We are preparing to host another green home tour to a group of local high school students soon, so I’ve been thinking about all of the sustainable features in our home that I like to highlight on tours. It’s been a while since we’ve hosted a student or scout group, so it will be nice to do a showing for education again.
One of the topics that came up as I created my outline - one that I often forget about when discussing sustainability - is "Longevity as Sustainability." One of the important concepts about building a sustainable home is making sure that you get what you really want and that it lasts a very long time, so that you don't have to replace things and contribute to the landfill problem. For example, our exterior metal siding and roofing each have a 50 year warranty on the finish, and a lifetime warranty on the structure of the metal panels. There's no asphalt roofing shingle on the market that can come close to that, so bam! I never have to worry about my roof. Ever. That's nice, let me tell you. Because now that my kids are older, I spend all of my time worrying about who's supposed to be where for what, at what time, and did they bring the right gear and enough snacks and water - know what I mean? Who has time to worry about a roof, right?
The other instance of longevity I thought about was in terms of the overall structure, not one specific component. Since it’s been a little while since we’ve hosted a tour, I had forgotten one of the main aspects of our home: the entire first floor is accessible. That means that it was designed for restricted or limited mobility. The front sidewalk gently slopes up to the front door with no steps, all of the walkways and hallways throughout the house are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, the microwave is housed below the kitchen counter instead of above the stove, and there's an accessible master bath, bedroom, and walk-in closet on the first floor. In addition, all faucets and door handles are lever type, instead of knobs - to accommodate someone who might have dexterity issues because of an injury, arthritis, or simply from aging. We also built extra wood blocking into the stud walls in the bathrooms where toilet and shower grab bars could be installed later if we need them.
An additional bit of design ingenuity of our home is the fact that there are really two master bedrooms - the main master on the first floor, and an additional master with a walk-in closet on the second floor that currently belongs to our teenage daughter. The thought process for the second master was the fact that both my husband and I are the oldest siblings in our families. We feel a sense of responsibility that if one of our parents ever needed constant care, we could reasonably allow them to move into our first floor master bedroom and bath, while we could comfortably move to my daughter's room upstairs without having to sacrifice bedroom or closet space! We have an additional spare bedroom up there where my daughter could move to, or we would hope that any such moves would take place after she's left for college and out on her own. See? Longevity.
What longevity really amounts to is a design term that's hot right now called Aging in Place. This is actually a design specialty now with a certification that goes along with it: CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist). You can do an online search to find out more about Aging in Place and accessible or even Universal Design. You can also search to find a CAPS professional in your area as well. Some builders have CAPS qualifications and can build you a home or addition that is ready for Aging in Place. Other CAPS designers can work with you to make changes or renovations to existing homes to make them more Aging in Place compliant. The idea is to allow people, if they so choose, to stay in their homes as long as physically possible. (Longevity.)
Accessible, Universal, and Aging in Place Design are much needed specialties in my field, but there's an additional, newer specialty that can either be seen to conflict or support these others. It's called Active Design. The idea of Active Design is to keep people active as long as possible, and it takes design ideals from large cities, Europe, and other parts of the world, and integrates them into spaces in a unique way to encourage more mobility. Because of obesity being such an epidemic in the U.S., architects and designers are trying to encourage more active lifestyles on a more subliminal level. Concepts in Active Design include placing beautifully designed stairways in prominent locations in the design - while elevators are more hidden or less convenient to access. Workplace users are actually encouraged to walk more, take more mini-breaks from sitting at their desks, and so on. The trends in homes over the past few decades has been a shift to single story or Ranch style homes or at least homes (like mine) with a master bedroom on the main level, however, Active Design encourages daily trips up and down stairs to maintain a higher activity level, which keeps muscles and bones of the body stronger and encourages more . . . . longevity. Urban planners are encouraging biking or walking within neighborhoods by including bike racks, trails, paths, and bike lanes on roadways to encourage more activity as well.
Well, that's all I have for you to ponder today. Have a great day and why not spend a little time thinking about your own longevity. What type of design is for you? Aging in Place, Universal Design, Active Design? Perhaps a combination of all three? There are no rules - it's your space, as long as you . . . Live Well and Dream Green!
If you liked this post you might like, "Green Education for Our Youngest Citizens."