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Philosophy of Design



The "greenness," sustainability or efficiency of a house can be broken down into three main categories:

  1. The planning.
  2. The materials.
  3. The technology

The Planning

Site Orientation

Site orientation is very important. The house should be situated so that it blocks the northwest cold winds with fewer openings and a heavy wall. It should be open to the south and southeast, allowing warmer solar heat. Overhangs and louvers block steep summer sun angles, but allow low angled winter sun into the house.

Southeast orientation allows the main roof slope to face southwest, which is a good location for solar panels on the roof.

Building Configuration

The house has a heavy mass to the north or northwest side, which acts as a buffer to the "cold" side of the house and also acts as an efficient run for the plumbing and HVAC.

The roof of this portion of the house is also designed to collect rainwater, and can be easily fitted with a larger cistern or something as simple as several rain barrels.

The rest of the house has an open design, allowing for natural airflow options from the large operable door panels and windows. The "core" plumbing portion of the house allows great flexibility to the remainder of the house, which means that you can easily add bedrooms, a screened porch, etc.

The overhangs and wood louver systems not only add a functional sun filter, but a variety of outdoor space that blurs the line of "indoor" and "outdoor."

The raised pier foundation allows airflow around the house, and cause less disturbance to the natural drainage of the building site. The house sits "quietly" on its natural site, with less concrete.

The Materials

The two factors regarding materials are efficiency and ease of delivery (in other words, materials that can be sourced locally). Efficient materials include concrete filled foam forms or blocks for the core area, and engineered lumber (such as TrusJoist) that is made from wood chips and strands as opposed to old growth lumber. And obviously, you'll want to add all the latest high tech insulating materials like structurally insulated panels.

Using local materials and local suppliers reduces your delivery costs and time, and also plays a role in the sustainability factor, because you don't have to spend a lot of energy moving around huge materials that can be found locally.


You'll want to pick out the most energy efficient windows and doors that you can afford for the house, because they will pay for themselves again and again over time through reduced energy use. You should also consider efficient water heaters and HVAC units, the best available insulation, etc.

You can also easily add additional sustainability features to this plan such as rainwater collection, solar panels, gray water reuse, wind power. The choice is really up to you! It would be quite possible to take this house completely "off the grid" with a combination of wind and solar power with battery backups, if the design is well thought out during construction. You'll naturally need to find a local renewable energy expert to help you with this.

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