Humans, I believe, have a responsibility to be caretakers of and steward the earth. This applies especially to those of us who design and build homes for a living.
It can be easy to highlight and critique everything that is outdated and broken with our industry. But I am a believer in focusing on the positive, or what we are aiming for, rather than on the negative, or what we are trying to avoid.
So below I have outlined nine foundational values that drive what I do and shepherd the way in which I try to go about designing and building new homes. Do every one of my projects hit each mark below? Not yet. But they are what I aim for and implement to the best degree possible, as much as is within my control when working with contractors, developers and homeowners.
Here are the nine foundation values, with a brief definition or thought on each one:
Every home should produce as much energy as it consumes
This can be accomplished through smart design ideas and construction techniques to reduce the amount of energy that is required, combined with an on-site or local energy production system.
Every home should utilize a rainwater and greywater reclamation system
Harvesting the rainwater that falls on the home site and reclaiming greywater for gardening, lawn care or flushing toilets will reduce the amount of off-site water that is required and in certain climates could even eliminate that need.
Every home should have space for food production and storage
This can range from a few planting beds in the yard to planter boxes on a deck or balcony, a vertical garden wall or even an indoor climate-controlled container to compact or large food forests and traditional rural farms. There are solutions regardless of local climate or whether or not you live in an urban or rural environment.
Every home should be a healthy environment
Natural light, indoor-outdoor connection, air quality and non-toxic materials all contribute to creating healthy environments for our families to live in.
Every home should be uniquely accessible and barrier-free
From multi-generational living to unique physical challenges, each person or family may have their own needs that must be addressed. A home should be uniquely tailored to meet those needs.
Every home should fit harmoniously into the land it is built on
Taking into account the topography, climate and views of a building site the home should look like it belongs there and connect the residents to the environment.
Every home should make efficient and responsible use of the materials it is built with
Proper planning, detailing and coordination in the design and pre-construction phases can reduce the amount of materials that are wasted on each build and even make re-use or multi-purpose use of some materials.
Every home should make use of locally-available and natural building materials
The natural environment we are building in should largely inspire and contribute to the types of building materials we use in a home.
Every home should contribute to the local economy using local labor for construction
A home is by nature a part of the location it is built in. Using local labor for it’s construction can bring value to the community and increase awareness and knowledge in building more sustainable, responsible homes.
These are the values I believe should be at the center of every new home we design and build. Even partial implementation of these principles are better than our current methods. It may take some of us doing large-scale developments of new neighborhoods and communities of homes built using all nine of these foundational values to set an example and new standard, but it is achievable.
It starts one home at a time.