The Five Eco Principles – Smart Design

While in Chicago in April, I had a chance to visit the museum of science & industry.  The experience was great, and my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the museum.  We were both intrigued enough to pay the extra ~$25 or so to see the smart house.  We were not disappointed, and left with some good ideas about things to re-use and things to purchase made from re-used items.  Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to share the principles with the readers, and figure out how you can best take advantage of them.  Today is the first one, focusing on smart design.

Design is important for plenty of reasons.  No one would want to live in an eco-friendly house if it looked like a huge eyesore.  I dont care how much you are interested in saving the earth, you wouldnt want to live in an ugly house.  So, one of the prime things an eco friendly house needs is good (looking) design.  You should not need to sacrifice looks to be eco-friendly, and you wont need to.  Having lots of windows will allow for more heat in the summer, but also keep your place cooler in the winter.  Opening windows will allow for a nice cross breeze that can cool your house down quickly, which can save you more on cooling costs in the summer.  Adding fans is also a good way to keep the temperatures under control.  Force the heat down in the winter and change direction in the summer to move the warm air out.

Alot of the smart design principles are important, but one of the easiest to appease is probably the location of windows.  If you have south facing windows, you can leave the windows open for natural light, cutting down on your electricity.  Not on this, but everyone loves windows (as long as you’re not living in a ‘fishbowl’), and they can be beneficial as they cut down on artifical light, as well as heat your home.  Things like this arent rocket scientists, but the large developers dont give them consideration because they are not the ones paying the electrical bills.

Smart Design is not limited to just the inside of the home.  Where I grew up in the Western United States, water was our primary concern.  When it rained (not often) water can be caught in a rain barrell or encouraged to seep into the ground to water grass or flowers.  This is to protect the rivers and drainage basins that storm drains empty into, as the runoff can carry toxic chemicals and other materials that can alter the natural balance of the river or lake ecosystem.  One of the best ways to combat this effect is to have paths of woodchips or gravel, as opposed to cement.  The gravel and woodchips can absorb the water, as opposed to letting water run off, as cement does. You can save on walkway construction costs and will not have to sacrifice anything on design either!

While it is still quite expensive, solar energy is also worth considering.  There’s a 20% federal tax credit on systems, and many states (and some counties) have credits as well.  The payback period is still around 20 years, depending on quite a few factors, but is well worth it, espically if your house was designed well and is not an energy hog in the first place.  The lower your baseload (typical energy usage) is, the smaller number of solar panels you’ll need, recuding your system cost.

Good, eco-friendly design can easily be as visually appealing (or more so) than non eco-friendly design.  It’s also a great starting point, as you can design in many energy saving features, such as lots of windows. Seriously thinking about the lifecycle costs of many decisions made reguarding your home can allow you to live in a more eco (and wallett) friendly way.  Who wouldnt want that?