When looking at the past 50 years of green building history, we have to wonder, what is green home building, and where is it headed in the future? In the beginning green home building flew in the face of traditional thinking. The innocent goals of affordable green building met with vicious opposition in the 1960s. In recent years concern for the environment has grown, and energy costs have driven the current green movement. Green home construction is an option in 2011, but the goals of green construction have evolved and changed.
• Affordable Housing for All – no matter how rich or poor
• Easy Construction Possible to do By Hand – with minimal to no mechanization
• Use of Natural Materials
• Unique Artistic Modern Design with Spherical, Organic or Non Traditional Shapes
• Use of Recycled materials
• Non Polluting
• Promoting a Green Lifestyle such as Homesteading, or Survivalist Goals
• Changing Society through Affordable Housing, and Anti-materialistic Values.
• Use of Free Materials Such as Earth, or Inexpensive Materials like Straw
• Capable of being Self Sustaining – off the grid
• Use of Green Energy and Passive Solar
• Durability of the Structure
• Energy Efficiency – but mostly due to self sustaining solar and wind power goals
When the concept of green home building arose in the 1960s, it was not well received by the overall building community. All the building codes resisted truly green concepts, in favor of the more traditional construction. As any architect who has ever had a unique concept knows, the building community is resistant to change.
Just think of the reception the first green building engineers received when they sought to provide affordable homes, which were cheep and easy to build. It was perhaps that main goal more than any other that led to sabotage of their efforts. What would happen to the established order if it became legal to build communities of small, efficient homes that cost virtually nothing, intended to house thousands of “hippies” and poor people living off the grid? Naturally there were ordinances against such a thing in the 1960s.
Green builders were banished to the pages of “Mother Earth News” and “Popular Science.” Many people read about the possibilities, but few were able to get permits to actually use these revolutionary ideas. The ideas though kept coming, as green builders continued to dream of a day when one could step out onto a lot and put up a practical home, for hundreds, not thousands of dollars.
While the U.S. Market was blocked, in other parts of the world green designs have been used for decades. In Mexico, South America, Asia, Africa and even Europe there was a market for more cost effective housing. The wonderful organic 1960s design is a part of the landscape of Baja Mexico and many other nations. Charities use green designs to build needed housing and schools in areas where missionaries are sent. While Americans pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for housing, beautiful affordable homes are being constructed elsewhere, by American designers who could not get permits in their own country.
Today the main focus of green building has shifted from affordability and green materials to energy efficiency. In many cases it seems that is the only part of green that survived, but there are still those affordable builders out there trying to bring down the cost of housing.
Today’s green movement is not about self sustaining houses, as much as sustaining the grid itself. With the cost of energy at a premium, solar energy from individual houses, as well as the massive solar and wind farms are changing the way we produce electricity, but the way we consume electricity also has to be examined. As a society we need to use less. Today’s solar homes are feeding electricity back into the grid, and fueling their neighbor’s homes as well as their own. Their meters actually run backward and the electric company pays them every month for their contribution. This is only possible because of energy efficiency. These energy efficient homes burn a fraction of the electricity used in older homes. There is virtually no way to power a historic home off solar power, without either substantial re-modeling or building a huge solar farm.
• Energy Efficient Structure – Insulation is more important than ever in history
• Energy Efficient Appliances
• Smaller Size – Modest Structure
• Solar Energy Production – to feed into the grid
• Reduced Shipping Distances – to save on fuel
• Using Recycled Materials
• Using Natural Materials
• Emphasis on Building Communities Near Venues and Shopping
• Reducing Waste of Building Materials
One survivor from the 1960s is Ferro cement, which has evolved into various versions of insulated concrete. In the days of cheap energy, early Ferro cement designers and artists didn’t spend a lot of time considering insulation. Most built concrete walls, by spreading chicken wire and covering it with Portland cement. Cement and concrete are not good insulators, even though they are very strong. With the event of the energy crisis they began to use insulation as a base for the concrete.
Steve Kornher, who became involved in green construction in the 1960s, is currently working in Mexico, where he uses pumice stone blocks as a base for his concrete. Pumice stone is an excellent natural insulator. In addition, it is sturdy, provides a great base for his work, and is lightweight enough to use for ceilings.
While Steve’s work is still a bit hard to get through the building permit people in the USA, due to his unorthodoxly amazing artistic designs and his devotion to low cost construction, the insulated concrete panels which his work eventually evolved into are being used increasingly in home construction.
While no one can see into the future, we do know that energy efficiency will be of ever increasing importance. Further we know that solar technology is growing rapidly, and many prototypes have been developed, and recently improved solar panels are being used on solar farms which will eventually be available to homeowners. We also know that national laws have been passed to make green building possible, and reinforcing the rights of people to build green housing as long as it is structurally sound. Further, there are even economic incentives to build sustainable, energy efficient green homes. Most importantly we know that all those insulated concrete homes will last for hundreds of years, inspiring future homebuilders to follow their example. While the future of green energy and green construction may be either slowed or speeded by politics, the rising cost of energy insures that it is definitely going to be both available and necessary in the future.
Everyone considering buying or building a home should be aware of the various aspects and possibilities of green building. Download our 98 page free book on home planning for more information. See other articles on this site for more information on green housing. The future of green home building is determined by not only regulation, but also by demand. Green homes will become whatever is most important to home buyers, and home builders. What is green home building, and how important is it in your future, will largely be determined by you as a perspective home owner.