Alternative Living, Design, DIY, Energy

What Does It Mean to Have a ‘Green’ Home, Really?

If you happen to walk by the magazine section in the grocery store today, take a quick look at the cover of one of the now several ‘green’ home magazines available:

It’s at least what pops in my head when I hear the phrase ‘green home’: a large and cozy country abode in a rural area with lots of windows, green space, trees and (like a cherry on top) a big pile of solar panels on the roof.

These grandiose homes, regardless of having high insulation or energy generation, aren’t  widely-affordable for the majority of people, accessible or replicable on a large scale, and likely create a car-dependent lifestyle.

For instance, while being a beautiful and innovative design, this video shows a couple’s 4,000 square foot passive solar home in Ontario, on rural countryside, which I can’t help but feel is a little contradictory.

“My tent can be a green home if I can afford enough solar panels” – Lloyd Alter

In reality, there are millions of green living spaces already – known as the centrally-located apartment that permits walkability and creates density; think New York City. Of course not everyone can live in an apartment, but I’m just trying to stress that solution represents a mixture of spaces and doesn’t lie solely in ultra efficient-but-large single family housing. I can also understand an apartment wouldn’t make nearly as interesting of a magazine cover. I digress.

The Smart Home

Similar to the green home, the ‘smart home,’ is a new term that has joined the ranks of the numerous buzzwords today. Phillips has the HUE LED lights that you can hook up to your smart-phone to change the color and brightness (okay, very cool.) And Google has recently bought Nest Thermostat, a device that learns your habits and lifestyle and controls the heating system accordingly.

But Lloyd Alter of TreeHugger wrote an article that resounded with me, ‘In Praise of the Dumb Home.‘ He suggests that a smart thermostat would be ‘bored-stupid’ in a simple, highly insulated, well-designed dumb home.

Unfortunately, sometimes progress or ‘better’ to us means more technology: we look for lasers and touch screens, but typically the most simple solutions are the most effective. That brings me to my next point:

Don’t Rush Out to Buy Solar Panels

Although huge advances and price reductions have occurred for solar power, it’s still a bit questionable whether sticking them on your house is the best bang for your buck. Likely, using that money to seal up your house or adding insulation is much more effective than a PV system.

Green Building Advisor also suggests many houses just don’t have what it takes for solar panels anyway:

  • Residential roofs often have trees and buildings blocking the sun’s path
  • Many roofs don’t have the ideal slope or orientation
  • Adding an array sometimes needs costly re-roofing and added owner maintenance
  • Economies of scale – electricity is better produced by large utilities

So at the moment they might really only a beneficial approach for homes that don’t have access to grid power, such as lake cabins.

In short, keep things simple. Start by living in a smaller space that meets your needs and nothing more. Then go from there.

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