Do you ever consider the impact you have on the world around you? Do you think about how much you as a family or individual use for yourselves? Do you think about how much you waste? I didn't until recently, and wow, was it ever an eye opener!
How do we measure success? Usually we measure success by what we have and what we are able to do. If we take a Caribbean vacation, people assume we have it made, we must be doing well. If we have a big house, we must have arrived at success. How true is their assumption, and how often are we putting on a show to impress them. Or worst, how often do we think we deserve these things. We are entitled to them whether we can afford or even need them?
We decided we wanted to reduce our environmental impact when we sold our house. We started looking at 'green' house plans. I was amazed at the number of 'green' mini-mansions! Folks, it is not environmentally responsible if you are utilizing nearly 3000 square feet of space for one couple! And trying to heat and air condition that amount of space counteracts the fact that you constructed it passive-solar. The amount of material used on constructing the spaces that don't necessarily get used are a waste in themselves.
Here are several things to consider when trying to build 'green'.
Of course, we all know about using green materials. It is helpful to not only use materials made out of renewable resources, but ones that are constructed using methods that are environmentally friendly. For example, bamboo is renewable. However, if a product is made out of the bamboo, and it's production requires high amounts of energy and produces toxic gases, it's use is counterproductive.
Reduce Waste! Many home plans are now being developed in ways that produce less scrap material. For example, walls are being constructed in dimensions that use standard lengths of lumber. Floor plans are being developed with simplicity in mind, with fewer exclusive areas of the home, but with areas that serve more than one purpose. For example, a house can be constructed more efficiently if a study 'area' is designated off the main living area instead of an extra room designated as a den. Many people are considering the simplicity of design and are now constructing homes in simpler shapes, with fewer peaks and gables.
Don't build areas for infrequent use. When considering whether to construct extra rooms consider their usage. Do you need to build a guest room for Aunt Sally who may or may not come to visit once every year or two, or would it be more cost effective to pay for her to stay at a motel, or with a friend. Is there really a problem with her sleeping on an air mattress for a few nights?
Consider not only construction costs, but heating and air conditioning of that space. Consider the cost, then divide that figure by the amount of time the space will get utilized. How much are you paying per hour for usage of that space? If you have frequent guests, it may be cost effective, especially if you can use that space for something else during the rest of the time. But so often we just want to be prepared for the 'what ifs'. Use the same method for rooms used for a sewing room or home gym. Consider a multi-purpose room to serve as a home office with a sewing closet and a stow-away bed or sleeper sofa for infrequent guests. You get the idea.
Consider energy use. You can use green materials in the construction process. And you can keep the wastefulness of the design to a minimum. But if you construct a house that uses a large amount of energy in order to maintain a comfortable environment, you will be nullifying all your efforts.
Most of all, consider the reasons for your design. Why does it need to be so large? Do you need that much space, or are you trying to impress others. Be honest with yourself. Can you be comfortable with less? People often believe that they need a certain amount of space in a home in order to distance themselves for the other inhabitants - personal space. Buy, hey, that is another issue! (see posts on fellowship)
The most useful tool in building and living green is our own mind - measuring our sucess not by what we have, but by what we accomplish.