Its Not Easy Being Green

Its the easiest thing in the world to heat a building using the sun.  What's hard is keeping it warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  Does your architect calculate the solar angles for your exact location and climate and design accordingly?  The effect of “green building” also translates into lower heating and cooling costs, less job-site waste, and less use of unsustainable materials.

 Green architecture becomes ever more important, and indeed more popular, as it becomes more and more clear that man must learn to walk softly on the earth.

When people think of energy conservation, they may think of freezing in the dark.  People tend to equate sustainable architecture with active solar technology, which may seem complicated and inconvenient.  But no matter how environmentally friendly an idea seems to be, it really isn't sustainable if it doesn't make people contented and comfortable.  

Heiland Hoff Architecture is committed to producing healthy, nature-inspired buildings that are easy on the environment.  Elements of passive solar heating and cooling are built into every idea on our drawing boards.  But people who live and work in buildings created by Heiland Hoff Architecture may never realize that they are conserving energy; they just know they are enjoying a delightful space that makes them happy, and that they are physically comfortable.  

Current events have made being “green” equivalent to being cool.  But Heiland Hoff’s longstanding commitment to sustainability dates back to well before the current emphasis on “green” technology, and before the formation of the US Green Building Council and LEED rating system.  The federal government maintains an official website, www.greenbuildingpages.com/links/paperlinks.html which is devoted to educating Americans on how to build using green technology.  The website maintains a staff of professional readers who compile lists of books worthy of study by people interested in green technology. In the bibliography, the website has a list of recommended reading material.  Nearly all of the recommended books listed are popular coffee table books, best-sellers that are available at any bookstore.  However, one of the recommended books is “A Sustainable Living Complex in Bremerton, Washington”, published in 1990, by Heiland Hoff.  This was his graduate thesis at Cal Poly, and it is only available for reading at the reference desk at the Cal Poly library!  He was rather surprised to discover that the federal government recommends his architecture school graduate thesis to be critical reading for the average consumer.  But it does demonstrate his credentials as an authority on what is green and what isn’t, and it proves that he was committed to sustainability back in 1990, when the rest of America was obsessed with conspicuous consumption.  

It is imperative that buildings stand the test of time.  But standing the test of time means more than mere structural soundness.  Needs change with time.  A building can be constructed to meet only the needs of today, or flexibility can be built into the design.  The latter approach is part of being green.  No matter how much green technology is employed in a building, it isn’t green if it is torn down and added to a landfill in thirty years.  

The biggest setback to green architecture is up-front costs.  Typically, a green building costs more up-front, but pays for itself with time.  This is known as life cycle costs.  The longer the life cycle, the greater the advantage of green architecture. 

Aging in Place

Sustainability includes responsible stewardship of resources. Elderly people who squander their own wealth paying $6000 a month to a private nursing home, leaving nothing for their children or their favorite charities, until they have lost all the money they have worked their whole lives for, and then spend their final years warehoused in a government institution on the public's dime, are hardly contributing to a sustainable lifestyle, for themselves, their children, or their planet.  It is cheaper and less of a drain on society for people to remain in their own homes as they age, and it is certainly a better way to live.  Often, elderly people are so overwhelmed by the daily rigors of caring for themselves in a difficult environment that they feel compelled to retreat to an assisted living facility, even though they could live at home with a little assistance.  Instead of wasting money on a miserable room in a nursing home full of horrifying smells, we encourage you to invest your resources into home improvements that will keep you independent and let you maintain your own personal sustainability. 

Sustainable architecture is organically flexible, able to grow and shrink as necessary to meet the changing needs of its occupants.  A house designed by Heiland Hoff Architecture for a young family will have the bones of a handicap-accessible structure, so that it can be modified many years in the future to allow Mom and Dad to remain in the home they raised their children in.  For example, a two story house with steep stairs can be designed with stacking closets.  The closet floors are framed with short, removable joists that are independent from the floor framing in the rest of the house.  If everybody remains healthy and robust, they enjoy ample closet space.  If somebody suddenly requires a wheelchair, pop out those floor joists, install an elevator in the stacked closets, and Voilà!  A fully accessible second floor!  A new elevator costs about $40k.  That is beyond the budget of a typical young family.  But it is a bargain, many years down the road, if it can be installed with minimal home renovation due to brilliant architectural foresight. 

Even if your home wasn't designed by Heiland Hoff Architecture, we can make renovations that will keep you in the home you love.  A typical renovation to make a single-story home accessible costs between $9k and $12k.  Compare that to the average cost of $42k for one year of assisted living, and it isn't hard to see the economic value.  And the cost of the renovations can often be recouped when the home is sold.  A bigger bedroom, a bigger bathroom...this adds value.  Try getting your money back from a nursing home!

People 55 and older would do well to start planning to remodel before there is any urgency.  It is the perfect time to make changes that will make your life easier later on.  There is no investment you could make that will yield a higher return.

Whether you are remodeling or building a new house, consider bullnosed corners on those granite countertops rather than sharp edges; your aging skin will thank you later.  Select a stove with all the controls in the front, so you don't have to reach over hot burners to turn them off.  Choose wider doors and single-handed faucets and no-slip floors.  Heiland Hoff Architecture can help you implement the changes you need to remain self-reliant in your golden years. 

The National Association of Homebuilders has an "Aging in Place Remodeling Checklist" at www.nahb.org.