Sustainable Design Article 2 The Sustainable Style  JB Hammer Designs

The Sustainable Style

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For the past few years, a phenomenon has developed in the US and noticeably, in the Pacific Northwest. It is a grassroots movement grounded in sustainability. People want to live in a house that is environmentally sensitive and healthy. They are aware that salmon runs in the areas rivers are dying out in direct proportion to human "advancement," and that the US population has crossed the "tipping point" into "endangered", and that most of the 75,000 plus chemicals in our environment are unregulated. It has become a priority for them to take steps towards a solution and the most common application is in house plans. Some have sought out the most fiscally responsible means with the best "payback" in order to build a "green" house plan, while others have built hyper-efficient "Passive" or "Net Zero" house plans at any cost in order to make a statement.

From an architectural perspective, the question is; what do these specialized house plans look like? Has the "green home plan" movement spawned its own architectural style? Is there a distinctive form evident in environmentally sensitive and healthy house plans? Even though some of these houses follow the vernacular and others have a more modern, urban-industrial appearance, sustainability is definitely placing its unique stamp on them.

Two developments have had an influence on the form of sustainable house plan design. First, in striving to obtain the goal, new systems and technology have influenced the appearance. According to Portland Architect, Andre DeBar, who has designed several Earth Advantage, Platinum homes in varying genres, "Form is following contemporary high-performance systems." On the vernacular homes, he points to sun shades, metal roofs, solar panels, rain gardens and rain harvesting systems. On the urban-industrial looking homes it is even more obvious with the use of "corrugated metal siding, fiber-cement panels, exposed structural steel, green roofs, and conspicuously reclaimed materials, sometimes crafted into unique features by local artisans."

Secondly, these common sense measures intended to obtain sustainability in house plans, have taken on a life of their own and become fashionable. According to Debar, some owners intentionally select a design that is distinctive from surrounding houses. They are proud of their investment in sustainability and display it as a "badge of honor." Green features are seen as desirable architectural elements and are noticed and admired. This has created a whole new mentality towards houses. They are judged on how well they do on their Energy Performance Score, (EPS) and people expect to see some of the features that enable them to make their score.

Both sustainable goals and fashion have created a booming industry involved in a technological race to meet growing demand. As the new systems are introduced, it creates new challenges and opportunities for the designer. David Bonn, a Portland LEED Platinum designer, has developed a rainwater collection system called WaterShed, which looks like a small attractive garden shed, but collects 1000 to 4500 gallons of water (depending on the model) for irrigation during the dry season. According to Bonn, it can be adapted to any house style.

Other factors influencing form are passive solar measures which have altered floor plan and window layout and influenced the landscaping. The strict requirements in some Passive Houses have reduced the amount of glazing and increased the thickness of walls and roofs. All of these elements make a green house plans distinctive in appearance, with some of the features only noticeable to the initiated, but many of them obvious to all.

Rather than traditional styles being built with sustainable features, the driving force has become the sustainability, and that is changing the traditional house plan styles. It is a new form which, for lack of a better phrase, could be called "The Sustainable Style." With all of this said, this does not mean that green house plans have to look different for other styles. You may have walked by a net zero home and not even noticed any differences. With the exception of the PV panels on the roof (which are not visible on many homes), all of the sustainable features can be hidden. Sustainable House Plans is a website featuring stock sustainable designs which can be blended into any neighborhood.


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What is a Green Home?

The Sustainable Style

Passive House 1

Passive House 2

Passive House 3