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Can a 4000 square foot home be green?  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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I found this excellent article:  Can a 4,000 ft2 Home be Green?

Some bits from the article:

If you build a 4,000 square foot house for six people on your site and do it conventionally all the way, it might cost you $500,000. If you add thin "green veneer," it might add 10% to the cost of the project. Thick green veneer might double the cost to a million dollars.

Examples of "green veneer" in this context are alternative construction materials such as straw bale, nontoxic paints, real linoleum, recycled wood, high performance windows & insulation; alternative power sources such as solar electric and heating; and alternative water sources such as recycled wastewater and rain water harvesting.


A 2,000 square foot house with completely conventional construction would have a lower ecological impact than a 4,000 square foot straw bale house that employed every ecological feature.


that is just, IMO, pure poetry ...

The article is loaded with excellent eye-opening stuff ...



 
paul wheaton
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My one complaint about the article ...

The title asks the question:  "Can a 4,000 ft2 Home be Green?"

My answer is:  yes. 

The problem is not the size, the problem is the size per person.  The article makes a point of 4000 square feet and six people.  So that is 667 sf per person.  The author does mention something about 297 sf pp in a tone that sounds acceptable.  So, perhaps with a dozen people, 4000sf could be "green".

 
Leah Sattler
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that is a very interesting article and makes some excellent points especially regarding unrealistic expectations. I would like to add that sometimes pursuit of "green" should, for practical purposes be altered to say "greener". for instance if someone is bound and determined to build a $4000 sq' house, what are the best, most cost and enviromentally effective and beneficial solutions that could be incorporated into it? 
 
paul wheaton
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I think that the author of the article, Art Ludwig (who stands on a pedestal in my mind about the same height as Paul Stamets - just slightly shorter than sepp holzer) is suggesting homes much like those designed by Ianto Evans (another pedestal - just as high as Art's). 

I, on the other hand, think that folks could have an even smaller per person footprint by having twenty people living under one roof - much like at damanhur. 

Further, I don't think that the driving mission (to me) is to "be green", but to have a variety of advantages.  The concept of being "green" is to be less of a societal burden.  For me, I think I pursue other things and end up green. 

First, I want to conserve money.  If I can live on $300 per month instead of $3000 per month, I enjoy more freedom.  I don't have to work so hard.  If I share a large house with 19 people (or in a very tiny house), my quality of life is far higher and my expenses are far lower. 

Second, I have concerns about toxins.

Third, I desire a natural aesthetic.

Fourth, I want to have safety and security.

When I pursue these things, it turns out my path is greener. 



 
                    
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One summer my parents, sister and I traveled for three months in a 19-foot camper. We were all amazed at how much easier  it was to live in a hundred and fifty square feet than 1500. You could reach the silverware drawer from the dining table and the kitchen sink. Cleaning was a breeze.


I don't understand the need for thousands of square feet in a living space.  My man and I live in a 240 square foot cabin (no indoor bathroom, our bed is in a partial loft), and really enjoy it.  Easy to heat, easy to clean.  A third person would make privacy impossible, though.  I think that about a 100 square feet is the smallest functional space a single person can comfortably live in, mostly because of the need to sit about three feet away from someone that comes to visit, without having both of your backs to a wall.  We're talking about building a house that's at the most 1000 square feet, including a green house.  And that will seem HUGE after three more years in this cabin. 

I agree that large spaces become more ecologically responsible when they are shared by several people.  Traditionally, this happened naturally because you lived with your parents, then brought home your beloved, and your parents helped raise your children.  Americans are so obsessed with individualized EVERYTHING that this idea becomes repulsive.  But it saves money, resources, and would probably help people have a higher standard of living, if they were willing to share. 
 
                          
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I must admit i'm happy in my donga, cant see the need for this

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/11/30/2757168.htm?section=justin
 
                                          
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Can a 4000 square foot home be green?  I dunno, hey, Glenn!  How big is the underground complex these days?  Hard to get much greener than Glenn's home, and it's sure pretty huge (to me).  And it is a thing of beauty and joy.

Take care,
Lauren Neher
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Like Paul, I'm not so sure that 'green' is an appropriate goal, as the *sole* goal.  Other factors need to be looked at.  And, there is also the concept of individuality -- it would be a poor world if everyone had to be exactly the same!  *I* certainly wouldn't want a 4,000 s.f. house, but that doesn't mean that it's wrong for someone else to want it. 

However, when I'm drawing house plans, it's odd, but it seems like it's a lot easier to make a good, efficient, workable plan in the under-thousand-sf category than in the over-two thousand-sf category.  It's like I really don't know what to do with all that extra space.  And I think that might be the case with a real house, too. 

100 sf would be a little small, though, unless we lived in a warm climate and didn't need heat -- and could be outdoors most of the time.  I looked at a website one time about some people who live in a tiny house in the Southwest somewhere, out beyond the grid, and seemed to do most of their living outdoors or on a roofed-in porch.  The little house held a bed and a few other items, but that was it.  In that situation, it could work, but when you start having to fit a wood stove into a tiny space, it gets a little harder.  I've been working on a camper for the back of my pickup -- still trying to figure out what the maximum dimensions can be, but most likely around 64 sf -- for two people who don't share a bed.  It's an interesting project; when you have to add wood heat/cooking indoors, it becomes very interesting!  But it does give you some idea of what can be done with a minimal space.  If we were to have to live in that full-time, I'd have to give up my grandmother's old treadle sewing machine, though, and that's something I really don't want to do.

Basically, living in a small space requires paring down your possessions to what will fit in the space.  So you have to decide what you really NEED, and have to have, and what you can get rid of.  If you try to keep too much stuff, the space becomes cluttered and difficult to keep clean, and that's bad for morale.  I think a lot of depression is caused by clutter and dirt.

Kathleen
 
paul wheaton
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I think that if one person wants to live in a 4000 square foot house, then it is their right. 

I think if they spend ten million dollars on it and make it out of straw bale, cob and all sorts of so called "eco" or "green" stuff, then that's okay too.  And, I think Art Ludwig makes a damn good point:  Art would call that "not green".

As for me, I think I do not pursue that which is "green" or "eco".  There's just way too many people with way too many different ideas of  what that means.  And there are a lot of things with the "green" or "eco" label that are not part of my own personal evil plots. 

I do like the idea of sharing a very large home with a lot of people.  I save money that way.    If I save enough money, I don't have to come up with as much money.  I, therefore have more freedom to goof off.  I like goofing off.  I also get more safety and security:  If I have money in the bank it lasts a lot longer.

I think art ludwig is a damn sharp guy.  And while a lot of folks sing the "green" song, I don't like their singing as much as art. 

And I like to think that if art knew about my idea of a dozen people living in the 4000 square foot home, he would agree with me.

As long as I am on a roll, packed to the gills with obnoxious thoughts:  I like the idea that there are lots of really big houses that have 12 or more adults living in them and I could then pick which one I wanna live in.  And then folks that like to have one family in a 2000 sf home can do that.  And folks that like to have one family in a 700sf home can do that.  And folks that like to have one family living in a 6000 sf home can do that. 

I like the idea of living with a lot of people in one, big, eco home.  I'm not saying that everybody has to do what I want to do.  I would also like to have art ludwig look at that massive home and say "yeah baby, that's what I call 'green'!" - yes, I care about what art ludwig thinks about what I do.




 
paul wheaton
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I just had another thought on how one might measure the green-ness of a home.  Total price.  A home that cost $5000 is probably a lot more green than a home that cost $200,000.

Although I would be interested in seeing a comparison between a super green home that is $200,000 and a conventional home that is the same size that is $100,000.  I would guess that the conventional home would use a lot more toxic gick.

 
Franklin Stone
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There are many criteria that determine whether something is green.

How much carbon was released into the atmosphere during its construction?

How much carbon will be released into the atmosphere to keep this building warm each year?

How many other toxins were released into the environment because this house was built?

How many toxins will be released by this house as it decays and rots?

How long will this house last?

How many people will be sheltered by this house during its lifetime?

These criteria are all inter-related, and not easy to answer sometimes, but Art Ludwig's point is sound and I think cuts to the deeper problem.

A big cost for building a home is labor. Most stick-frame homes are built with unskilled, poorly-paid labor. I'd much rather spend money hiring real experts, real craftsmen who know and love their craft and aren't out to make a quick buck. This might make a smaller home much more expensive than a McMansion on a square-foot basis. Realtors and Developers love the price per square foot thing, because it fools consumers into thinking that they are getting a better deal for their money.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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paul wheaton wrote:Although I would be interested in seeing a comparison between a super green home that is $200,000 and a conventional home that is the same size that is $100,000.  I would guess that the conventional home would use a lot more toxic gick.


The amount and variety of toxic gick used to make a photovoltaic panel is truly stunning. The mere expense of the gick is an important part of the price of the panel.
 
                              
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A few perhaps unwelcomed observations here..

First off of course a home of that size can easily be "green," for instance following some modified Oehler methods.. Secondly the whole "carbon" nonsense has long since been debunked by actual scientists who showed that the ONLY basis for this carbon dioxide myth lay in feeble would be "scientists" who in fact are mere government hacks, who failed to have any controls for their "ancient ice" observations (observations which ignore the fact that carbon dioxide escapes ice under pressure..)

Third impacts are temporal as well, something all too often overlooked. When I cull dead standing timber (snags) I am removing real or potential habitat for wildlife, but if I were to take living timber I'd be doing that as well as killing a tree.. so one has a short temporary harm, the other a longer harm. So too with construction. Using a modified Oehler method one can minimize the impact both in type and degree, as compared to stick built construction which has many different and great harms. So ultimately a 4000 sq ft house of the modified Oehler method (or modified) may have far less impact than straw bale, cob, or certainly any stick built construction.

And as Paul points out the means of heating and cooling, as well as day to day living certainly matters as well..
 
Ernie Wisner
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Sure with a sufficient amount of paint..... anything can be green.
 
Max Kennedy
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Ernie wrote:
Sure with a sufficient amount of paint..... anything can be green.


Yep, even storms!
 
Max Kennedy
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No!  "A" home, defined as a living unit for 1 family, cannot be green at 4000 sq ft.  Even with great building techniques such as Mr. Oehler's it utilizes far more materials than a similar home of smaller footprint.  Comparing such a structure to standard stick frame construction is a red herring of the comparing apples and oranges kind.  The argument of sq. ft. per person is specious.  If 1 family has that many people then they are contributing to overpopulation and the continued pillage of the natural environment unless we are talking about a multigenerational home such as the Waltons (kids, parents, grandparents) but then it is replacing 3 standard homes.  If such a construction is shared by 2 or more families it is no longer "a" home but 2+ homes, sort of a small apartment building.  You might argue it uses less materials and embedded energy than a standard construction home and be right but that's more akin to comparing the damage from a high powered bullet and an arrow through the heart.  One does significantly "less" damage but I wouldn't be able to argue either is a good thing.  A 4000 sq. ft. building can be green, as in environmentally conscientious, depending on it's use but a 4000 sq ft single family home, no.
 
                              
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Double standards are not sound basis for any point. If we cannot compare a home which uses a tiny fraction of the material, and even less energy, to stick built homes, then necessarily we cannot compare a smaller version of that home with the larger version either.

The standard is "home" not a particular type of housing structure. If we arbitrarily exclude all those which cost more from the examination, then yes by stipulation the one left is the most costly and least green, but all we will have shown is that we can arbitrarily exclude everything until we get the result we want. We won't have actually shown that such a home is not green, only that we did not want to consider it green so we played games with our criteria.

"You might argue it uses less materials and embedded energy than a standard construction home and be right but that's more akin to comparing the damage from a high powered bullet and an arrow through the heart."

An inapropos analogy. A better one would be a bullet through the heart and a mild sunburn. Surely you cannot be claiming that failing to use the massive amounts of energy which stick built homes, use is identical to using or is only slightly different than using those massive amounts. Then too there is an important difference of type being overlooked or ignored here. Stick built homes have many problems and costs which simply are not found at all in many of the alternatives, including the Oehler method. the costs (environmental as well as monetary) of dimensional lumber, caulk, resins, concrete, insulation, heating and cooling systems, etc. All of these have shipping costs (again both environmental and monetary), production costs, and maintenance costs which simply aren't present in many of the alternatives, including the methods I mentioned.

BTW the snags I removed from the forest in order to build my home opened up area for wildlife. the limbs removed provide cover for quail and other creatures. This also allowed more areas for the living trees to grow and thrive.. These sorts of benefits aren't found in stick built homes (or cob, or others for whatever that is worth..) Again we see a difference of type which ought not be ignored if we are going to be honest about the question.

Not clear why you would say that sq ft per person is specious then give a sq foot per person argument. I understand that you arbitrarily limited the argument to whatever the approved size of family is supposed to be (I really would not dare to mandate that sort of thing myself). If the number of people doesn't matter, or if it must be limited to some arbitrary mandate, then necessarily a single individual who built a X sq ft home would be "not green" no matter how much good was done and how little harm is done in the building and living in the home. X here would be 1/(the approved number of persons in a family/home). So my own modest home, about 800 ft sq including all storage for all equipment, mechanicals, water purifying, etc. would then be "not green" despite the fact that I have not even so much as killed a tree in its construction.. See the problem(s) with this suggested approach? We get false positives, which tells us that the argument must be invalid in form.

Essentially it seems to me that arbitrarily dictating what should be considered green by stipulating a particular size of family as well as the amount of square foot per person essentially throws the baby out with the bathwater. We really do need to consider the building methods, upkeep costs (environmental and monetary), and energy usage. After all, if we ignore these as suggested, then a 100 sq ft house that burned lights and energy like Al Gore's would still be green by decree... (another false positive)
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Excellent post, Storm -- good logic and reasoning!  Something that is often in short supply in these discussions, which is too bad. 

Emotionally I would have to agree with the premise that nobody really NEEDS a 4,000 s.f. home.  However, when you start mandating home (and family) sizes, where does it stop?  When we are all living alone in 10' square boxes like some poor people in (China?  Japan?  I don't remember, but it was a site with a photo-journalism essay on these cheap apartments for the very poor.  China, I think.).  Tiny rooms crammed into high-rise apartments may be the epitomy of green if you consider the shared walls, heating systems (or lack thereof), and so on.  But what kind of quality of life would the inhabitants have?  I'd rather have a little more space -- and my OWN space, with some land around it.  Else life would hardly be worth living.  (On the other hand, you couldn't pay me enough to make me live in a 4,000 s.f. house -- not unless you want to do all the housework for the rest of my life, LOL!)

Kathleen
 
Len Ovens
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Ernie wrote:
Sure with a sufficient amount of paint..... anything can be green.


Wow! so my electrically heated house is green? Well actually, like many other "Green" projects it just has green trim.
 
                              
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Kathleen, thanks for the kind words..

I am with you in that I don't need nor want 4000 sq ft, and my own place I am building is actually larger than I wanted, but there are considerations when building and in some cases very minimal additional costs for significant increases in size. In traditional building methods this means a second floor, which is cheap to add compared to adding more roof. In my own case, the ground determined to some degree where aspects of the house had to go, and so the house is larger, especially in volume, than I had originally planned. To make mine smaller, and still functional would actually have taken more material, more money, and more energy..

I cannot speak for the whole country, but the apartments in China that I visited while smaller than many folks have in the US, were not too very small. One young man's apartment I visited was twice what I had when I was his age, though admittedly there were no lights on the stairs going up to it.. Some of the homes of the poor in the rural or what we might consider suburban areas had small structures within a larger compound. So the sleeping area might be a 12x12 room or some such structure (for each person or couple) with a separate kitchen of a similar size.. and perhaps then a living area (which may double as a sleeping area) of a similar size..

Still, not all were unusually small either. I was at the home of one family which was elegant and with two floors, as big as any apartment I've seen in the US (and these were not wealthy folks.)

Just my experience while there..
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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It's interesting to hear first-hand views on another country!  The ten-by-ten rooms I mentioned were, I think, a special case for some extremely poor people -- I just used that as an example of where some people seem to want everyone to go!

Kathleen
 
                              
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I understand the example, and I do believe that some of that exists certainly. I only offered my own experiences because my time there really showed me that everything we are told about China is simply not true, or is so different as to be grossly misleading, so I tend to try offer a different experience when I can. I was simply enamoured with the people and the country during my time there..

I recall reading a line from Jay Shafer (tumbleweed tiny homes) to the effect that no one needs a home any bigger than the ones he lives in, which while I find his designs aesthetically appealing and quite functional, is simply not true. For instance I am too tall to live in his homes, though I am not much above average height. There is no single solution, which is why we are all here finding possibilities, or at least that is my impression.

Anyway, I think we are in agreement that we should seek better methods, more efficient uses, and better end results, rather than dictate some arbitrary size, form, or even aesthetic consideration.
 
Ernie Wisner
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Len wrote:
Wow! so my electrically heated house is green? Well actually, like many other "Green" projects it just has green trim.

You bet; just look around at all the green wash.

in reality not even close to the radar. the simple ground truth is that large buildings pay for them selves over time.  it should be noted that the building that lasts a few hundred years is the one that has been found useful and maintainable for that entire time.
green washing any building thats gonna be gone in thirty years by calling it green today is one of our greatest straw-men and the most difficult to get folks born since the 40s to see.

but then what do i know I condemn folks who build Cob,bale brick, stick, Etc. because they dont look or plan for the long term and build crap from day one.
 
Len Ovens
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:
(On the other hand, you couldn't pay me enough to make me live in a 4,000 s.f. house -- not unless you want to do all the housework for the rest of my life, LOL!)



On the other hand, my mother, who lives in a bigger house than that, says that she has found the bigger house easier to clean than smaller no furnature to move to clean behind. It has also meant that rather than spending the time to put away hobbies when part done, they can be left ready to work on in their own room. The kitchen is wonderful, two or even three cooks can work in it at once without running each other over like my Yf and I do. Our house is 1800sqft and in many ways bigger than we need. We have two boys, but they have chosen to use only one bedroom, so there is a spare, but we don't really have enough people use it to make it needed. The kids use the living room to play so the "family room" down stairs doesn't do much either. However, I would love a second kitchen... or one twice as large. I suspect that my 5 year old will want his own room again at some point too.

We could live in 600sqft (we've done less for a few months) provided there was lots of outdoor space and probably an outdoor kitchen and a garage/shop/barn as well. We can and have slept the whole family in one bed, though even when camping the kids have their own beds in a 15x9 tent. My Yf and I like some privacy
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Len wrote:
On the other hand, my mother, who lives in a bigger house than that, says that she has found the bigger house easier to clean than smaller no furnature to move to clean behind. It has also meant that rather than spending the time to put away hobbies when part done, they can be left ready to work on in their own room. The kitchen is wonderful, two or even three cooks can work in it at once without running each other over like my Yf and I do. Our house is 1800sqft and in many ways bigger than we need. We have two boys, but they have chosen to use only one bedroom, so there is a spare, but we don't really have enough people use it to make it needed. The kids use the living room to play so the "family room" down stairs doesn't do much either. However, I would love a second kitchen... or one twice as large. I suspect that my 5 year old will want his own room again at some point too.

We could live in 600sqft (we've done less for a few months) provided there was lots of outdoor space and probably an outdoor kitchen and a garage/shop/barn as well. We can and have slept the whole family in one bed, though even when camping the kids have their own beds in a 15x9 tent. My Yf and I like some privacy


This is actually a very good point.  I've never lived in a really large house -- just cleaned them for other people!  But it's true that half our housekeeping struggles in our current house (1344 square feet, with three adults living in it) is just that there isn't enough space for all of our stuff.  It's easy to say, well, get rid of some of the stuff, but a lot of it is tools and things that are used regularly.  I make it a practice to go through my daughters and my stuff at least once a year and thin out anything that isn't being used (although I keep some things that are emergency supplies -- we may not NEED them frequently, but if an emergency came up we would be in a world of hurt if we didn't have them -- things like the kerosene heater and cans of kerosene for when the power goes out in the winter).  So we don't really have a lot of extraneous possessions.  If the house was laid out a little differently, it would work better, though -- we really needed space in the laundry room for a full wall of pantry shelves, for instance. 

It's been discussed here before that the Tiny houses really only work well for people who normally buy groceries at least once a week; those of us who put up a years worth of food in harvest season not only need space for the food, but also for the equipment used to put it up.  I need space for extra egg cartons and an egg basket (I have chickens); milk pail, milk strainer and filters, milk jars, jars of kefir in progress, and cheese-making supplies; butchering equipment and supplies; garden tools; canning equipment; and I want to build a solar food dryer.  I also do some carpentry and have tools for that; I have chicken cages, livestock supplies, potting soil and fertilizer (don't use that much but once in a while it's needed), bicycles and my daughter's adult trike, tarps to cover hay and for other uses, and so on and so forth.  I also do some of my work and/or prep work for teaching at home, and need quite a bit of space for supplies for that.  And I sew and do some other craft work, and have supplies for that. 

In addition, because we live in area with distinct climates, we have to have winter and summer wardrobes -- heavy winter clothes and boots take up quite a bit of space, as do the extra blankets we use in the winter.  My daughter needs space for her toys and stuff, and space to play with them.  I have a ton of books (probably almost literally!), and most of them are the kind you keep for reference material.  I could thin out a few, but most are keepers. 

So, for us to live in a Tiny house would mean really reducing our standard of living, because we'd have to get rid of a lot of the tools that we use on a regular basis.  I like the idea, but I've lived in too many over-crowded small spaces to really enjoy that.  I do think that there's got to be a happy medium, though -- not too big, not too small -- JUST RIGHT!!

Kathleen
 
                              
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Indeed tiny and miserable is not as green as modest and comfortable.. human misery counts because we all matter as individuals. Too many folks forget this and insist that we should all suffer all life..

 
Brice Moss
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human misery is mostly a choice humans make most humans would be perfectly happy wearing sackcloth and living in a shed, untill they saw their neighbor had a bigger shed
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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brice Moss wrote:
human misery is mostly a choice humans make most humans would be perfectly happy wearing sackcloth and living in a shed, untill they saw their neighbor had a bigger shed


Not if they were cold and hungry.  At least not IMO.  And to me, having the tools to grow and process our own food is an essential part of not being hungry.  Ditto for cold, if we had wood heat (which I intend to have when I have my own place again someday).

Kathleen
 
Len Ovens
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:
It's been discussed here before that the Tiny houses really only work well for people who normally buy groceries at least once a week; those of us who put up a years worth of food in harvest season not only need space for the food, but also for the equipment used to put it up.  I need space for extra egg cartons and an egg basket (I have chickens); milk pail, milk strainer and filters, milk jars, jars of kefir in progress, and cheese-making supplies; butchering equipment and supplies; garden tools; canning equipment; and I want to build a solar food dryer.  I also do some carpentry and have tools for that; I have chicken cages, livestock supplies, potting soil and fertilizer (don't use that much but once in a while it's needed), bicycles and my daughter's adult trike, tarps to cover hay and for other uses, and so on and so forth.  I also do some of my work and/or prep work for teaching at home, and need quite a bit of space for supplies for that.  And I sew and do some other craft work, and have supplies for that. 


Perhaps you get my reference to a garage/barn/shop (or whatever) and an outdoor kitchen. I think perhaps a division between heated and unheated space might help. It is certainly wasteful to heat space to a "comfortable" temperature just for storage.

That is why in the gas/electric heat debate, I go electric. I can control each space individually. Our family room and one bedroom went unheated last winter. Better would be a small house with wood heat and outbuildings. better than that is passive seasonal solar (or annual or whatever) of whatever size. Wood heat could then be the backup. I think in any case some outbuildings would be helpful, a root-cellar, barn and outdoor kitchen could all help reduce energy use for climate control. Just doing more outside would help.

Just a note: our electric is hydro, there are no coal power plants here.
 
                                                
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I recently had this this conversation with some of my wife's co-workers- energy efficiency consultants for one of the worlds foremost consulting firms on energy efficiency, renewables, etc. - they are responsible for many regulatory programs which determine what is "green"; their take was all in technology- that a house of any size could be "green"...this of course was their "professional" reaction. When pressed about grassroots environmentalism, they ceded that perhaps any excess negated true green....regardless of technology. I am always a proponent of less is better, and responsible.
 
            
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To me, building a green house means building one that will last for 500 or more years, not one that falls down or needs major maintainence every 30 to 50 years.  A larger house that will last a very long time is more versitile and easier on the environment than a bunch of tiny ones.  Everyone has different needs.  Look at the ancient Roman archetecture, a lot of it is still in use, what could be greener than that?
 
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