A few thoughts on sustainable housing:

In this web site, we are considering only one aspect of sustainability—"Green or Sustainable" building. A broad, commonly accepted, definition is the United Nations' Brundtland definition (1987): ”Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". There are three primary components to sustainability: environmental, economic, and sociocultural (some people add the word "justice" after each component e.g., environmental justice). Green/Sustainable building focuses on the environmental aspects, but it's important to keep in mind the broader concept.

People have different ideas as to what building sustainably means, and what attributes of sustainability they want to use, or can afford to incorporate into their house. But what they choose to apply is important, because even small steps are an improvement over the thoughtless use of often inefficient conventional techniques, and materials.

The ideas below will help sustain you and the beautiful planet that you live on.

Small Changes
(or not so small)

To make your house
more energy efficient and comfortable

[ Click Here ]

Before You Build

An important key to reaching sustainable building goals is to spend less money.
Here's how to Spend Less Money:
Orient the house to the south—use free passive solar energy.
Insulate far beyond the codes.
Make sure the house is airtight.
Choose energy miser appliances, and design for less energy use.
Find and reuse surplus building materials.
Choose low maintenance, and non-toxic materials.

Most Importantly—Design A Smaller House

Be Wiser... Be A Miser!

It is a fact that your home will use more energy and resources over its lifetime than you will use in constructing it. So consider the long view.

Using less household energy = less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A few more ideas:

Yes, we said it above, but it's really important—Design a smaller, but comfortable house; large houses use more materials, and require more energy.

Strongly, consider earth berming or earth sheltering. It will greatly reduce the energy needed for heating and cooling—saving you dollars, offers protection from the wind, provides sound attenuation, leaves more habitat for animals, and brings less visual crowding to the valley.

• Use of materials that are renewable e.g., straw, soil, and wood from local or certified sources.

• Keep the "embedded energy" of materials used to build the house as low as possible. ("Embedded Energy" is the total amount of energy needed to produce, and transport, a product to your site e.g., aluminum has a high embedded energy, while local strawbales and local wood have a low embedded energy).

• Insulate far beyond code requirements—codes are minimum standards. Extra insulation (R-60 for ceilings, and R-40 for walls, is recommended for the Methow Valley), along with building a smaller house, are the two most important money saving decisions you can make. Yes, you may need deeper studs and rafters, and it will cost you a very small amount now, but the savings and comfort will be considerable over the long run (you’ll also burn less fuel for heating, which creates less pollution, and saves scarce resources—making the future possible for all of us).

• Choose the most energy efficient windows that you can afford. They will more than pay for themselves in saved energy and comfort.

• Take advantage of free solar heating by placing large windows on the south facing side, and minimizing north facing windows. A corollary here is to use the correct amount of overhang for the eaves, so that the low winter sun can enter deeply into the house, but the higher summer sun is blocked. Also, use fewer, and smaller west  facing window to reduce excessive summer heating. Just facing your home to the south saves tons of carbon dioxide over the life of the building!

• Be aware of prevailing winds and place the house accordingly, earth-berm it, or plant for wind protection.

The most important thing we can tell you on this website is to consider the fact that your home will use more energy and resources over its lifetime than you will use in constructing it. So consider the longview when it comes to energy efficient design, water use, building materials durability and nontoxicity.

• Manufacture, to the extent possible, the energy used by the house (or at least, the efficient use of what energy is needed).

• Minimize construction waste, and recycle as much as possible the waste that is created. A corollary here is to use recycled materials if possible, rather then new materials, in the construction.

• The site is considered in terms of: placing the house that minimizes damage to the environment; the use of solar energy; native vegetation; and visual footprint of the house, reducing light pollution, etc.

• Using construction materials that are non-toxic to the owner, builder, and the people who manufacture the meterials, or at least minimizing their use if there are no reasonable alternatives.

• If possible, buy locally, this keeps your money in the Methow Valley, creating jobs and making local business viable (sustainable).

• Larry Halford, a Methow valley builder who has worked in numerous building styles suggested this thought to us: "The Okanogan County building inspectors have prior experience with, and already understand, many alternative building methods. What may seem new to you, is probably familiar to them.
If you do not understand how the building codes will apply to your new building method, call them first and discuss what you plan to do, and what they will need for compliance. You won't be able to just sneak something past them, and you might be putting yourself in a compromised position. If you know what you are doing (seek advice if you don't), and are upfront with them, you will find them to be an asset, not an adversary, to you in building a safe, well done, durable building." Okanogan County.com

Of course, there are others, but when making design or material decisions, ask yourself these questions:

• How does it effect me —now and tomorrow?

• How will it effect others—now and tomorrow?