"Friendly" Robots and the New Vernacular

My air-conditioner is killing me! Modern technologies like the car, color TV, air conditioning and the Internet have been creeping up over us slowly since the 1950's. They have been slowly killing the Earth, homogenizing our beautiful, regionally-specific design styles, and breaking up our communities. It's Creeping Death! (music reference).

New technologies (e.g. the IPad) have taken away the American traditions of walking to the corner store, watching the kids play in the street, and visiting with neighbors from porch to porch. These slices of American life used to bring us together, but modern technology seems to be pulling us all apart. All our computers and robots are making us soft.

Wall-E, Pixar, 2009

Through the past decades, we have learned that our comfort and needs should be taken care of by our minions - this technology that surrounds us. Even worse than lessening our drive/requirement to be physically active, most technology has an insidious hunger for fossil fuel (Enter: Mr. Gas & Electric).

Self-centered Paradigm 

This thoughtless over-use of technology today is similar to the age before Galileo proved that the sun did not orbit the Earth. Once again, we need to hear (and understand) that the universe does not revolve around us!

We need to stop and consider how to best steward this place we call home. Don't we want to leave it better for our children? Don't we need to rebuild our relationships, and care for each other?

In the built environment, sustainability is best accomplished by looking back before moving ahead with new plans.
— LL

Look Back to Move Ahead

The cool thing about modern technology is its strong role in creating modern sustainable design. Even better for us all is that both new and old properties can be viewed through a similar lens. Whole-building design process offers an integrated design approach, but we must also include vernacular traditions. We need to look back to move ahead!

Retrofitting an existing property saves is often the most sustainable choice you can make for a home or business location. Historic homes and Main Street commercial buildings are inherently energy efficient.

We also should pay attention to the construction and details of our new homes and buildings. 

The New Vernacular

First: Design with Nature; Forge a plan based on local traditions

Passive solar design is not something new at all. In fact, building with nature is the longest held principle in sustainable, vernacular architecture. Considering the sun and our climate, maximizing site orientation, landscaping, room configuration and volumes, envelope and mechanical systems is key to the long-term performance of a building. 

Today’s PHIUS certified Passive House designs have evolved a lot since the original movement began in the 1960-70’s. There have been advancements in building science, materials and mechanical technology. Just consider the LED light bulb, for example. 

Passive House incorporate key principles, such as the following:  
•    Super-insulation
•    Energy Efficient windows and doors
•    Air-tightness
•    Thermal bridge free construction

Second: Minimize energy loads

Remember our old pals Mr. Gas & Electric? Mechanical systems use energy to operate. Back in the old days, we did not have mechanical systems. Most typically, these systems run on electricity and/or other fuel source.

Do you know where your electricity comes from? This is not a rhetorical question. I think you should go to the EPA Power Profiler website and investigate your “fuel mix” by utility provider. This website will help you:  1) Compare the fuel mix and air emissions rates of the electricity in your region to the national average. 2) Determine the air emissions impacts of electricity use in your home or business

Third: Maximize Smart Technology (Think like an LED)

The creation of the semi-conductor may have marked the start of our Technology Age. Computers became a new science. Information became our new currency. Today, buildings have become a lot smarter, too. Today computers are seemingly part of everything. 

Building Science was a field of study that was a creature of necessity. As we retreated deeper and deeper into our dwellings after the air conditioner was created.

The difference in today’s most energy efficient buildings, the Passive House, is the tremendous potential that design can now play in buffering us from the elements. A very robust thermal envelope allows us to use (80-90%) less energy than a typical code-constructed building. This is in large part due to materials’ science and technology.  Some new materials are much cheaper, relative to their overall affect on a building’s life-cycle energy use. 

#4 Renewable Energy

The recent posts on the Solar Decathlon and Team Maryland'd reACT House show us that cutting  edge technology continues to rely on nature. With passive house construction technique, we can heat our homes in the winter without much, if any, additional energy. Because of the incredible thermal envelope, minimum energy needs to be created for cooling either. 

With minimum loads required, renewable options become quite attractive ways to reach a net-zero operating energy home. We can use solar technology, geothermal and wind energy to power most of the Passive House designs created today. 


Unfortunately technology has made us very lazy. It is killing us! We all have a part to play in renewing our homes and communities from the inside out. Education is the first step. 

What kinds of  lazy technology are you trying to change in your home? 

Would love to hear some specifics on how you plan to make your current/future home more energy responsible. Looking for some feedback from you! 

Au revoir,