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Sustainable Design and Building Practices Part 2: Improvement Through Better Design

in Advice, Design, Products

“Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

In her seminar Anupa Maru, Sales Engineer for Kohler,  pointed out that of all the water on earth, 97% is saline, and only 3% is fresh water.

Breaking that down even more, of the total fresh water, 68.7% is in the icecaps and glaciers, 30.1% is ground water, 0.9% is other such as water vapor, and 0.3% is surface water. As you can see, the usable freshwater percentage is very small.

Finally, the surface water can be broken down to 87% in the lakes, 11% in the swamps and only 2% is in the rivers.

To drive the point home, 6.7 billion people are being sustained by 0.3% of the water on this planet. That doesn’t even account for all of the animals and plants. I think you are getting the point. Smart design is becoming increasingly important.

[Haven’t read Part 1? Click here.]

Now let’s take a look at some housing data in the U.S. There are 2.4 people in every home in the U.S. They use 94.9 Mbtu of energy and 87,600 gallons of water. The median size of homes is 769 ft² per person. The annual carbon footprint for each person is 2,550 lbs. Good design can reduce these figures dramatically.

Use these tips to make better choices when you build or remodel:

  • Good design can affect our health by choosing products that don’t have formaldehyde in them, or that are low or no-VOC paints.
  • Choose products that don’t have to be transported over long distances. This alone can reduce the carbon footprint.
  • Choose products that are durable. It does not serve us to choose products that cost less now, but will be in the landfill in the next ten years. This goes for foundation material, siding, roofing, appliances, heating and air units, countertops, flooring, and furnishings.
  • Choose low maintenance windows and doors that will last and provide you with years of energy savings, as well as an abundance of healthful light. Use skylights (Velux) or sun tunnels (Velux) to get light into poorly lit areas in the interior of the home.
  • Choose lighting that will save you money over the life of the product. LED lighting costs a lot more, yet it can pay you back over its lifetime. LED lighting will save sending light bulbs to the landfill and adding dangerous mercury, contained in our compact fluorescent bulbs, to our soil and air. An average incandescent bulb lasts about 1,200 hours, while an LED lasts 50,000 hours and costs 10 times less to operate. In other words, if you use an LED light 6 hours each day the bulb will last over 22 years, during which time you would have changed the incandescent bulb 150 times.
  • Choose energy efficient appliances, including washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, ranges, ovens, microwaves, and miscellaneous portable appliances. Look for the Energy Star rating on each appliance. Buy brands that are reputable and will not need to replaced frequently.
  • Your air conditioner and heater are major energy users. Learn to understand terms such as SEER ratings, AFUE, HSPF and Dual Fuel systems. Study variable speed compressors, two stage operation, zoning, geothermal systems, and the what is the best fuel to use in your region.
  • And finally choose good plumbing fixtures. Of course you want great looking fixtures, but you also need them to be very low maintenance, a good value, easy to repair if that is ever needed, and to conserve water. There are many good plumbing companies to buy from. I have used Kohler for many years and am completely satisfied with their value and function. Plumbers know how to install and repair them, parts are available, and they are one of the most advanced manufacturers in the world. They lead the field in innovation. Their toilets use between .8 gallons and 1.6 gallons per flush.  That being said there are many other great plumbing manufacturers, such as Delta, Moen, American Standard and Eljer, all of which make very dependable fixtures.

I understand that it is difficult to make all these choices. You will literally choose thousands of parts for you home or project. And it is unlikely that any one person will have the knowledge needed to help you with every choice. Do your research. Consult with an expert in each field. Definitely find an experienced general contractor to work with. He or she has tried a lot of products and knows which ones work and which ones failed.

Now you need to put all these ideas together. Your choices, like the flap of a butterfly’s wings, will affect all of us. Thanks in advance for caring.

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