20
Oct

Low Energy Showhome

I've had an interest in "GREEN" "SUSTAINABLE" "ECOLOGICALLY FRIENDLY" "LOW ENERGY" architectural design for as long as I've been involved in architecture. These terms have different meaning to different people. For me, they overlap and merge so that they become a discourse of responsibility. A responsibility to myself, as a home owner, as a designer who says he believes in these "TITLES", and as someone living on this planet, to do something that benefits the environment around me.

Like many designers, this responsibility has been expressed by trying to talk my clients into reducing their ecological footprint (another trendy title/term), by suggesting they increase the amount of insulation they specify in their house, suggesting they consider PV cells, suggesting they consider energy recovery systems, suggesting they reduce their energy usage by using lower energy options for water heating and home heating, and so on. Sometimes I get a win and a client will accept some of these suggestions.

Again, like many designers, I have an economic reality. For our architectural studio to be viable I need clients and clients who refer other potential clients.  While most clients say they would like to consider my suggestions, they also have a budget whether set by themselves or by their banks. When it comes to deciding if that budget covers larger bedrooms for their children or a bigger living room or a triple garage versus PV cells/hot water heat pump/extra insulation... the fore mentioned more often win over the aft mentioned. Hence, I don't push my "responsibility" too hard on my clients. 

So where does that leave me with my "responsibility" when it comes to designing my own home? I too, like my clients, have a budget. I would like to say that it's a huge budget that would allow me to design and own my ultimate design statement - my ultimate dream home with everything my wife and I have ever wanted in a home. I would like to say that I have many, many years left in which I could pay off the mortgage that would be needed for this ultimate dream but I can not. 

Where does that leave me? I am designing probably that last home I will own. I am designing the final chance of me expressing myself as my own client and designer. I am also designing the final chance of me expressing publicly that I do truly believe in "responsibility" - of replacing my platitudes with actual  concrete, metal and timber.  

This has taken me on quite a journey. My wife & I have owned our piece of land for 2 and 1/2 years now and I have been designing houses for that site since we purchased it. I won't tell you have many houses I've designed but a lot is a close enough description.  The final design is a culmination of that journey and a result of me wrestling dreams, practicality, reality and responsibility. The final design also presented me with an opportunity. Here was my chance to rid myself of theory and see if everything I have been suggesting to my clients actually produces the benefits the "green brigade" claim.

So here is my experiment - can I design and have constructed, a house built for a modest budget that will: maintain it's internal environment with little or no additional energy needed; provide a healthy environment to live in (temperature and moisture); lower my power costs to a point that if/when I am retired I'm not considering selling body organs to keep the lights on?

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