re all switching to CFL/LED lights, we might try to use public-transport or ride a bike instead of relying on the car…”It’s good for the environment”… all these little steps do help make a difference, but sometimes we can forget what it all really means and WHY we’re doing it in the first place.

The construction industry has a LOT to answer for in terms of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Figures in the US show that buildings are responsible for almost HALF of all energy consumption (and I’m sure that Australia’s figures aren’t that far behind). See the stats here.

As far as our situation here, “Ecological Footprinting analysis shows that if everyone in the world lived like an Australian (or Victorian) then we would need 4 planets to sustain us”. Clearly that is NOT sustainable. 

So architects, building-designers and all those in the construction industry have a responsibility to ensure that buildings are sensitively designed with sustainability in mind. We will answer more about who, what, when, how next time.

So hope this has helped to answer WHY do sustainable design?

Do you have questions about sustainable design? Please ask away in the comments below!

We’ll aim to answer more questions about sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes, also with reference to our local climate (Regional Ballarat area and Melbourne) in future posts.

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