I have previously asked myself, “Would I not be more environmentally conscious if I retrofitted a building rather than building one from scratch?” Needless to say, I still scratch my head over this thought. To build my own home, one that meets my needs as I perceive them, is something I feel I must do with my time on this space sphere of ours. Would it not be easier, though, to build into another home those perceived needs? Thankfully, I am not the only one who has considered this thought, and so we turn to the wisdom of the Strawbale Studio for insight.
During this class under the omnisapient tutelage of Deanne, we addressed two thoughts, the first of which was: many of the homes built in the past fifty or so years were not built to last.
“Does this mean retrofitting or building is the more logical approach to my dilemma?”
She shrunk back and pounced up with the exclamatory idea, “Both!”
Second, in all dwellings there are compromises, and in order to be best prepared to have a successful compromise, we must first know what we need and how to fulfill those needs (needs and strategies). And from this point, we embarked on our journey into the brainstorm.
First, we created a semi-circle of needs, which included: connection to nature, thermal stability, food (preparation, production, and preservation), communication, natural light, beauty, space, privacy, sanitation, community, connection, expression, and water. It was not until the very end of our discussion that many of these needs were equally strategies for other needs. Thus, the choice of a circle had some synchronicity to our discoveries. Then, we completed the circle with the following strategies: thermal/heat/solar chimney (it goes by all three names), wood stove (rocket stove, Franklin Stove), electricity (solar, steam, sterling, hydro, wind), thermal mass (cob bench, earthen wall, etc.), insulation (in-wall, in-floor, in-roof, cabinetry, tapestry, carpet, wood storage, etc.), composting toilet (Clivus Multrum, Gap Mountain Permaculture Mouldering Toilet, Humanure Handbook, Living Machine, etc.), garden (greenhouse, window box, vines up walls, sprouts indoors, mushroom logs, etc.), windows (direction is important, skylights, from multiple directions, etc.), reflective surfaces, water systems (gray water, water battery, water filtration, cooling, aquaculture, hydroponics, shower, sink, etc.)
With the circle of needs and strategies developed, we better understood that they were equally important to retrofitting and building new. We also realized that our list was by no means definitive nor exhaustive. In a sense this circle of needs and strategies is a reflection to our first-ever class: The Continuum of Materials, where Deanne coined the acronym FIOT (figure it out together). Thus, I am now thinking that the materials continuum is a flexible strategy to achieve my needs in any building project. The materials continuum includes: raw↔processed, natural↔synthetic, safe↔toxic, local↔distant, temporary↔lasts for centuries, free↔expensive, short time to build↔slow, easy↔difficult, renewable↔non-renewable, high embodied energy↔low embodied energy, and so on.
Without any definitive conclusion, I can take away that every building project is a collection of compromises dependent on its situation. However, with a level head and a level in hand, every building project can meet our needs. (But first, we have to figure those out. Together!)