The Architects’ Dream and The Consumers’ Dilemma
There have been extensive advances in the construction, research and understanding of eco-friendly architecture and design, that explore the misconceptions of expense, durability, and the vague labelling attached to ‘green’ housing.
However, with only architects or students who have no choice, reading such extensive research papers, there is a distinct gap between architectural insight of an eco-home and the consumers’ understanding, limiting economic and public support. We as consumers instead search for limiting and minimising technical solutions that can be applied to their homes with minimal disruption.
Solar panels, “high efficiency systems”, LED lighting, and plant covered spaces typically lead personal ‘green’ residential spaces. On a larger scale it is the preservation of literal green spaces, (parks and gardens) while growing available homes that fuel the movement towards eco-living. While these additions are some form of progress towards environmental security, they should be taken with a grain of salt as labels of “green” and “environmentally friendly” often lead us to jump to conclusions of wellbeing, planet health, and clean living. More often than not they are substitutes for unrelated climatic, ethical, and, more likely, economic concerns.
The Environmental Protection Agency describes a green building as “The practice of creating healthier and more resource-efficient models of construction, renovation, operation, maintenance and demolition”but few of us will, understandably, want to extensively research whether their homes are genuinely eco-friendly.
Making understanding harder for the general public is the lack of an absolute and comprehensive authority over a building’s ‘green’ standard. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) have become a common standard, however others, such as The Green Building Initiative (US), CECF (Australia) provide their own standards for their respective regions.
‘Perfect’ eco-homes are often incorrectly seen as too expensive, uncomfortable and/or unreliable, leading most consumers to steer towards fast technology driven solutions that focus on minimising energy use and enhance water management. Some families such as the George Yeager and Sharon Riskedahl (owners of the most energy efficient home in Ohio) have evolved their lifestyle into an exclusively electric one, with the reward of financial stability, their lowest monthly electric bill amounted to $4.63. This proficiency to evolve one’s lifestyle completely is an ability not every one of us capable of, and the transition into this lifestyle would be costly, time consuming and difficult, causing fast technical solutions to be far more favourable.
In a perfect architects’ world, there would be one overarching standard of environmental objectives, rating and labelling which would ease the transition to eco-homes and eliminate substantial misconceptions and confusion that hold the vast number of consumers back. Due to the immense differences between different countries, and even within states, this is currently merely a (delightful) dream.
Architects, like myself, similarly need to remember that it is the occupants who reside in the building that ultimately determine its environmental accessibility. Research of environmental architecture needs to be less academic and much less detached to become more accessible and accepted. One can design the theoretically perfect green, self-sustainable, eco-habitat, but if it’s forgotten that a family must occupy the homes and, in most cases, will rightly not abandon their lifestyle and comfort for a difficult transition that is equally difficult to establish when many faster and more comfortable solutions are available.
It may theoretically better to grow a garden on the roof, but the average consumer will quickly grow tired of the maintenance required and wish for the return of the simpler tiled roof.