The September 6 Sunday New York Times contained a terrific Opinion piece, “The Not Very Smart Home,” written by Allison Arieff, former editor of Dwell and a writer on architecture and design.
In the engaging piece, Arieff quite artfully criticizes much of today’s home technology as being redundant, not logically integrated into other home technology that it supposedly enhances, and lacking sustainability.
Consider another point of view. Several decades ago, when proponents of active solar design “competed” with proponents of passive solar design, there was an adage that “owners of active houses could be passive, while owners of passive houses were by necessity active.”
The message was that one could put an array of solar collectors or photovoltaics on a south-facing roof and live comfortably forever after with reduced fuel bills in an active solar house. In a passive solar house, one had to rely on south-facing glass, overhangs and existing vegetation for shade, actively operate the house to enable cooling natural ventilation in summer, and stoke a wood stove and rely on the passive solar heating of masonry surfaces to help heat the home in winter. Relying less on technology forced a homeowner to think more about the home’s design and ways to optimally manage its operation.
One hitch with being passive in an active solar house is the sometimes high price of technology; its maintenance, repair, and sometimes replacement. The life-cycle cost of a passively heated and cooled home is often negligible in comparison. This is still true today. While I am an ardent believer in simple technology such as programmable thermostats and energy-efficient appliances and HVAC systems, I am still wary of the cost and long-term reliability of a complex technological system that replaces the use of the human brain and brawn.
It is hard to argue with today’s belief that teaching young people about energy efficiency, sustainability, and environmental responsibility through important real-life experiences and exploration – in school, at science camps, and at home – teaches a deeper respect for the environment and the need to actively participate in its protection and preservation as future adults.
After all these years, I still vote for being active in a passive environment and learning greater respect for the environment by actively and responsibly participating in its benefits.
The natural comfort of a well-designed Lindal.
The image here is of a south- and west-facing great room in a Seattle-area Lindal. Early in the design process, a simple computer model allowed us to optimize the roof overhangs on the south elevation and determine which deciduous trees to the West were required to block summer sun and which could be removed to open views of the Seattle skyline.
The built reality, in addition to looking beautiful, blocks western sun, which only shines on the basalt floor until 1 p.m. on June 21, but extends sixteen feet into the space on December 21, heating the floor and slowly releasing that heat in the evening. On a recent visit during an 85-degree summer afternoon, the home was cooled by cool air being admitted through the low awning windows, creating natural convection currents that emit hot air through high operable clerestory windows on the opposite wall. No air conditioning or expensive technology was necessary to maintain cool summer comfort.
It’s what we do at Warmmodern Living and Lindal… create comfortable, energy-efficient environments through careful planning and without high-cost technology.