Whenever it comes to any project, most of us are aware of the old triangle of expectation of “good, fast, cheap – pick two” and no truer is the sentiment than when looking at designing and building a home.
However, when you decide to take on a project with additional philosophies, then it becomes far more complicated.
In this case, we’ve decided to design and build a fully autonomous home that is designed on passive principles with three factors that guide the decisions undertaken – a fixed budget ceiling, a desire to ensure environmental sustainability and a desire for natural and healthy materials.
Here we have a new triangle of expectations now – affordable, sustainable and healthy. But is it truly a triangle or more of a venn diagram that we need? with a magical grey area that can provide a balance of the three?
However, those three principles are not so clear cut. Each aspect has its own set of factors and principles. How do we define sustainability for example? I know the jury is still out debating the merits of different definitions, so I make a choice based on my own “SEE” principles.
For a product to be sustainable, I expect that it encompasses all three levels of social, environmental and economic sustainability.
This tranlsates to a very complicated set of principles that needs to be taken into account – for each product (the parts) and the overall project (the whole).
- The first principle we already have talked about in previous posts, was Land use. Part of the choice and decision making of the “whole” was the footprint on the land is kept to an absolute minimum.not just on the environment, but on the site (i.e. reduced amount of earthworks and smaller physical footprint) and even to the aesthetic impact on the landscape.
- Combining nicely as a means to manage sustainability (and quite often costs) is to consider the embodied energy of products. Ensuring the minimum amount of energy is utilised in the sourcing, manufacture, transport and installation of each part assists in the reduction in the overall embodied cost of the building.
- This is a natural segway into the consideration of locally sourced materials. These may be from on the site itself (e.g. earth or bluestone) or from within the region (e.g. local quarry based driveway toppings or lime).
- Continuing on and often as part of the evaluation of the embodied costs is the environmental cost of the materials used. Evaluating and avoiding the use of materials that utilise environmentally damaging processes, utilise non-renewable or dwindling supplies and those that use poisons and damaging processes in production is a large part of the ethos.
- Which in turn, leads to low toxicity materials. Many modern materials – especially those categorised ass commodity or “ready to use” contain a range of toxic materials which can impact on health and vitality.
So, what does this all lead to? Making decisions about utilising recycled, reclaimed or salvaged timber supplies over rainforest or imported woods is a reasonably easy decision to make and one that does not offer much in way of forcing us to battle the triangles or venns. Even sustainable power – whether solar, wind or hyro powered are fairly easy decisions to make. Using water responsibly is damn near a necessity in Australia, let alone when one relies on rainwater alone. Even waste management and recyclability are easy to deal with.
Within some decisions, certain parts of the equation must be eliminated. Take the power generation, for example. It is currently impossible to choose batteries that would be considered healthy or non toxic. So, we must ignore that part of the ethos.
The hard decisions come in the least expected ways.
Take a fireplace.
Does one choose a locally manufactured fireplace? Or an imported kit?
Surely the embodied energy of shipping a product to Australia makes that decision easy, right?
What if I told you that the imported kit was made in such a way that the product’s manufacture was less resource intensive, less environmentally impacting and was less wasteful of the materials it required in its manufacturing?
What if I then told you that the way the imported fireplace was far more efficient in the way it utilised the calories in the firewood? That it burnt cleaner? Radiated heat longer?
Would it be worth the 200% price tag over the local product?
That’s just one of the parts … I am processing the same information for every little part of the design of this house.
Sometimes, the triangles and the venns will attack you and give you sleepless nights.