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Green Architecture and Green Home Plans

Contemporary Ecotecture

Classically Styled Ecotecture

On my website, www.ecotecturestudios.com, I have plans that I have created for clients and speculative construction over the last twelve years.  Some of these plans are larger, but they are all based on the “Not so Big House” concept proposed by Ms. Susanka.  The designs have only rooms you need and use on a regular basis – very few have formal living rooms and a few don’t have formal dining rooms.  The plans on my website for purchase were built Green- recycled waste, recycled lumber materials, advanced framing techniques, low-e glazing on windows, high wall & attic insulation (R-26 & R-50 respectively), high efficiency mechanical equipment & appliances, and the use of materials with low embodied energy numbers.  So, you don’t have to build a contemporary, Ecotecture style home to be Green.  However, it is very hard to produce a neutral carbon footprint and reduce the amount of materials involved in the construction.  The ’transitional’ homes I propose would be somewhat more contemporary in style but introduce some of the Ecotecture elements I have described on earlier posts – earth insulation, some living roofs, PV & wind power generation, and an emphasis on using recycled materials and materials with a low embodied energy.  This transitional home would have sustainable elements and perhaps obtain a neutral carbon footprint, but the elements wouldn’t be integrated into the architecture.  They would be visible and appear to be Greenband-aids or additive to the architecture.  My ‘sustainable’ home proposal is true Ecotecture – blend the ’house’ with the renewable energy elements, the natural surroundings and make the home feel like it is contiguous with nature.  You can neither ’camoflague’ the home nor make it invisible.  The home needs to be a home – the old saying form follows function.  The design or appearance (form) should appear to be a dwelling that is a sustainable dwelling (function).  My vision for these homes is a spectacular blend of all the elements I have discussed in my blog posts:

Use materials that do not require large amounts of energy to produce – materials with low embodied energy numbers (EE) Photovoltaic Panels (Solar Panels, PV’s) being used to shade and control weather (awnings, pergolas, shed roofs, etc.) and produce electricity Wind turbines used as architectural elements and boldly displayed Living roofs that both insulate and provide a raised garden with spectacular views Using the earth to insulate large portions of the home rooms & garages that do not require fenestration can be buried and graded to be part of the landscape bring earth insulation to the bottom of wall fenestration & plant flower gardens so it feels like European flower boxes current construction places your landscaping 3′-4′ below your window and therefore unseen from the interior Installation of geothermal heat pumps that use the earth’s heat deep below the surface to heat and cool the dwelling Apply daylighting and passive solar techniques when feasible and economical Use low energy consuming appliances & mechanical equipment that can be run off the electricity generated on-site  Install LED lamps for electrical lighting and smart control systems to reduce energy consumption Use gray water systems that recycle sink & shower water to be used in toilets Install rain barrels and large cisterns to store water for landscaping irrigation Make the architecture appear to be an element of the earth – the dwelling and nature produce a symbiotic relationship (the dwelling resides upon the earth and interacts in such a way that it enhances the survival of the planet) The architecture is awe inspiring – it is beautiful, new, intriguing, an engineering masterpiece and ultimately inspiring for others to construct the same style home

I believe Ecotecture, like modernism, prarie style, colonial, organic architecture, etc., will eventually become a noted architectural style.  It will be the first style, however, whose form will be driven by the function to be a sustainable steward of the earth.

Geothermal Heat Pumps – Green to the Core

Geothermal Heat Exchanging Loop

Heat “pumps” are nothing more than heat exchangers – they “pump” refrigerant from an external unit (the condenser) to an internal unit (the evaporative coil).  The geothermal heat pump (GHP) works in the same manner – except the condenser uses the earth’s consistent 55°F temperature vs. the outside air’s extremely variable temperature.  The condenser portion of the heating system is laid out in a shallow grid system (horizontal ground loop) or is drilled deep into the earth (vertical ground loop).  The system works by exchanging heat (or more appropriately, energy) between the air in our homes with the consistently heated earth below our feet.  The maintenance costs of the systems are low because the pumps are mechanically simple and the heat exchanger is below ground.  As a rule of thumb, a geothermal heating exchanger costs approximately $2,500/ton plus drilling costs (10k-30k).  On average, GHP’s save 70% of the energy used in operating conventional systems – the pump cannot be offset by the earth’s constant temperature.  So, if you couple a GHP with a PV canopy (electricity to run the pump) you have created a carbon neutral heating and cooling system, produced excess electricty to sell to your utility or run your lights and created shaded, elegant outdoor living space.  Furthermore, the 30% Homeowner Tax Credit with no cap applies to both the GHP and the PV system.  Sounds like a win-win-win to me!

Fallingwater – Green before Green was Cool


Fallingwater's Famous Exterior

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is his most memorable work.  Designed in 1934, it has inspired countless architects since its inception.  Fallingwater blended architecture with the natural ecosystem in a way that had never been seen.  The concept was Green in its interaction with the ecosystem, but the elements used in the construction were not ‘sustainable’.  Although the building is a style to emulate in Ecotecture, the continued interaction with the environment must be advanced.  The design must incorporate earth as an insulator (living roofs and walls without windows), PV and wind power generation, advanced construction techniques and the use of sustainable construction materials.  In closing, Fallingwater can be used as a guide for sustainable design in its interaction with the natural ecosystem and its overall design, but the introduction of new Green technology must be infused into the architecture.  It must become Ecotecture to truly reach the next level of sustainablity.

PV Structures are Green & Beautiful

Example PV Canopy

You can read about my beliefs on how PV’s (Solar Panels) should be integrated into architecture at www.ecotecturestudios.com/sustainable.html.  I believe that they should be used as elements of art such as awnings, patio covers and pergolas.  There is no need to place them on your roof as an afterthought and eye-sore.  They can be blended seemlessly into new architecture or added onto existing homes in beautiful and useful ways.  Some great examples I found for commerical applications can be viewed at FlickrSolargen1 and Sunengineer.   For residential examples of PV structures you can visit GoGreenSolar, FlorianSolarProdcuts , GreenEdmonton and SolarLiving.  You can see from these examples that PV systems can be beautifully integrated with your Green building or home.  These examples clearly show that being Green can make your building architecturally stunning and unique!

Seeing Green
May 7th, 2009

Seeing Green

Welcome to our blog! The world of sustainable architecture and green building is evolving so rapidly that it’s hard for even a ‘green geek’ like me to keep up on the latest materials and trends that make the vision of sustainable living a reality. I am constantly researching new products, techniques, materials and vendors that can allow us to push the envelope in green design. I intend for this blog to be a forum to share my latest findings and theories in eco-friendly architecture and how I’m incorporating them into Ecotecture Studios’ gallery of sustainable designs. From living roof systems to heat transfer methods to photovoltaic systems and much, much more, our mission is simple: to design beautiful, sustainable homes. Check out our new Web site at www.ecotecturestudios.com and stay posted to this blog (or subscribe via RSS feed) for regular updates and news.