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Dwell Green

Michelle Kaufmann Designs
Two very different approaches to more sustainable dwellings came across the WorldChanging transom today, and while both are orthogonal to the "one-off design on your own (preferably quite spacious) lot" concept underlying many of the homes in The Green House, these two models appeal to very different demographics.

Those who wish to live in a less wasteful home don't always have the option of building something new. This Sunday's New York Times takes a look at a NYC loft renovated for a greener footprint -- but rather than tossing the wallboard and other detritus, the designer recycled it into new building material, dramatically reducing the amount of waste and cutting the cost. Interestingly, while the article notes that the loft owner's husband works in the environmental field (for the Carbon Trust in London), the story isn't spun as "look at what these crazy treehugging hippies did with their loft," but as "look at how this designer figured out how to save money and avoid creating more trash." If one wasn't careful, one could get the impression that the New York Times Home & Garden section was actually starting to consider sustainability-focused design to be... cool.

"The renovation had to be as environmentally conscious as possible," said [designer Matt] Gagnon, 31, who has worked for Frank Gehry and Gaetano Pesce. "And it seemed the most responsible thing to do was to reclaim what was already there." [...] Mr. Gagnon estimates that 60 percent of the wallboard was thus diverted from the Dumpster, while the remaining two-by-fours were given away on Craigslist.com. Reclaiming materials, Mr. Gagnon said, not only keeps them out of landfills, but also potentially reduces the environmental impact caused by manufacturing and transporting any new materials that might be used instead.

(We'll refrain from comment about the greenhouse output created by a couple living in New York and London and flying to meet each other on a regular basis -- but they had better be using a carbon offset program...)

If a pricey Manhattan loft isn't in the budget, how about a prefab home? While prefabricated dwellings suffer from being thought of as fancy mobile homes, some designers are looking at how they can make their prefab dwellings both stylish and sustainable. The Glide House is one of the sleeker plans on the market, combining the relatively linear layout of the traditional mobile home with both high(er)-efficiency design principles and a definitely upscale look. The Glide House website is entirely Flash-based, but more information is available at the Live Modern website. The Glide design isn't going to win LEED Gold status, but it appears to be a decent step towards a low-footprint lifestyle.

The downside of the Glide House concept is that, like the much more expensive Green House designs, it needs an empty lot on which to be dropped. Cities and neighborhood associations are likely to be skeptical of plans to tear down existing dwellings in order to replace them with a prefab (even beside the fact that this would add to the expense); I do wonder, however, if there would be sufficient interest in a "sustainable mobile home park," allowing only Glide-style prefabs, to make that a reasonable proposition. Although Glide Houses are more costly than more commonplace prefab designs, at around $200,000-$250,000, they're still significantly cheaper than many standard houses.

The high-end low-waste refit and the specialized green prefabs are further evidence that sustainability-focused home design is moving squarely into the mainstream. What's missing is a more visible service for helping to convert an existing stand-alone dwelling into something of much higher efficiency. And none of these address the issue of renters; as most renters pay their own utility bills, there's no incentive for landowners to install higher-efficiency appliances or to use higher-efficiency building materials.

The pieces are coming together for a transformation in how homes are built and rebuilt in the United States. A variety of appliance and material options are available, the utility cost motivation for owners is increasing, and cultural role-models and influencers are starting to more openly embrace sustainability concerns. If we can figure out the last two big components -- the planning and execution assistance for middle-class homeowners and the incentives for non-resident landlords -- we could see a major change in a surprisingly short time.

(Thanks to Treehugger for the reminder about the NYT article, and to "Dave" in the comments in The Green House post for the link to Glide.)

Comments (2)

Great design! It seems there is some Chinese element. The long stool I mean

Ellen Keenan:

I am interested in information about the styrofoam homes. I live in SW Idaho and am planning to build very soon. Please email any local contact information to me. Thank you.


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