Earth Mode

architects, cleveland, washington, sustainability, residential designBefore we discuss what to build our house from or what expertise it takes to build it, let's first take a look how we can use nature to do some of the things we rely on manmade materials and equipment to do. Let us look how the Earth may help us do just that.

One of the greatest sources of heat loss is through infiltration. That is where the wind blows through or heat leaks from those cracks around windows and doors. Another source of heat loss is by conduction. That is where heat from the inside passes through walls, roofs, and floors to the cold of the outside. What would happen to energy consumption if these two sources of heat loss were greatly reduced? My house does just that by design and here is how.

As previously discussed, each building site has its own unique set of attributes; positive and/or negative. This site has an attribute that most would view as a detriment to cost effective construction. That attribute is the existence of three foundations/basements of previously standing houses. As it turned out, this attribute not only became cost effective in its construction, but also cost effective in the homes operation.

Since the existing construction had to be removed anyway and I have no need for a basement, I chose to put the first floor of my house at the same elevation as the old basement floor. The removal of those multiple basements also provided the opportunity for a large "sunken" terrace that is accessed by sliding glass doors. One enters the house from the North at the site's original grade and then you descend a half flight of stairs to the living room, dining room, kitchen, and the terrace that is located on the south side of the house.  If you elect to ascend the stairs a half level, you will find the bedrooms. To take advantage of the Sun and wind, I placed all of my windows, in the form of sliding glass doors on the south side of the home.

Now what does any of this have to do with heat loss? For the most part, we are all somewhat knowledgeable of the Earth's geothermal properties, but we usually think of its application in terms of mechanical equipment. My house incorporates this concept by design, not technology. By "sinking" the first floor below grade and by raising the existing grade around portions of the house by the technique of "earth mounding", I effectively insulated that part of the house by raising the frost line, thus reducing the temperature differential between the exterior and the homes interior. This also aided with the infiltration scenario by reducing the homes direct exposure to the winter weather.  Infiltration was addressed further by choosing not to place windows or doors (except for the not often  used "front door") on those sides of the house that are most exposed to the winter winds.

By taking advantage of what the Site offered and what nature provides, I was able to design a home for myself that is less reliant on manmade material, mechanical equipment, and nonrenewable energy sources. This design approach translates into reduced construction costs, reduced operational costs, and a sustainable living environment.