I got a fantastic book the other day, called, Building Green: A Complete How-To Guide to Alternative Building Methods, by Clarke Snell and Tim Callahan. I'm a sucker for straw-bale houses, and that sort of thing. Someday I'd like to live in Arizona in a hand-built, free-form, artistically-rendered straw bale home. For now I read books about them and day-dream.
This is a great book to daydream over, with its pictures, descriptions and how-to explanations of earth plaster, straw bale, corwood and cob building methods, plus step-by-step instructions for how to build a living roof.
The best part for me right now, though, is its introductory chapters on siting, landscaping and design.
Even if we sell my current house (I'm working on it!), I won't be building from the ground up; I'll be renovating an old house and trying to make it workable for our needs today. Snell and Callahan point out that before you start any building project, you need to be aware of how your house will sit on the site. Can you align your house with the south? (Yes! Thank Goodness). Will you have windows that take advantage of a southern exposure, and any type of thermal mass to retain the heat you get for free from the sun? Hmmmm.
My husband and I have been talking about this. The trick with using passive solar heat is how you site your windows and roofline. You want nice, big windows that catch the sun on a winter's afternoon. But you want an overhang on your roof that blocks that same sun on a scorching summer afternoon. Okay.
Our kitchen is perfectly positioned to be a lovely room all day long. We are shifting our planned master bedroom so that it's on the south side rather than the north side of our house - one or both of us may end up with our home office there, after all. It's too bad our livingroom will be on the north side and our bathrooms on the south, but I don't think that can be changed. I'll campaign for a nice large window in the bathroom, if possible.
Another important consideration when you design a home is cross-breezes. I was shocked when I moved to Canada to find that many homes in our town have no windows on the side walls, but apparently this isn't unusual. Worse is the practice of installing huge picture windows in the main front room that cannot be opened. Our current house drove me crazy until we installed a new window in our living room. Before that the only way to catch a breeze in the front half of the main floor was to leave the front door wide open.
I hope we'll be able to install some extra windows in the new place. I understand that side windows leaves one open to the view of the neighbors, but....it's a small price to pay for a lovely cross-breeze in the middle of summer and a lot of additional light all year round.
Building Green covers so much more material, and I'm sure I'll reference it again in the coming months. Look for it in your library or bookstore - it's a terrific book.