Welcome back to Green Building 101.
Last week we covered how to select an environmentally responsible location for your new abode; this week we’ll begin discussing ways you can improve upon any home site. The SUSTAINABLE SITES section of USGBC‘s LEED for Homes Program outlines various “green” opportunities for reducing the negative impact your home has on the environment. The great thing about these principles is that most can be implemented anytime, regardless of whether you’re still in the design process, or if you’ve been in your home for a lifetime.
So without further ado, here are five measures you can take to create a more sustainable site:
1) Time and nature have sculpted your land; see this as an asset: Most importantly, use what nature has given you by working with existing topography, plants, and views. Touch the earth lightly, rather than cutting deep and covering it with concrete. (If you bought the land to scrape it, you might as well be building on a K-Mart parking lot.) Fortunately, the general public and media often notice when large developments commit the environmental sin of destroying the character of the land (which is probably what attracted buyers in the first place.)
Aboriginal housing by 2002 Pritzker Prize Winner Glenn Murcutt treads lightly on the Australian landscape
2) Vegetation is good, native vegetation is better: Landscaping is a critical component to the livability of any home – but people often optimistically misjudge the viability of plants. First, make an effort to preserve any existing native plants, as they obviously like where they’re living and can possibly be groomed into a low maintenance greenscape. Second, work with a local gardening supply store (not a Big Box) to help you select plants that will grow best given your local climate and soil conditions, reducing the need for excessive watering. Third, seek out organic options for fertilizer (manure) and herbicide (vinegar or corn meal) to prevent any long term negative impact in your garden or nearby streams.
3) Shade, shade, shade: Your driveway, sidewalk, and paved terrace all absorb the sun’s rays during the day, storing it like a battery, and radiating that energy back – even at night. These “hardscapes” form microclimates of hot air pockets that are not only miserable for people, but take a huge toll on the cooling bill of any nearby building. At the city scale, dense collections of hardscape add up to a lot of heat (this is the urban heat island effect,) so the more you can keep these areas shaded, the better off you (and your city) will be. Think trees, pergolas and canopies – oh my!
Nighttime thermal imaging of Atlanta by NASA illustrates the urban heat island effect
And for you advanced players in the heat dissipating game, there’s no place left to go but up – Green Roofs!! Here at Inhabitat, our preference for green roofs runs a close second only to prefab buildings. There is a huge variety of green roof construction systems to fit nearly every building type and location. Stay tuned to Inhabitat for more on greening your roof in the near future.
Cutler Anderson Architects is unmatched in their approach to site sensitivity. Their Reeve Residence proves how elegant and intregal to the design a green roof can be.
4) Where is your water going?: Maybe you’re not yet ready to capture and recycle rainwater, but any precipitation that isn’t soaked up by your lawn runs straight into your city’s storm water system. While this is a natural thing for water to do, it nevertheless picks up the oil, antifreeze, fertilizer, and pesticides that have accumulated in your yard or driveway, contaminating the water system and contributing towards erosion. You can reduce this negative environmental impact simply by directing run-off from driveways and gutters toward your lawn, and providing enough depression for the grass to hold the rainwater a little longer, letting it filter naturally.
Left: unmitigated runoff contributes to erosion, water contaminates Right: Farmers use terraces to hold water for greater absorption and to limit erosion
5) Not all bugs are bad: Rather than spreading poison to eradicate those pesky aphids from your tomato plants, consider some of the alternatives. Thankfully, organic pest control has finally become widely available. Nematodes, diatomaceous earth, and orange peel are just a few of the ways you can fight insects without chemicals. Again, your local garden supply stores should be able to help you choose a product for your specific problem.
Next week we will dive more specifically into water conservation, in and outside of the home, so be sure and check back on Wednesday for more Green Building 101!