The idea of building a “green” home had been floating around in our heads for a number of years, more as a realization of our environmental beliefs and an interest in architecture than as a place to live. Our motivation to build one for ourselves finally came from a desire to downsize and a growing frustration with trying to make the spaces in our house fit our evolving lifestyle, which now involved both us working at home most of the time. Our current house, which was our first attempt at a green remodel, was both too large and too expensive to be retrofitted to work for our new lifestyle. In retrospect, we realized it never was a good match for our lifestyle; we just never stopped to assess it.
Our initial search concentrated at looking at houses that needed very little work in hopes we could find something that would be “good enough”, but nothing jumped out and said “buy me”. The ideas we had learned from green building made all existing homes disappointing, but at the time we couldn’t really qualify why. While contemplating whether we had the energy and enthusiasm to undertake a time consuming and expensive remodeling project, there were some basic things we didn’t want to compromise on. We wanted a sunny lot, a quite street and an established neighborhood and we didn’t want to move more than a few miles away. We wanted the things our current house was lacking: work spaces for both of us, better usage of the “public” spaces, solar orientation and an attached apartment because we wanted someone there to take care of the house so we could travel. There were also things we had and didn’t want to give up: good daylighting, energy efficiency, good indoor air quality, and a wonderful connection to the outdoors. Essentially, we’d become very picky! Most houses are built to hold the requisite amount of space and fit on the lot while not costing too much, with few other considerations given. With every unsatisfactory house we saw, we were mentally were gearing up for construction.
When the house next door to friends went up for sale that was a reasonable remodel candidate (a 1948 box of about 900 sq. ft, we decided construction was our fate, and we began to create a more detailed list of what qualities we thought the ideal house should have – a process that ultimately led us to surprising conclusions.
We began with a quick (and not particularly thorough) search for what green homes had been built before, and quickly discovered that many houses were built to emphasize a specific purpose: there are solar homes, energy efficient homes, healthy homes, homes that emphasize alternative building materials (either natural or engineered) and homes that emphasized creating space that “felt good”. While most homes considered all green building topics, not many focused on a balanced approach, or what we call “how good can you be for an affordable price”. In addition, we couldn’t find examples that combined “green” with aesthetics and design patterns that make a house “feel good”. Clearly we would have to combine ideas from multiple sources to define our guiding principles.