Alternative Living, Design, Energy, Green Building, Independence, Sustainability

What’s Wrong with our Houses?

I want to start right away with a little quiz. Where in the world do you think this shelter would be found?
Of course in a cold, northern climate where snow is abundant, right? How about this one?
Probably in a hot desert place, where the clay is readily available and acts as an amazing insulator to keep the house cool in the hot sun….and this one?

This house blends right into its surroundings, with the timber framing and green roof. Obviously timber was chosen as the building material with a forest in the backyard. It’s doubtful that would build a stone house or a clay (adobe) house in the forest.

And finally, where would you find this house, geographically?


This house could be in almost any continent and climate in the world!! What’s wrong with this housing design?

  1. These houses are on ‘life-support’ from their beginning. As soon as this house is built, it depends entirely on external gas, water and electricity to keep itself and its inhabitants alive. There is no smart design to catch rainwater or collect solar energy
  2. Travel-intensive building materials. These houses, unlike the igloo and log cabin I showed above, are built without any consideration of local building materials. The wood, plastics and other supplies are shipped from all over the world, then cut into the right sizes to have the remaining scrap sent to landfill.
  3. Toxic materials. Many of these materials are not natural. For example, vinyl siding and certain paints off-gas toxic chemicals during their lifetime. Natural building materials like straw bale and cob allow the building to breathe, minimizing contaminants and regulating humidity.
  4. Just too big. The typical suburban ‘McMansion’ is on average 2700 sq. ft. which is 35% bigger than our average house size 40 years ago! Not only that but our family sizes have gone down in that same time. So we have smaller families and big houses. What does that mean? Bigger mortgages, more stuff and more stress.

Sadly, this style of house has become the standard, even though we know of so many already-existing building designs that are more natural, affordable, comfortable, local and more self-reliant. In the next post I’ll talk about some of them, then later I’ll show some cool technologies that will hopefully be the norm in new housing developments!

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