A house must be built to code by law.
Code is a minimum set of requirements we must follow. It is a standard developed by others. We have to live by that standard.
After all, we don’t live alone.
We live in communities and cities.
Code follows the local and national building code councils. Complying with construction codes keeps us safe. We have to meet minimum standards to reach comfortable levels, which we call safety. But depending on your location, codes lack regulations that keep us from reducing our energy loads. Because of that…
We can’t build a ‘code house’ anymore.
Some cities like NYC have already started to change their code regulations so that certain building strategies can be used to stop energy waste. These strategies are a part of a plan to conserve natural resources, reduce carbon emissions and make buildings better to live in.
NYC’s goal as a city by 2030 is to:
- Reduce carbon emissions by 30% from retrofitting its buildings
- Lower annual water consumption by the equivalent of 30 Central Park Reservoirs
- Divert 100,000 tons of asphalt from landfills per year
These goals are commendable. Yet, you and I can endeavor to do more.
As individuals, we can do more than our cities. We can make our buildings exceed code limits. Architects can go beyond the minimum standards to think more long term. You can improve your home so that it can last for a long time.
But, we have a short term mindset as individuals. And that is something we have to change. We don’t think long term enough. As homeowners, we find ourselves staying 13 years in a home on average. Our existing housing stock suffers when we move out of a house to trade up.
A death of a home occurs when the owner moves away.
Some of us like to have a new home every few years. Some buy bigger or smaller homes depending on family needs. Some improve their homes only to sell them in a short period to save on taxes. These reasons contribute to our lack of concern for building things that should last for generations.
When we move, we take our history with us. We take our personal care away from the homes we grew up in. There is a natural sadness we feel when we leave a memorable place behind.
There are some architects out there who believe that the concept of permanence no longer matters in our society. As you know, NYC is famous for its constant transformation in the built environment. Businesses come and go. Buildings go up and they go down.
I see buildings go up floor by floor very quickly. The steps to erect are streamlined. Construction workers are like kids with Legos.
Buildings get demolished the same way – floor by floor in the opposite direction. And quicker. Construction methods allow for this fast removal. It’s quite amazing to see the neighborhoods change in a matter of a few years. The Legos just disappear as fast as they were assembled.
We continue to design and build in a manner that allows for fast construction and easy destruction in a short period of time.
I ask myself the question: what does permanence mean? Permanence is the foolish attempt to deny the truth of our human existence. If you ask a Buddhist monk, we shouldn’t be attached to permanence. In fact, it does not exist in reality. It only exists in the mind.
When we no longer embrace permanence, we come to the reality of existence and the continuous change it undergoes.
If you take the life of the individual, a person changes every moment. A person has a different view from moment to moment. A person goes from one state to the next from moment to moment. Sometimes that person can decide on what is to become of his or her being.
Inevitably, a person grows old, falls sick from time to time, decays and dies away.
But that doesn’t stop us from staying healthy and strong for as long as we can.
It’s the same for our buildings and our homes.
A home gets wear and tear, and needs repair in its lifetime.
Do we have to get a new car every time it’s not running properly? Do we have to go looking for a new house every time something breaks? We can avoid all that.
I am an architect who believes that when we design a home, it should be built to last.
Maybe not for thousands of years. But, maybe for hundreds of years. That is the level of permanence I have set to achieve. This is my standard.
I don’t want to follow minimum standards set by others. I want to go beyond them. I want to do better for our society as an architect and as a homeowner.
I want to design great buildings. Good is not enough. Great buildings are those that have been around for centuries. Look at houses of worship such as Hagia Sophia in Istanbul or the temples in Angkor.
There are some great houses here in the U.S., which have been around for about 300 years!
My standards are high. And when they’re high, I’m asking for more from myself.
When you improve your home by achieving higher standards, it costs more. I won’t pretend that it doesn’t.
However, when you do the math, you’ll find that the initial costs to do a deep energy retrofit pales in comparison to the cost of ownership of a high energy consuming home.
The difference becomes enormous over the life of your mortgage.
What happens when you go the extra mile to make your home better in terms of how much energy it uses?
Let’s take a few moments to think about the reasons for elevating our standards and aspirations.
Carbon emissions negatively influence the quality of air we breathe. They increase the greenhouse effect. They influence extreme weather conditions like super storms and harsh winters. The global temperature increase and the loss of ecosystems are hazardous to the health of people and other creatures on this planet.
By changing our habits with respect to home energy use, we can reduce our carbon dioxide contributions to climate change.
By focusing on the way we build, alter and improve our homes, we can stop wasting energy. We can increase our comfort to levels we didn’t know we can achieve with little energy used.
By improving your home and making it comfortable, you can actually save money on your utility bills. You can actually save money on repairs from ice, mold and condensation damage.
You alone can save up to 30% annually on your electric bill by just changing your habits.
Think about how much more you can save by ensuring your home is made air-tight and super-insulated.
There are more incentives to living comfortably.
Depending on where you live, you can get special tax benefits if you invest in renewable energy. Tax benefits include investment tax credits for buying solar panels, investing in windmills, and credits for buying electric cars. Some U.S. states also provide huge tax credits for investing in solar energy.
Governments love to encourage investment in new sources of energy. Is that too good to be true? Check with your tax advisor to see how this applies to your home.
In conclusion, we must change our patterns in life. The way we build, use and maintain our homes are essential parts to a new model for living. Find the essential patterns that work for you. Create a different kind of home ownership. Truly own your home.
Low energy, high performance homes are expensive at first glance. The thought of owning one is radical. You may not be the concerned environmentalist. But if you’re like anyone who enjoys the finer things in life, do yourself some good and set a new standard.
Let’s lay the groundwork for successful energy retrofits. Learn what to do. Don’t be satisfied by getting away with doing the minimum. Certainly, don’t follow someone else’s guidelines.
Do no harm in life.
Make life flourish for generations to come.