Green Home Building and Sustainable Architecture

Sustainable architecture is an exciting and important field, with many people reviving traditional methods of building and others creating innovations to established practices. Kelly Hart, webmaster of the popular website www.greenhomebuilding.com, posts text and photos featuring what he discovers from around the world.

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Location: Crestone, Colorado, United States

Kelly Hart has been involved with green building concepts for much of his life. He has also worked in various fields of communication media, including still photography, cinematography, animation, video production and now website development. Kelly has lived in an earthbag/papercrete home that he built and consults about sustainable building design.

February 17, 2009

The Most Popular Green Home Building Books

I sell a lot of books from www.greenhomebuilding.com, mostly as affiliate links through Amazon.com. Out of curiosity my ex-librarian wife did a search through our sales records of the last four years and discovered some interesting trends. Our top seller was Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques, and we averaged selling over 6 of these every month.

Close behind this is The Hand-Sculpted House: A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage. Actually, books about building with cob are very popular, with two others showing up in the top 11 best sellers: Building With Cob: A Step-by-step Guide and The Cob Builders Handbook: You Can Hand-Sculpt Your Own Home. This makes cob building the single most popular topic!

General books about green building are also very popular, with Building Green: A Complete How-To Guide to Alternative Building Methods selling about 5 copies each month. The New Ecological Home: A Complete Guide to Green Building Options and The Good House Book: A Common-Sense Guide to Alternative Homebuilding were also in the top 15 best sellers.

Two books about underground and earth-sheltered construction made the top 25: Earth-Sheltered Houses: How to Build an Affordable Underground House and The Fifty Dollar and Up Underground House Book. Actually the first of these is more about cordwood building, so if you combine this with Cordwood Building: The State of the Art, author Rob Roy has two titles among the top 7 best sellers.

The Stonebuilder's Primer: A Step-By-Step Guide for Owner-Builders, The Solar House: Passive Heating and Cooling, and Earthship: How to Build Your Own, Vol. 1 all made the top 10 list, selling about 3 each month. Then, if you add to this The Tire House Book, which was also among the top 25, it is obvious that building with tires is a popular concept.

There were three books on the top 25 list about adobe and rammed earth building: Adobe: Build It Yourself, The Owner-Built Adobe House, and The Rammed Earth House: Revised Edition. This makes methods of using earth for construction extremely popular.

Strawbale building also had three titles in the top 25: Small Strawbale: Natural Homes, Projects & Designs, More Straw Bale Building: A Complete Guide to Designing and Building with Straw, and Serious Straw Bale: A Home Construction Guide for All Climates. Considering how popular strawbale building has become in the last decade this is not surprising.

There are two books about storing food in root cellars that made the top 25 list: Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables and Build Your Own underground Root Cellar.

One of my favorite books, Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter, a book published by Lloyd Kahn which features the earthbag/papercrete house I built in Colorado along with many others, made the top 25 list.

The final book on the list is Ceramic Houses and Earth Architecture: How to Build Your Own, a book written over a decade ago by Nader Khalili of earthbag building fame.

It is gratifying to see the popularity of all of these books, and many others that didn't quite make the list, that feature various aspects of natural building and sustainable architecture. It bodes well for the future.

February 11, 2009

Sustainable Communities and For The Greener Good

The National Building Museum’s website (www.nbm.org) has recently started offering videos and “Q&A Forums” after many of the lectures in their Sustainable Communities and For The Greener Good program series.

A few weeks after the event, the speakers’ answers to selected questions are posted online. Both of these lecture series address issues related to sustainable development, green architecture, government policy and more. Through these forums, people who can’t attend their programs still have a chance to interact with the experts -- and they open the audience up to, potentially, the entire world.

They recently completed their first Q&A, with developer Jonathan Rose, and are currently accepting questions for the editors of National Geographic and C about their “Sustainability Roundtable” presentation on global warming and its effects on the built environment. You can find links to both forums (and to upcoming ones as they become available) at www.nbm.org. The question window for the Sustainability Roundtable is open until February 24.

I watched the introductory portion of the "For The Greener Good" video, which includes a sobering presentation by Dennis Dimick, executive editor of National Geographic magazine. His slide show graphically demonstrates the effects of global warming. The following discussion between him and Robert Ivy, editor of Architectural Record magazine is worthwhile.

February 04, 2009

New National Green Building Standard

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in conjunction with the International Code Council (ICC) has developed a new National Green Building Standard. This has also been approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which is a first for this organization. This new Green Home Building Standard is similar to the LEED process for evaluating and certifying homes, but is probably less costly to perform. It does rely on independent inspections to verify claims that are made. These standards will help home buyers realize just how green the claims might be for any given home they might be considering to purchase.

You can take a look at the criteria for this new standard, and even proceed with evaluating any specific project, by visiting the NAHB Green Building Program website. I did this and plugged in data for the earthbag/papercrete home I built in Colorado a decade ago. It took about an hour to do this, and I am pleased to report that I garnered a gold rating in almost all of the categories.

To give you a better idea of what they are evaluating, I'll go through some of the specfics of what they are looking for.

Lot Design. Here they want to assure that the building site is chosen in such a way as to not overly disrupt the existing environment, or better, to provide infill rather than develop virgin land, or even possibly release previously impervious lot coverage or clean up something toxic. Points can also be gained by paying attention to solar orientation, storm water management, and water-efficient landscapping.

Resource Efficiency. The very first criteria here is maintaining a small footprint, although I was dissappointed that they don't even have a choice for building a one-bedroom home! The use of advanced framing techniques or panelized construction is awarded points. Frost protected shallow foundations, drained footings, and appropriate grading around foundations is encouraged. Covered entries and large roof overhangs, termite resistant construction and proper waterproofing and flashing are good. The use of recycled, renewable, and local materials, along with a life-cycle analysis for materials, can all gain points.

Energy Efficiency. Here they consider the type of heating system used. Other appliances, water heaters and lights are evaluated. Both solar heating and passive cooling are awarded points, as is the use renewable sources of electricity.

Water Efficiency. The use of water-efficient appliances, irrigation techniques, rainwater collection, wastewater reuse and compost toilets are all encouraged.

Indoor Environmental Quality. They like to see the use of direct-vented gas appliances, air filtration systems, and moisture/condensation control. One area where I think they missed the boat here is in not recognizing the value of breathable wall systems in maintaining indoor air quality.

Homeowner Education. This encourages builders or sellers to provide good documentation for homeowners in terms of the use of installed systems and general maintenance.

Global Concepts. This is primarly concerned with minimizing the use of low VOCs which pollute the air.

All in all I would say that this new standard for evaluating the "greeness" of buildings is a giant step in the right direction. Virtually all of the basic criteria for building green that I have been advocating for years at www.greenhomebuilding.com have been recognized to some extent.