Last Friday The Oregonian's Gail Kinsey Hill reported on a house in Portland being designed and built by two brothers, Dustin and Garrett Moon, that will achieve a level of green that even substantially bests the US Green Building Council's LEED ratings. It will be an almost entirely self-sufficient, truly sustainable home. And as Hill's report indicated, these aren't top local architects doing this project, but a couple of young guys (22 and 30) heretofore unknown in the architecture/building community.
[In the image above, which I took from the Oregonian article, the numbers denote several individual features: (1) green roof, (2) rain capture system, (3) translucent movable roof, (4) a movable wall, (5) insulating concrete walls, (6) photovoltaic modules, and (7) a shop and garden.]
The house used as its guide the Cascadia USGBC chapter's Living Building Challenge, which favors simple performance measurements over the point system of LEED. Their project may be the first in the country to meet these more stringent standards.
Historic preservation fans may cringe at the fact that Dustin and Garrett are tearing down an old Southeast Portland home to build this new version. But as they explained in the article, the solar orientation was all wrong. This will be a very glassy home wrapped around a courtyard. It'll also have composting toilets and even a movable roof and interior walls. (The photo at left is by Stephanie Yao of the Oregonian.)
One of the admirable aspects of the project is that the brothers are building the house themselves as well, using lots of recycled supplies from places like The Rebuilding Center. The whole thing will only cost them about $200,000.
However, one thing that made me scratch my head was that Dustin and Garrett's cost-saving measure to have bedrooms with dirt floors.
Sustainable design and construction has always had this aspect to it. I think of the cob benches I see at various co-op groceries, bike shops and the occasional cafe around town. Or the rammed-earth projects one reads about in various rural locales. You don't get much more basic and sustainable than using the ground beneath our feet for architectural purposes.
Still, I keep saying to myself, "Dirt floors?" When I think of those few conservatives out there who are skeptical about green building, cob benches and dirt floors are to me precisely the kind of stuff they'll ridicule.
I absolutely love Dustin and Garrett's chutzpah making a do-it-yourself project into one of the nation's most sustainable homes, all on a tiny budget and lots of their own sweat. Yet if you're spending $200,000 on your future house, which is cheap by most standards but still a huge amount of money, couldn't you just spend the extra few hundred dollars for some simple flooring? If they want to stay green, there are countless fine options in bamboo, true linoleum, cork, etc.
Imagine their mom staying there and saying, "You boys are grown men and you're still tracking dirt all over the house. Wipe your feet!" And they of course retort, "But mom, it's our floors!" Maybe it's just the neat freak in me, but I'm with mom on this one.
UPDATE 4-18-08: As many have already read in the comments to this post, it's not really dirt floors that will be in the Moons' house. Rather, it's an earthenware flooring that is more akin to hardened clay. Regardless, I was being at least partially tongue-in-cheek when I harped as much as I did about these guys' floors. I just am not fond of the cob and rammed-earth aesthetic, although I certainly can't fault the function and sustainability of these age-old practices. As one commenter said, earthenware floors are a lot less weird when you think about it than cheap synthetic manufactured linoleum leaking chemicals into the air of our homes. And above the floor in the Moons' house is an aesthetic (and a function) I do love: lots of glass. So whether it's dirt or earthenware beneath their feet, nice going fellas!