Architect’s Corner: Balancing Sustainability & Comfort
Sustainable Design Benefits Everyone & the Planet
by Michael Katsibas, co-founder, KAP Studios
By now we all know how important it is to live sustainable lives and make the right sorts of choices, which will protect the planet and our resources for future generations. We also know that sometimes this means making choices that might limit our comfort or immediate enjoyment. So, how do we get the balance right, particularly when it comes to our own homes?
As architects, our ambition is to design sustainable, low-energy homes to help address the problems of climate change, but which also give you all the comfort, distinction, and luxury lifestyle benefits that you are looking for in a new home. Architects and designers are creative people, and we relish the opportunity to find solutions to problems. Because of this, sustainable design is a great chance for us to make a difference whilst still making our clients’ dreams come to life. Our ambition is to design a house that is as beautiful, comfortable, and bespoke as possible, uses half as much energy to construct as a more traditional house, and costs less to run. It is a virtuous circle where design is good for the planet but also better for your wallet, and your well-being.
California is blessed with a perfect climate. Endless sunshine, gentle breezes, and mountains and oceans all give us a great place to start designing. It is also rich in natural resources, which support our fabric-first design approach. The way we choose materials and the way we shape spaces and buildings can already design out a huge amount of embodied energy, or energy tied up in the building fabric, and energy in use. This approach also uses the building itself to create shade and limit solar gain, which means less energy is needed to heat and cool it throughout the year. People love large windows in their homes but worry about heat loss or gain, but as long as we think carefully about which direction they face and how to manage sunlight as it moves throughout the day, they are fine. If we design the building to reduce energy use without compromising style or comfort you get an amazing building and spend less on bills.
There are many simple measures to include in building design to improve its energy efficiency without compromising on lifestyle. Once you have paid to have them installed, solar panels generate free electricity, and California is one of the best places in the world to use them. Heat pumps work like a refrigerator in reverse by moving heat outside in summer and inside in winter. They look, sound, and work much like the aircon units you are used to, but are amazingly effective because each unit of electricity used to power them is turned into three or four units of heating or cooling, and the same system provides both cooling and heating.
Wood is just about the best material you can use in sustainable design. Timber grows quickly, locks up carbon as it grows, can be used for building structures and finishes, and is great when it comes to resisting the effects of earthquakes, and California is rich in forests and timber plantations. We always like to start with a timber structure for buildings, and only use more energy-intensive materials like steel and concrete where there is no easy alternative. Using timber, which is much lighter than other structural materials, means that the entire building can be constructed faster and with smaller footings and less material. Although tall buildings can’t yet be made entirely from timber, the material still has a big part to play in the types of one to six-story buildings that make up much of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.
Hardwood floors are desirable for a reason; they are warm in winter, cool in summer, flexible, long lasting, and look great. They also come in a wide range of colors and patterns to suit any type of design style that you want. Sustainable hardwood comes from managed forests where each tree used for fine flooring or lumber is replaced by one or more saplings to regenerate the forest. This might be teak or eucalyptus in Southern California and cedar or Douglas fir farther north. Because hardwood floors last a long time, they can be reused and recycled when a building is pulled down, which locks away the carbon they store for generations.
Reuse and recycling is nothing new, but vintage cars, clothes, and buildings are as desirable as ever, appealing to our love for authentic originals. The most sustainable design is the one that remodels and improves a building rather than tears it down to start again. The key to remodeling is to keep what works well and recycle what doesn’t. There is an entire industry dedicated to architectural salvage that gives a second or even third life to building materials that can’t be reused on site. New technology means we can add smart systems to old buildings to bring them up to date without always starting afresh.
Sustainable design benefits everyone and doesn’t limit your dreams as long as you do it right. Let’s start today.