Monday, February 15, 2010

Is Comfort Sustainable?

Since we bought 30 acres of land with no utilities or water supply, we have been trying to find ways to put a cabin there. We would like to do it without ruining the landscape, tapping into the strained aquifer, or running electrical lines 300 ft across the valley to the building site.

When we first bought the land, we camped primitive style while we cleared areas and explored others. We set up tents, cooking equipment, water, and other necessities. That was great. We love the fresh air, the natural sounds of the wind and animals. However, after several cold nights and sun-scorching days, we grew tired of the cold baths, hard ground, char-grilled food, and the open-air latrine. Quite frankly, as beautiful and serene as it was, it just was not that comfortable.

So we started dreaming about a modern luxurious cabin including all the comforts one might enjoy during a spa vacation at a resort. Okay, that dream lasted about 20 minutes until one of us reminded the other that we had not, in fact, won the lottery. On the contrary, we had just acquired a rather large monthly payment. So any cabin we build will have to be modest and cost efficient.

How can we have the comfort we want while staying true to our goals?

I have purchased a small library of eco-friendly and sustainable books. The Not So Big House books have popped up in my Amazon searches for some time now, and I have totally ignored them thinking "What does that have to do with sustainable building?" Just recently, I saw the book on a friend's shelf and leafed through it. Oh my goodness, this is what I have been missing. It was the elusive piece of the puzzle. I went home and ordered these two books from Amazon. I spent this weekend absorbing them, and it has totally changed my interpretation of comfort.

The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really LiveCreating the Not So Big House: Insights and Ideas for the New American Home

That brings us to the question: How can we build sustainably, cost efficiently, and still be comfortable? The answer is this: when choosing quality vs quantity, choose quality based on comfort. Before you start trying to absorb that revelation, take a second and think about the most pleasant and comfortable spaces you remember. Now, imagine why they were comfortable. What is it that you really liked about that space? According to the Not So Big House books, it may have been a sense of security, inspiration, or just the idea of having your own private space and a moment to enjoy it. It is not about expansive or spacious areas. It is not about expensive coverings or furnishings. It is about choosing what is important to you, being aware of it, and deciding to build based on that.

These books have really given me food for thought. We have been able to reevaluate what kind of cabin we want. We have created over a hundred cabin plans at this point, but now we have a direction for this project.

No matter the scale of the project, be it tree-house, cottage, or luxury resort, think about what makes you comfortable. Weigh that as part of quality every time you choose quality vs quantity. You may spend the same amount of money on "not so big", but if it lasts longer, makes you happy, and is a style you can live with for a long time, then that's sustainable building.