Saturday, January 15, 2011

You Don't Have to Be a Millionaire to Build Sustainably

In my search for information and inspiration for the design and construction of our future home I routinely come across "eco-friendly" houses built huge that also appear to be on the planet Jupiter. Not all of us want to live in a minimalist, concrete, baby-banning house where the only thing you could claim is that it'd make a great spread in the latest design magazine. Harsh? Maybe, but it's incredibly frustrating especially knowing how much money is being put into those houses. Living green doesn't mean living with lots of green.

You know what I would love? I would love to see those "normal," every day houses that the average person builds to merely be built with sustainable products instead of the usual dry wall, fiberglass insulation, and paint that wreaks for weeks.

These designer homes on display send the wrong message. While I applaud those who built it, I wish we were trying more to appeal to those people who aren't already a part of the movement. Sustainable housing should not be equated with huge (in fact, they're much more sustainable if they aren't), ultra-modern, ultra-tiny (practical for some, not for all), or big bucks. In fact, eco-friendly construction products are often cheaper and require less professional labor, you can do more yourself. Many construction methods use reclaimed products (wood, for example), unwanted by the general industry and therefore cheaper for you!  You can, for instance, build with tires, bottles, cans, or even bags of mud (dug out from the foundation, perhaps). You can choose to highlight your building materials by leaving it all exposed, leaving some exposed, or you can simply cover it up and just secretly know that you're house is built with recycled glass bottles. Pretty cool.

Found objects are very popular, too. You don't have to buy the sleek, brand new $1,000 kitchen sink to be eco-friendly. Just try buying locally made or found pieces. Find warehouses that sell pieces that were a part of an estate sale, demolition, or extra building materials from somebody else (tile, for instance). Bottom line: use what is within a reasonable distance from your building site. The money saved by doing a bit more research could then be put away for a rainy day or spent on those very special pieces (antiques, a wonderful rug, landscaping, etc.).

Also, don't freak out if you can't find every possible construction material in an eco-friendly way. You're doing your best and doing your part by just attempting to build with some. Consider just purchasing all of the energy saving appliances that are available these days instead of others. These do typically cost a bit more but they will save you tons in the long run. In general, think long term. You're building your home where you plan to live for possibly the rest of your life! Do the best you can with the best that you can find. You don't need an interior designer or a first-class, renowned eco-friendly architect to construct a sustainable home. You need knowledge, access, wisdom, and most likely a few friends and family members willing to put in a bit of time, energy, or know-how. Oh, and maybe someone to give you a massage every once in a while.

I know, you've heard all this before, but I just love it when I see someone go for it and create a home that isn't sterile but livable, beautiful, and sustainable.

Oh, and if you possibly can, give a bit of that saved cash to a company/organization that builds low-cost, quality, sustainable homes in countries less fortunate than your own.

earth turns to gold
in the hands of the wise.
- Rumi

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