Why Build Sustainably?
Kelly Hart is your host here at greenhomebuilding.com, and has been involved with green building concepts for much of his life. Kelly spent many years as a professional remodeler, during which time he became acquainted with many of the pitfalls of conventional construction. He has also worked in various fields of communication media, including still photography, cinematography, animation (he has a patent for a process for making animated films), video production and now website development. One of the more recent video programs that he produced is A Sampler of Alternative Homes: Approaching Sustainable Architecture, which explores a whole range of building concepts that are earth friendly. Kelly is knowledgeable about both simple design concepts and more complex technological aspects of home building that enhance sustainable living. He has even designed and built a solar-electric car that he drives around his neighborhood. Kelly, and his wife Rosana, live in the earthbag/papercrete home that is profiled on the earthbag page. He is available, at a modest fee, for consulting about sustainable building design, either for remodeling existing structures to more fully embrace these concepts, or for new architectural designs.
Q: Why do you believe that Green Architecture is the way to go?
A: The reason to live sustainably, utilizing only as much energy as can be provided through renewable sources in a globally equitable fashion, is to provide hope that future generations of humans, and all other life forms on earth, will have an environment conducive to healthful and flourishing life.
Q: What makes a house sustainable?
A: Of course there are various levels of sustainability, but I would consider a house that truly provided all or most of its occupant's needs in terms of energy, water, waste reuse, and food, and did so without being a burden on the environment or society and in a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing way would be sustainable.
Q: Why should schools of architecture teach sustainable design?
A: Why should we do anything sustainably? The answer in all cases is to insure a decent, secure, healthy life for all species on this planet. The alternative is not a pleasant prospect.
Q: In 1980, my underground house project won the 6th grade science fair. In 1995, my first home (timber frame from refurbished timbers) was successfully passive solar. Now I am 35, in college. My Eng 402 research paper is "Excited about energy efficient homes - Why you should care". If you could say one thing to a group of impressionable 22 year old students, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
A: Why should one care about energy efficient homes? The reason to live sustainably, utilizing only as much energy as can be provided through renewable sources in a globally equitable fashion, is to provide hope that future generations of humans, and all other life forms on earth, will have an environment conducive to healthful and flourishing life.
Q: What trends have you seen that are prompting consumers to request, and contractors to offer, green homes? And what barriers remain?
A: I am averaging some 1500 unique visitors each day to my website www.greenhomebuilding.com. People find this site because they are interested in knowing more about some aspect of sustainable architecture. People are becoming aware of the need to be responsible about how energy is developed and used, and they realize the pitfalls of not accepting this responsibility.
The barriers to adopting many aspects of sustainable architecture lie mostly in our minds, which tend toward habitual behavior and thinking. The building codes that regulate most construction support existing industries and technologies, so there is little impetus to look beyond the conventional, even though it is not sustainable.
Q: I am a high school student and I am doing a report about sustainable architecture. Has sustainable architecture made a positive impact on the environment and the pollution?
A: Absolutely! This is really what it is all about.
Q: I was wondering what some disadvantages are for using using cement in building a home?
A: From an environmental standpoint cement has a negative impact, because manufacturing it emits about a ton of greenhouse gas (CO2) into the atmosphere for every ton of cement manufactured. Then you need to add the use of fuel and emissions in transporting the heavy cement from the factory to wherever it is used. Cement is also a rather cold, unyielding material to live in.
Q: Green building has many positive effects on the environment. What are the most significant environmental benefits?
A: Any time materials and techniques are used that reduce the embodied energy that goes into a house, there is a like reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and less consumption of un-renewable fuels. In addition to this, you should factor in the health-enhancing benefits of using non-toxic materials and practices that yield healthy homes.
Q: Are the environmental benefits of green building the main incentive for people to build green or is there a stronger motivation pushing the movement?
A: Environmental benefits are obviously a prime factor, but potentially greater economy can also be a factor.
C: I just wanted to drop you a note to say thank you. I am second in command of a company called Bayou Contracting in New Orleans. I have poured over your website for the last few weeks and learned more than I ever thought was possible. You have done me a great service and all the people I will serve in the future to make this world a better place are certainly seeded with your good work. Thank you so much. I am not sure how fast I can get all this started with many of my clients, but I have already started educating my people on ways that we can work to make life better for all.
R: It is extremely gratifying to receive your note. This is why I established the website in the first place, was to help people focus on sustainable solutions to our housing needs. Thank you for sharing this with me...and good luck with the tremendous job to be done in New Orleans and that area.
Q: I am in the process of filing my Federal Tax Exemption forms for a Multi-Species Animal Sanctuary to be located East or Southeast of the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas Metroplex. HELP....!!! I need your expertise, suggestions, and quotes for a few (2 to 5) structures for the animals, office space, medical care, etc. I would like to use sustainable materials (adobe, cob, strawbale, etc.) for the constructions. Please advise with how well you think these will hold up, their practicality, costs, ease of construction, etc. I need some written quotes for construction for my Federal Filings. Are you able to help me with this ???
A: I see no reason why an animal sanctuary could not be built with natural materials; to the contrary, I believe that the use of natural materials will likely lead to a healthier environment for the animals as well as their human care-givers. Natural materials, such as adobe, cob, strawbales, cordwood, etc., have been proven to be durable over time; indeed some of the oldest buildings in the country were built with such natural materials. The environmental advantages are many, in terms of low embodied energy and the fact that they do not off-gas toxins as do some industrial building materials. And then there is the natural feeling of the space that is hard to quantify, but many will respond positively to. Also most of these building techniques create a breathable shell that does not hold in stale air; the building actually respires. The cost of building naturally often compares favorably to more conventional approaches, especially when volunteers are available to help with many of the unskilled tasks. And then, of course, there is the satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best to build sustainably so that future generations can thank you for your effort.
Q: How and when did you first became interested in ecological issues, and what did you see as the most urgent issues then and now?
A: I believe that I have been concerned about ecological issues since I was a small child. I grew up on a bird refuge in rural Idaho, and those in my family were great admirers of natural systems. We took weekly field trips into the local mountains to explore and be in nature. My folks were very conservation minded.
Preserving the habitat for wild animals, especially birds, was an early goal which became extended to the habitat of all animals, including man. My father was a builder and a historian, and I learned from him the value of preservation of old buildings and recycling used materials. I also learned how to build with such natural materials as stone and whole tree parts. So respecting nature and natural systems by carefully preserving the built environment while using natural, non-industrial materials has been important to me.
Ultimately, the most important issues are how we use energy and how we use available resources. These aspects of human endeavor need to be balanced so that natural ecosystems are not destroyed or become imbalanced.
Q: How important is it for families to start building or remodeling now with green techniques?
A: This is very important because this is a critical time to slow down the pollution that contributes to global warming and to become in balance with the natural systems. Sustainable architecture means providing for a healthy future for mankind and our planet...without this healthy future the picture looks pretty bleak.
Q: What are the less commonly known benefits to being green (if any)? Usually people think "save the earth" and sometimes even home cost savings (utility bills).
A: Ultimately there is a comfort level that would surprise most people; green homes are often more comfortable while they use less energy.
Q: When and why did you begin to design Eco-friendly homes?
A: I have been interested in ecological design since I was a kid. My father was involved in lots of construction projects where he would use natural field stones or recycled wood, and I admired this. As I got older, I did a lot of building myself and became convinced that making things that would last a long time was especially valuable. Later, as I read about various design concepts that relate to energy conservation, such as passive solar design, I realized that the design itself is critical to making a successful building. This is all important because we can no longer waste energy the way we used to, since it ultimately pollutes our environment and diminishes resources that future generations will need.
Q: State the two main functions of a breathing house. Explain why these are important. Identify which building materials encourage this and which building materials prevent breathing from happening.
A: I believe that a house that breathes is a healthier house, both for its occupants and for itself. This is because a house that respires tends to collect less of the toxic gases that are given off by many modern household materials and products. Also, impermeable materials, such as plastic, paint and tar can trap moisture within the building shell which can lead to deterioration and mold. A breathable wall made with such materials as strawbales and earthen plaster will dry out even if it does get damp.
Q: What have made you engage in sustainable building?
A: The buildings we live in and the way we live in them is one of the main choices that we have control over as individuals that can make a substantial positive difference for future generations.
Q: Could you tell me what is your philosophy behind sustainable living; the what if's and the consequences if we do not?
A: I have done a lot of building myself and am convinced that making things that last a long time is especially valuable. Designing our buildings to be energy efficient, such as using passive solar concepts for heating and cooling, is critical. This is all important because we can no longer waste energy the way we have been, since it ultimately pollutes our environment and diminishes resources that future generations will need.
Q: Can green building help our health and how?
A: Because many of the materials used in green building are natural, or non-industrial, there is rarely any toxicity, such VOC's, that can impair health. Also, green building encourages breathable wall systems that diminish the possibility of molds or funguses forming. Green architecture tends to utilize passive solar heating and cooling strategies, so there is less likelihood of pollution from fumes and the homes can be more comfortable, with less variation in temperature. There are many reasons to go green!
Q: I'm doing a project for my senior seminar class on green buildings and sustainable buildings and I was wondering if you had any information regarding what will happen if this issue doesn't become more prevalent in communities.
A: To me "green" and "sustainable" are synonymous, so by definition, if we don't move toward green building our activities will not be sustainable. In other words, we won't be able to continue in our accustomed ways and there will be a disconnect between our needs and our ability to meet them. This could have dire consequences for humanity and all life on Earth.
Q: Why is sustainable building important to you?
A: The reason for building greener homes is really quite important. We need to live more lightly on the earth, because the degradation of our environment is compromising not only our survival, but the survival of most other living beings on the planet. We can no longer ignore the impact we have on the earth's ecosystems. The way we live, the choices we make in providing for our needs, will have an enormous influence on the quality of life of those who will follow us. Now is the time to take responsibility for the consequences of our life styles!
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