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Principles of Sustainable Design

The Green House exhibition discusses 5 Green Principles that underlie sustainable homes:

  1. Optimizing use of the sun
  2. Improving indoor air quality
  3. Using the land responsibly
  4. Creating high-performance and moisture-resistant houses
  5. Wisely using the Earth’s natural resources

When you are building, renovating, or choosing interior finishes and materials for your home, consider some of the following actions and measures you can take to incorporate these principles for more healthy, efficient, and sustainable living.


Optimizing Use of the Sun

Most of us rely on oil, coal, natural gas, and other fossil fuels to heat and cool our homes. Not only are these resources expensive and polluting, they are also being rapidly depleted. A simple and cost-effective alternative is to plug your house into the sun by either active or passive strategies.

Active strategies use solar photovoltaics that turn the sun’s heat into energy.

Adopting passive strategies means that you do some of the following:

Design and orient the house to minimize summer afternoon solar heat gain and optimize winter solar heat gain. In the northern hemisphere, this means orienting the long sides of the house to face south and north and creating roof overhangs and landscaping that shade the east, south, and west sides of the house.

Situate the house to take advantage of prevailing breezes during the spring, summer, and fall. Not only are these breezes valuable for cross-ventilation in the house, but they can make screened-in rooms and porches more comfortable places to live. 

Plant shade trees and shrubs around your house. In summer, well-placed foliage helps keep the house cool, while bare branches in winter let the sunlight through to warm the house.

Statistic: The world’s oil reserves are expected to last about 40 more years. Natural gas reserves may last 67 years. The sun’s energy supply will last billions of years.
Smart Move: Join thousands of others in turning to solar energy as a renewable, clean and cost saving alternative to fossil fuels.

Click here for information about the interactive heliodon in The Green House exhibition.

Improving Indoor Air Quality

Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors where air quality can be more polluted than outdoors. Pollutants range from toxins, such as asbestos and formaldehyde found in building materials, to allergens such as mold, mildew, fungus, bacteria, and dust mites. The negative effects of these pollutants may cause health problems upon initial exposure or even many years later.

There are measures that can be taken to improve indoor air quality:

Choose ventilation systems that remove dirt, dust, moisture, humidity, and pollutants.

Seal off the garage from the house to eliminate fumes from cars and lawn mowers.

Select materials, such as those without formaldehyde, that limit off-gassing, have minimal or no toxic properties, and do not shed dust or fiber.

Test your home for toxins that influence air quality with a do-it-yourself kit or hire a specialist.

Use the exhaust fan over your stove to remove gases like carbon monoxide.  Use fans in the bathroom to remove water vapors that can cause molds to grow.

Statistic: Indoor air pollution consistently ranks among the top five environmental risks to public health.
Smart Move:
Improve air quality in your home by increasing ventilation, choosing non-toxic materials, and using air filters to remove up to 95% of airborne pollutants.
 

Using the Land Responsibly

You can create a sustainable house by making good use of the land your house sits on and by considering the impact of the house on the surrounding environment. When looking to buy a new home, consider the following advantages:

Buy a smaller, more compact house on a lot that is located near work, public transportation, and community services to save fuel and money. 

Choose a neighborhood where houses are clustered closer together, leaving more open space for residents to enjoy and helping to preserve the natural landscape.

Adopt smart gardening practices like using organic pesticides and composts, as well as native plants that do not require extensive irrigation systems.

Use landscaping rather than paved surfaces, which impede storm water infiltration, often resulting in the contamination of local water sources.

Statistic: Every year sprawling development engulfs 1 million acres of open space.
Smart Move:
Vote to conserve wilderness areas and support one of the 240 anti-sprawl initiatives across America.
 

Creating High-Performance and Moisture-Resistant Houses

The roof, walls, windows, and doors of a house create an envelope that protects residents from the weather and intruders, including pests, noise, and dirt. It also controls the entry of sunlight and, most importantly, helps maintain indoor comfort. Maintaining a constant level of comfort is often wasteful and expensive but can be done efficiently and economically by the following means:

Create a building envelope with more durable and energy-efficient materials that reduce drafts, balance room temperatures, control moisture, and save on heating and cooling costs.

Seal any gaps or cracks where moisture can get in and heat or cooling can leak out.

Schedule a home energy audit. Many utilities offer them for free and the expert advice can result in big energy savings.

Statistic: According to recent estimates, the United States consumes more energy than any other nation, accounting for 22.8% of the world’s total energy use. Nearly one quarter of that share of that is used to power our homes.
Smart Move:
By sealing air leaks and using energy-efficient technologies in your home, you can significantly reduce your energy consumption and cut your bills by up to 80%.
 

Wisely Using the Earth’s Natural Resources

The earth provides us with a finite amount of natural resources and it is our responsibility to make them last. It is also up to us to use these resources in ways that are not detrimental to the environment or our health. When selecting products and materials to use in your home, look for ones that have:

High levels of:
Renewability, Reusability & Durability

Low levels of:
Embodied energy, or energy required to extract, process, and transport materials
Environmental impact, or negative effects on outdoor and indoor environments.

Statistic: Less than 20 % of the world’s old growth forests remain today.
Smart Move:
By choosing wood products certified by the international Forest Stewardship Council, you can help ensure that our ancient forests don’t disappear. Visit www.fsc.org for more information.