As we enter a new age of ‘building green’, it is important to remember that traditional vernacular architecture was sustainable well before anyone thought to name it. The early settlers adapted the architectural traditions of their homelands to New England and its climate, and utilized local resources to invent buildings that provided protection and comfort. Their solutions became the traditional architecture which marks this as a unique place.

Today it seems that new products claiming to be green, eco-friendly, and sustainable are everywhere. The uncertain prospects for future energy costs has also snapped the building industry to attention, with EnergyStar ratings and LEED certifications promising engineering solutions for the problems of resource depletion. Yet these “techno-green” innovations generally approach building construction and operation as mitigating the demands of the environment. Traditional building, meanwhile, preserves the environment by building wisely first: understanding the land and climate, using natural or native materials, and preserving resources through reuse. Rob Sanders Architects uses what has been called “commonsense green” to inform the design of new homes, sensitive renovations and adaptive use projects for over 20 years.

Original Green

When considering new construction or significant renovation of existing structures, it is informative to examine how the characteristics of local climate defined early home design. The classic ‘saltbox’ form turned its back to the prevailing winter winds and raised a tall face to the warming sunlight. The chimney was set deeply within the building, with numerous fireplaces to radiate warmth. Buildings were constructed of local materials, as transportation made brick, iron and glass expensive. Wood from the trees and stones from the fields were sustainable resources for building and heating.

The human energy required to build was also precious, so materials were constantly being recycled for reuse. The typical congregational meeting house was built of second- and third-generation timbers by the time it found its permanent home.

Traditional building informs how our buildings should be attuned to climate and place, and steward natural materials for construction and operation. Commonsense green incorporates building solutions which conserve energy, and puts us far ahead when applying techno-green solutions to modern problems.

Getting the Size Right

When considering construction, your first task should be to avoid creating a bigger house than you really need. Even though the average household size continues to shrink, many Americans are becoming accustomed to living in larger homes with a room for every activity. Larger houses require more building materials and energy inputs than smaller houses. More lighting, more appliances, and more A/V gadgets all contribute to the overall energy consumption picture. As annual fuel and electricity use for climate control is approximately proportional to floor area, a house that is 25% larger has fuel bills, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollutant emissions about 25% higher than they could be.

Choose Your Home Location With Care

Green siting incorporates passive solar design. This involves careful placement of the building and its features in relation to the transit of the sun, and can improve the attractiveness and comfort of your house while lowering operating costs. Also, save energy by choosing a home convenient to work, stores, schools, recreation, and mass transit to reduce auto use. And avoid residential development of areas which disturbs or destroys pristine forest or valuable wildlife habitats.

Invest in Energy Efficiency When Building

Better insulation in walls and ceilings, high-efficiency windows, and heat-recovery ventilation systems are all possible investments for long-term savings. Careful design and construction to exclude wind and water are keys to durability and energy efficiency.

Consider incorporating solar and geothermal features into your house. Active solar systems providing electricity or domestic hot water may be cost-effective, especially with current tax incentive programs. Geothermal heating and cooling recovers the earth’s stable temperature to temper heating and cooling demands.

Build It Right The First Time

Because it takes a lot of energy and materials to build a new house, use building materials and craftsmanship which last a long time before needing to be replaced. Nothing is more wasteful than poorly-planned or constructed space which needs renovation before its time.

Remember that preservation is the front line in resource conservation. Historic elements have withstood the test of time, and add character and value to your home.

Use Green Building Materials

A myriad of different types of materials go into a building, many of which have green alternatives. Use traditional, native, or recycled materials whenever possible. When selecting new materials, look for green product features:

  • Products made from environmentally attractive materials
  • Products that don’t contain toxic chemicals
  • Products that reduce the environmental impacts of building operation
  • Products that contribute to a safe, healthy indoor environment
BUILDING GREEN | Rob Sanders Architects, LLC - Wilton, CT