Readers who post a question in GreenBuildingAdvisor’s Q&A forum typically look for advice on very specific building problems. Whether the challenge is detailing a rainscreen, selecting windows with the right solar heat-gain coefficient, or using thermal mass to store solar energy, the focus is usually narrow and technical.
And that appeared to be the intent of John and Rebecca’s recent post asking for comments on a set of house plans. “In terms of thermal bridging, heating, etc., is there anything you would do to improve them?” John asks. “Because my wife and I are thinking of building, and we like the ideas presented in these plans.”
But the conversation quickly takes a different turn, veering into unfamiliar territory and becoming a discussion of much more esoteric concerns. What makes a house comfortable? When should livability trump energy efficiency? How small is too small?
None of those questions has a yes-or-no answer, but their complexity goes to the heart of a fundamental dilemma about green building: Will we actually like living in the house we’ve worked so hard to create?
Practical, maybe, but not livable
David McNeely bores right into the basic layout of this 1,250-sq.-ft., three-bedroom house. “In terms of living,” he says, “the placement of the one bathroom requires every bedroom occupant to traverse the most public spaces, then walk past exposed utilities! The reward is a tiny bathroom. Reminds me of houses that were first converted to indoor plumbing, where the only comparison was an outhouse in the back.
“One of the greenest things a builder can do is create a building that will live a long time,” he adds. “Designing a livable space is fundamental. Creating a space that makes people feel good to live in has a payback that is…
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