How the language of green building has changed; now it's just weather-proofing.

Green roof
© LGA Architects/ Levitt Goodman House

Sometimes I think we should change the name of this website. Sometimes it seems that the skeptics and deniers have won, or at least have the environmentalists on the run. Five years ago we talked about sustainable design, but that word got so overused that nobody knows what it means anymore. 2012 was the year of resilient design, but some have complained that "like the word “sustainability,” it’s a word that’s all too ripe for misuse and vagueness. But vagueness is the last thing we need if we want to make effective responses to our looming urban challenges."

Now, Matthew Hague writes an article about a few projects that we have covered in TreeHugger over the years, and titles it How to get a weather-proofed home.. It's a fascinating bit of language because weather isn't climate and therefore won't attract the skeptics and crazies. (he mentioned global warming once so the trolls attacked anyway) He frames each of the projects he covers completely differently than we did in our coverage.

Levitt Goodman House© LGA Architects/ Levitt Goodman House
When TreeHugger first covered the Levitt Goodman House, I noted the "large and beautiful green roof, recycled materials, and is designed for cross-ventilation so that air conditioning is not required." in 2007, that was framed as energy-saving. Now, it is life-saving. According to Hague:

Her 1,500-square-foot, custom-built home in downtown Toronto doesn’t have air conditioning, but stays cool midsummer because it’s tiered with heat-absorbing green roofs and was designed to maximize natural cross ventilation. “It’s not cold,” she notes, “but it’s bearable even when it’s freaking hot out." The green roofs, as well as the lush gardens around the house, also mitigate the risk of floods because they absorb excess rain.

REEP stands for Residential Energy Efficiency Project, and the REEP house in Kitchener was really all about saving energy when I visited in 2010, writing Renovation Turns Old House Into Green Healthy House With Near Zero Heating Bills. But for Hague, the big deal is how it deals with water. He speaks to designer Graham Whiting:

“It was a 100-year-old, flood-prone house,” explains Whiting, “The city wanted to tear it down.” To prevent that from happening, Whiting, along with landscape designers Quiet Nature, used a number of deluge-proofing features, including a backyard pebble-filled “rain garden” that basically acts like a plant-covered trench to direct excess water away from the home. In the front, a driveway of ultra-permeable pavers over a filtration system performs a similar function.

These systems work; while I was visiting there was a massive rainstorm, and I could see the water just disappear. The house has a serious amount of insulation and really good windows; three years ago, these were all about saving energy. Now they can be positioned as weatherproofing; Brock James, a partner at LGA, tells Hague:

He recommends considering upgrades like high-efficiency insulation in the walls and roof, or putting in triple-pane windows. “Maintaining comfort in the homes is important,” notes James, especially “during extreme temperatures or heavy rainfalls that interrupt the power supply.” A tightly encased place maintains a reasonable indoor air temperature even when the AC isn’t working because it doesn’t let the hot, outdoor air infiltrate.

cista rain barrel© cista rain barrel/ Harry Wakefield

Finally, Hague admires Carolyn Moss's CISTA vertical rain garden, defined in 2009 as " a rain water harvesting system designed for urban environments. It provides storage for rain water within a vertical planted frame, allowing us to conserve water and increase green space." Hague sees it as much more:

Rain barrels such as these are important in flood prevention. They help stop the type of storm surges that overwhelm the sewer system and cause basement-drenching backups. Instead, the water can be reused to irrigate the lawn, or, when attached to a grey water filtration system, can be pumped into the house and used to flush toilets.

All of these ideas were first presented a few years ago in terms of energy and water saving, dealing with what was considered the global crisis of climate change. Last year they might have been presented in terms of resilience, which represents an acceptance of climate change as inevitable and talks about adaptation.

Now, according to the editors who write the titles at the Globe and mail, it's just weather-proofing.

How the language of green building has changed; now it's just weather-proofing.
We once wrote about sustainable design. Then the hot topic was resilient design. Now, it's come to this.

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