Building Green: Energy Efficiency and Aesthetics From The Same Materials (Part 19)


Slate comes in a wide variety of colors and can add visual interest to a natural home.

Designing and building a green home requires quiet time—time to remove yourself from the semi-chaos of the actual construction so that you can re- focus on the design itself. A home designed and built using only the mechanical drawings that were created before breaking ground (even if they include green-building elements) risks having its aesthetic "heart" getting lost in the engineering. In other words, the design process should continue throughout the construction process. This concept is a bit like brewing green tea with fine leaves in a clear glass mug. Ideas must be allowed to float around a bit, to rise and fall, and to settle into place. Ideas must have time to steep—otherwise you just end up with ordinary water. It is important to visit the work site when no one else is around—when you can feel the space, observe the light, and feel the breeze blowing from one side of a room to the other. Unlike a tract home, where speed and efficiency control everything and every element is called out in the instruction sheet, your home can evolve and change in response to the building process.

Make the time to visualize what is needed. Most homes are not shaped and molded this way, and the emptiness of the design can be felt from the moment your come through the door. The space was conceived in haste. A mechanical drawing was made to fit false parameters instead of designing for the "feel".

We are nearing the completion of my green straw bale home. Now it is time to start preparing the house for plastering. Everything that will come in contact with the plastered walls will have to be installed before the first coat of plaster is applied. This includes window seats, the framing around windows, supports for shelving, baseboard tile, cabinet framing, and so forth. Now is also a time to make creative decisions about the color, size, and type of material that will be used for these purposes. By being able to experience the room and its light firsthand, the choices you make will be superior to those made while staring at the blueline drawings.


The baseboard tile as seen after the walls were plastered.

Adding a durable, water-proof baseboard—such as tile or molding—serves as good protection for the wall surfaces, since the bottom of an earth-plaster wall must be able to withstand the wear-and-tear caused by a wet mop or vacuum. In addition to these practical aspects, a baseboard adds a nice visual detail to the room. There is a transition in color, texture, and material where the floor meets the wall at a right angle. In my house, these materials were chosen—as with all the materials I used—for their aesthetic appeal, ecological footprint, and ease-of-use for the do-it-yourselfer. One product I chose was a six-inch-high slate tile for use where the walls meet the concrete. For the walls that meet the raised floor of the living area, I used a molding that was made of recycled oak—the same material as the floor (see article #3 in this series). Both the slate and the recycled oak were relatively inexpensive. The slate was purchased as twelve-inch square tiles and then cut into four separate pieces with a rented tile saw. The individual squares were attached with tile thinset mortar. After all the tiles were installed, the spaces between the individual pieces were filled with tile grout.

Although installing the baseboard takes a bit of time, the end result will be of benefit for years to come. More next time.

See also: Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10, part 11, part 12, part 13, part 14, part 15, part 16, part 17 and part 18.

[This has been a guest post by Ted Owens, a green designer and filmmaker. More details on green building design and construction can be found on his website and in the Building with Awareness DVD and Guidebook. -Ed.]

Tags: Architecture | Energy Efficiency

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