Sustainable Housing in Upstate New York

I believe that the issue of how we build our houses is one of the most pressing to face us today. Urban sprawl, energy inefficiency, and rows of soulless suburban ‘McMansions’ all plague our communities. I’ve been interested in how we can adapt our housing traditions to both reflect the local vernacular architecture and values of environmental and social sustainability. The latest product of this exploration has been a house entitled “Excelsior” (after New York’s state motto, ‘ever upward’), which attempts to show that ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ housing is not the province of neo-hippies building Navajo Hogan-inspired houses out of straw bales and earth bags, but can be interwoven into local architectural traditions to create attractive, livable homes.

This home fuses the traditional Federalist farmhouse that we see all throughout rural Upstate with ecologically conscious ideas like passive solar heating, home-grown vegetables (it has an attached greenhouse) and renewable energy use (solar power and wood heat). Throughout it, I've also added little touches that I'd like to see in a house, such as floor-to-ceiling windows and bookshelves, comfortable window seats for reading and an open, airy design.

Since the floorplans and descriptions are rather long, I
have created a subpage to lay out all of the details: Excelsior, Sustainable Upstate Housing. I hope only to inspire discussion and thought on the best way to build our homes, as I am not an architect or a professional in any construction fields (I do wield a fine paint brush though, if the need arises); however, those planning their own homes are welcome to adopt any ideas they desire from Excelsior.

I do hope that you enjoy my home. I look forward to your comments.



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Natalie said...

I would be interested to see a side and rear elevation of this plan at some point as you explore this idea futher (as Jesse is aware, improper window scantion is chief among my complaints about contemporary housing) A comment I had was about roofing - it seems as though the plan calls for a hipped roof, which if covered with solar panel tiles would have the benefit of catching light from all sides, however since hipped roofs tend to be low, they can be disadventagous in a snowy region like ours. Also, can solar tiles be walked on? If there's a problem with one at the top, there would be no way to reach it except by climbing on top of others. As a variation, I could see how the plan could be easily modified for a gable roof, which in addition to being steeper (if you live in a particularly snowy area) would also allow for attic storage.

Those are my musings for now, anyway ;o)

the landless said...

Is this your real house or just a dream house?

Jesse said...

Landless, I'm not sure if it's either. Though I certainly don't live in it. I designed this house as something of a thought experiment. I'm interested in sustainable ("green") housing, but was always disappointed that the designed were either what I refer to as "granola crunchy" (for example, built out of hay bales in the shape of a traditional Navajo hut with a central 'ceremonial space'), or super-futuristic like something out of Disney's Tomorrowland or the Jetsons. What I wanted to do was create a simple home rooted in local building traditions--hence a home that would 'fit in'--that was also ecologically friendly. I also purposely designed it to fit into the architectual culture and climate (AKA snow) of the region.

I hope that answers your question. I will add that I certainly wouldn't mind living in it.

Adam said...

Attached greenhouses are great, more people should invest their time and money on growing their own veggies...its so much fun!

Jesse said...

In response to Natalie, I do have a dream of some day putting together a side and rear elevation, but I'm it takes a while to make these things up in paint and other priorities will be taking the lead for a while.

Natalie has always told me that 'improper window scantion' is her pet peeve. Though honestly I have no idea what that means, I usually nod my head. I hope I didn't commit this sin with my house. Solar panels cannot be walked on and I do recognize the snow deficiencies of the house. With that said, if I were to develop this plan into a real house the roof would be easily accessible through a trapdoor of some sort to allow for easy access for snow removal and fixing the solar panels. A steeper roof would prevent this. Attic storage would also be nice, but might be impractical.

Natalie said...

I was trying to find a good link to a definition of window scansion to include with my comment, but I couldn't find one. The fact that I spelled it wrong in the first comment couldn't have helped either ;o) Let's see if I can do alright in my own words...

Scansion, as students of poetry (particularly of the Latin variety!) know, is the rhythm of metered poetry - what makes a poem in dactilic hexameter or iambic pentameter or some other such configuration (I'm hoping resident Upstate poet Joe can elaborate on this more)

So window scansion is the rhythm of windows across the surface of a house. A lot of buildings have systems of ratios, determining window size, spacing, height, etc. This goes beyond just symetricality - using the house Jesse conceived as an example - notice how the distance between the windows and the corner of the house is shorter than the distance between the window and the door? That's part of its scansion. Those are the kinds of things I notice about buildings, largely because I am a nerd.

In my opinion, window scantion needn't be symetrical to look good; it needs to be harmonious. Plenty of houses built today look great from the font, but on the sides they have either no windows, or some stange arrangment that looks like this. To me, it looks hasty and ill-concieved, and that's particularly irksome to me.

This, again, is my opinion.

So that's window scansion, as I understand it anyway. It's not a commonly used term, but it encapsulates what I mean to say when I get riled up about some building's design.

Alia said...

But what about yurts??

Jesse said...

I think you might be referring to Yurt Power! a fantastic article we had a while back about a couple of women who built a yurt in the woods outside of Geneseo. I've got nothing against yurts, or people who live in them, I just have a feeling that we're going to have to get a critical mass of people interested in sustainable housing if we're going to make a difference here---a critical mass that might not be too excited if we insist that sustainable housing means you have to do your business in the snow because there's not indoor plumbing in a yurt. Or that you burn oil lamps and heat with wood. If you can pull it off, great, but I want to make sure that sustainability reaches out as far as it can.

Jesse said...

oh yeah, here's the photo of the yurt, enjoy!