Monday, February 21, 2011
Sustainability Is Not a New Idea
My grandfather would pick up a bent nail, walk it over to his dusty and scarred workbench in the farm garage, and, using a ball peen hammer and his ancient anvil, he would straighten the nail for re-use in the next project. Nothing on the Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania farm was wasted. Table and cooking scraps were fed to the hogs, as were loose shell eggs and dead chickens. Wood scraps from building projects were used for heating fuel. Animal waste was used as fertilizer. I was the low man on the totem pole, so I had the questionable privilege of pulling the chicken manure spreader, a horrendous machine that flung the manure on to the fields with rotating chains that dip and throw, dip and throw. I still use tractors today just like the Farmall that pulled that spreader, more than 50 years old and still going strong. These machines are solid, durable and sustainable well beyond the typical meaning of these words.
Sustainability is not a new idea. In fact, it is a very old idea rooted in frugality, necessity, and utility. Diligently selecting quality durable goods, carefully maintaining those products or materials, and reaping a long return from those choices is original sustainability. Directly recycling or re-using waste or materials is original sustainability. Turning down the winter thermostat and wearing a sweater is original sustainability. Doing without what you do not need is original sustainability. Conservation is original sustainability.
A long-term affordable and sustainable house fits comfortably with the original idea of sustainability. Choose a smaller house that uses fewer materials. Require a strong and durable house. Select a better house now and reap the benefits over time. Ask for a home that uses half the energy of a typical house. Choose a healthy and comfortable house. Learn how to operate and maintain your home for optimal performance. Know the things that you can do right now like changing furnace filters regularly for positive impact on your health and wallet. Select a climate appropriate house. Ask for a home oriented and designed for passive heating and passive cooling. Use daylight instead of artificial light. Choose a house where the interior is connected to the exterior. Select substance in lieu of false decoration, better insulation instead of plastic shutters or fake gables.
Every sustainable choice has its pros and cons. My incredibly durable Farmall tractors have terrible fuel economy. Bamboo is a rapidly renewable material but it typically ships from Asia. Foam insulation helps create a very energy efficient house but is difficult to deconstruct, separate, and recycle at the end of its useful life. Each decision must be made in the context of the total green building system and based on your parameters and current building science information.
An affordable and sustainable house is a house that would make sense to my Grandfather. A home where he would nod and notice that it is a substantive home, well-built, and solid. A home without a lot of flash or glitter but that is warm, conservation-minded, and comfortable. A house that really is the American dream.