Sustainable Living: Traditional wisdom adds more green to the modern home
By Kathy Dean
Homeowners and builders are incorporating more efficient energy systems in homes than ever before. The awareness of, and demand for, sustainable energy sources has increased over the years, but the use of green energy is not a new concept.
Before modern heating and air conditioning was widely available, people still found ways to keep their homes well lit and comfortable. That old-time wisdom still has a lot to offer.
“The challenge, really, is to use traditional passive cooling techniques along with modern technology to keep our homes comfortable by modern expectations,” said Brandy Herlinger Morrison, historical architect and president/owner of Morrison Design, LLC.
She shared several ideas to meet that challenge. For example, the way a house is situated can have a big impact. “Orienting the home to catch sunlight and breezes can reduce the reliance on other energy sources for heating and lighting,” she said. “The house should be situated in such a way that helps to cool it in summer and heat it in winter, while capturing as much light as possible.”
It takes some careful planning to achieve maximum efficiency. The architect needs to consider where sunlight falls on the house at different times of the year, as well as what direction the wind travels across the property.
Morrison went on to explain that the placement of windows and doors is another important factor. “In older buildings, we often see that the front and back doors are in a direct line with one another, as are windows. This allows breezes to sweep through the house and cool it.”
External shutters, often seen as a simple home decoration, can have an impact on energy savings as well. Using operable shutters that are well fitted to the outside of windows helps to control the interior temperature of the house.
According to Morrison, today’s home designers have moved away from tall or high windows; instead, they tend to opt for more insulated wall space. However, with Energy Start compliant windows, taller windows still insulate while allowing more ambient light into the room. This reduces the need to turn on inside lights.
Another traditional feature is the large front porch with an overhanging roof. “The porch is a wonderful passive cooling technique for homes. Not only does it offer shade, it also creates an extra living space that can be used comfortably through much of the year,” Morrison said.
Simple color and landscaping techniques provide ways to save energy, too. For instance, brick or siding in light colors reflect the sun’s heat. Morrison warned that while a light-colored roof will also help keep a home cool, it could become a light pollution issue.
“Planting a row of deciduous trees along the south side of the house will shade it in summer,” she explained. “Once the leaves fall in winter, the sun can shine through and warm up the home, while the trees still provide a wind break.”
Morrison added that the passive cooling techniques have worked well for her family in their Atlanta home. While their large house is kept in the 70- to 80-degree range throughout the year, their energy consumption remains surprisingly low.
10 Tips for a Greener Home
Everyone can make a positive impact on the environment of their home, as well as the planet. There are a variety of changes that you can make that will yield big results. Keep Atlanta Beautiful, Inc. staff members, as well volunteer board members, offered these helpful suggestions.
- Unplug device chargers when they’re not in use. Cords suck energy, even when an electronic device isn’t attached to it, and TVs still draw electricity/energy when they’re not turned on. Connect your big electronic items to a UL certified power strip so the switch can be flipped off when they’re not in use for a long period, such as when you’re going to work, to bed or on vacation.
- Change to eco light bulbs. An LED security light uses virtually no power and can be left on all night. Consider adding motion sensing switches, which are especially helpful with forgetful children or housemates.
- Save water in the bathroom with a low flush toilet. Older toilets use from 3.5 to 7 gallons with every flush, while a low flush toilet uses around 1.5 gallons. Low-flow shower heads and faucets can reduce water consumption up to 50 percent.
- Set the thermostat in the mid 70s to conserve energy and save on costs. Control heat from the sun with closed curtains in summer and open curtains in winter. When the opportunity arises, replace older windows with new energy-efficient double paned windows. They make a huge difference in controlling air leakage.
- Once older appliances need to be replaced, look for energy-efficient models. Get product reviews and more information at energystar.gov.
- Xeriscape (landscape with plants that need little to no irrigation) or plant edible vegetation.
- Keep a compost bucket in the kitchen for uncooked vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells and coffee grounds that can be added to a backyard compost pile.
- Request paper bags at supermarkets and use them as biodegradable trash bags in your home.
- Use non-toxic cleaners. Natural cleansers – baking soda, borax, lemon juice and vinegar – can be used for many cleaning tasks in the home. Websites like eartheasy.com and prevention.com offer suggestions and specifics.
- Capture and use rainwater with a rainwater storage system, like one of those available at rainwaterpillow.com. The water can be used for non-potable purposes, like watering outdoor plants. Add a filtration system for potable water that can be used for drinking, bathing and laundry.
Keep Atlanta Beautiful, Inc. is a non-profit organization comprised of volunteers that partners with city and county governments, private industry and local community groups to make Atlanta one of the most beautiful cities. Learn more at keepatlantabeautiful.org.