Long live sustainable housing! Tips on building to last.

Two of my favourite green building magazines come out of Australia, from the ATA, or Alternative Technology Association. I am biased toward Sanctuary, that I continue to consider the best green shelter magazine available anywhere, but also learn a lot from ReNew, which is usually more hardcore and technical. In this month’s ReNew, editor Robyn Deed admits that “We’ve gone a bit Sanctuary this issue!” and indeed it is not full of batteries and inverters, but more about innovative sustainable materials. There’s not much on their website from issue 132, but one article in particular is worth noting in brief, Architect Ande Bunbury, writing Designed to last: Long live sustainable housing. In it, the author looks at “what our houses would look like if we designed them to last a hundred years or longer.”

The architect recently won an award for her Double Century House, designed with...

Rammed earth walls, recycled timber and a small footprint that leaves enough open space for a productive garden. Particular emphasis was placed on the building's longevity. With many residential buildings expected to last 40 years, designing for adaptability and specifying a 200-year life removes embodied energy from the equation. This design paid attention to many other aspects of sustainable design, including good solar passive design, the incorporation of renewable energy, cross-flow ventilation and an indoor garden courtyard, transport and waste reuse measures.

In the magazine, Ande notes five points necessary for a home to last a hundred years or more, expressing them in a slightly different form than we do in North America.

Sustainable Design

In North America people will build houses just about anywhere but if it is going to be sustainable, location matters.

First up, there is no point designing a house to last if it doesn’t have all the basics right, such as good orientation and aspect, and a location with access to transport and connection to community and services.

Flexibility

One term bandied around when considering long-lasting design is “loose fit”: the idea that spaces should be flexible and adaptable.

I have never used the term “loose fit” for anything but kitchen design but it makes sense, if your house is going to adapt to kids then teenagers then possibly aging parents or boomerang children. And it makes sense still for kitchens:

Who knows what cooking appliances may be available in 30 years?… A loose-fit design with adjustable shelves and panels can adapt to suit the new fridge or have space for as-yet unknown devices of the future.

More in TreeHugger on loose fit and flexibility: "Loose Fit" May Work For Jeans, But Does It Make Sense For Kitchens?
Open Building

Simplicity

The simpler a system is the less there is to break down and the easier it is to repair. When selecting a system for use in a long-lived house ask yourself whether it could be repaired if the original company went out of business.

And if you want proof of this look in my furnace room. Also: In praise of the Dumb Home

Durability

Surprisingly, the author thinks this category is less important than the others, because “very few materials will last 100 years without any maintenance.” But some are better than others. “Inert metal cladding can be maintenance free for 60+ years.” Others like masonry can last hundreds of years.

Embodied Energy

This is the toughest sell of any attribute, because it is not something that people see. But as Ande notes:

Embodied energy is a major factor to consider; a primary reason we want long-lived buildings is to reduce the waste of those buildings’ embodied energy.

More: Embodied Energy and Green Building: Does it matter?

The author concludes:

In the end, longevity is not just about whether the materials last, but rather a combination of appropriate design, durability, maintainability, embodied energy and reusability. To make wise decisions you need to consider all these factors.

Indeed. These are all issues we have covered on TreeHugger, along with Steve Mouzon’s additional and important “Lovability”- if people don’t love it, then it won’t get preserved or maintained. I suspect that Ande Bunbury’s Double Century House will do just fine in that respect.

Read more at Renew, but you will have to buy it or wait.

And while looking for related links to put at the bottom of the post, I found this list that I wrote in 2010 that covered much of the same ground:

  • Build to last, with low maintenance materials.
  • Build less. Smaller homes use less material with lower embodied energy and use less energy to heat.
  • Repair and renovate instead of demolishing and replacing.
  • Reduce complexity; simple systems last longer.
  • Design for repair and deconstruction; think about how it comes apart as well as how it goes together.
  • Pick materials with low embodied energy.
  • Design to maximize exergy; use passive solar and natural ventilation instead of electricity and fossil fuels. Save electricity for electronics and lighting (and toasters). Insulate and seal like mad.

Tags: Australia | Green Building

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