Efficiency and The Big Bad Wolf

 EarthFirst)My foray into musicals was extremely short-lived for reasons clear to anyone who knows me, or has stood next to my bellow at a soccer game. In fact, my only solo, ever, was this: "I build my house of stone.. I build my house of brick... I have no chance to sing and dance 'cause work and play don't mix." (insert inexplicable voice crack in last line - just couldn't hit that note). I was eight, and I was bragging that I had built the house where the other 8 year old pigs could huddle together when the BBW came.

I have been reminded of that song recently, as news of clever construction has come in from three different quarters. The Big Bad Wolf now, of course, is our grim oil-guzzling, carbon-emitting future. So which of the three new types of house will do the most to beat back that wolf? Hate to spoil the ending, but no new construction is going to win. The best hope for our collective future is to retrofit the houses we've already got.

That said, some of the new construction ideas are pretty cool. My personal favorite is the brick house designed by Indonesian Business School students. Before you balk that brick seems an unfriendly and non-renewable building material for south Asia, let me get the specifics out.  EarthFirst reports that these bricks are made of cow manure. Not only that, "EcoFaeBrick is 20% lighter, 20% stronger and far more earth-friendly than clay brick, which damages the environment during the production process – yet it costs the same." The material is plentiful, and words is, the houses don't smell.

Closer to home, Jetson Green reported on an energy efficient, modern home recently being built for under $70,000 - an accomplishment as encouraging as it is surprising.  Architect Caleb Schafer, owner of Simple Modern Homes, designed and built the sleek 1400 sq. ft. Texas home with his wife, subcontracting only the plumbing.  Simple Modern Homes offers similar finished, modern, energy efficient homes for between $50k-$150k. One clarification feels important here - because the homeowners did a lot of the work themselves, they saved a bundle on contractor costs. Nevertheless, the house goes a long way toward dispelling the myth that energy efficient homes need be extravagant, or expensive, and we hold out hope that more builders will begin to follow in the Schafers' footsteps by building high-performance efficient homes for any budget.

Finally, this week Clayton Homes launched the i-House - an energy efficient and technologically advanced house that, Fast Company reports ".. is at least 30% more energy-efficient than traditional homes, is perhaps the most affordable option for a low-carbon lifestyle, with monthly energy costs of under $70." These Clayton i-Houses look cool. They're modular and full of options to make a homeowner feel clever and a bit like they are building their brand new house with the grooviest Lego set ever.

These are great advances, all, and they deserve the attention they garner. But new buildings - even fantastic new buildings - can make only a small dent in our carbon imprint. We look forward to learning that this same enterprising attention will be paid to retrofitting existing homes and saving energy. That will take the BBW's breath away faster than anything else. Not only that, none of us need be architects or builders to get started. Give your eight year old a caulking gun... and let her sing.

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