Monday, July 28, 2014

Realistic Assessment of Our Environmental Impact

The book, "Eco Architecture", is one of the Opposing Viewpoints Series published by Gale Cengage Learning and has 21 contributors.  It explores the pros and cons of the green building movement and sustainability/environmentalism in general. A recent re-read of the book reminds me that we need to keep our project in perspective, especially now that we are out front blogging about it.  

Why are we doing it?
The reasons fall into two categories.  The first is simply economic -- to save money on the construction of a customized home and on future energy costs.  This reason would hold more water if we were younger, but at our ages, only the savings on construction is a factor; future savings on energy not so much.  So there must be other more transcendent reasons.  

Salvaged lumber will help to minimize carbon footprint
Build vs. Remodeling
However, thinking that we are having a significant direct positive impact on the environment is not one of them.  As far as a carbon footprint during construction is concerned, we could do more for the environment if we were to buy an existing house and remodel it.  Pouring 
A view from below the stacks
a concrete floor for our house will probably release more carbon than whatever we would do to remodel an older home whose carbon has already been sequestered.  This carbon imbalance would especially be true if we were using conventional building methods.  However, because we are intentionally using non-standard methods and materials, our effort may have a small positive impact on the environment over remodeling.  The real benefit to the environment, though, will be through little or no energy consumption over the life of the house to an extent not possible with a remodel or with standard new construction.  But even then, we have no illusions about our minuscule contribution to sustainability.

Demonstration Site
As a dental educator, I always felt that I had a greater impact on dental disease than would be possible by merely practicing dentistry.  In the same vein, when we blog about our home and open it to anyone who is curious, there is a potential for a greater impact on the environment than we could have alone.  To quote Jo Scheer in "Eco Architecture", "Though extreme eco-architecture may not be a solution to a thoroughly sustainable building industry, it certainly provides ideas.  It is a model of ideas and concepts that beg to be assimilated".  

Cutting-edge High
The 40 years I was in dentistry was a unique time.  I was fortunate to have gotten in early and ridden the cutting edge of a new discipline until it matured into a sub-specialty.  We were often pushing the envelope to an extreme and sometimes uncomfortable degree and made a few bad choices.  But we also got an undeniable, reinforcing high from our preponderant successes.  I will have to admit that this past experience has made me eager and confident to be an early adopter in another arena. I know that not all of our non-traditional and untested methods and materials will be entirely successful.  But I also know that our diligent planning and preparation, combined with a ridiculous amount of perfectionism during construction, will lead to a successful outcome overall that might influence mainstream eventually.  (Recent update:  As if the end of 2016, the number of visitors to our blog surpasses my fondest dreams -- running at about 6,000 per month and increasing rapidly.  So just maybe, its impact could be considerable after all.)

Bucket List
Long before I began to think environmentally, I had the totally impractical itch to take a year or two off and DIY a home.  Well, late in life when I finally got the opportunity, Dottie made the mistake of saying "yes".  All of the foregoing reasons for doing our project are worthy, but without sticking so tenaciously to the bucket list, I doubt is would have happened.