Hybrid House Book

Broadly speaking there are two kinds of green building books: one looks to the latest scientific innovations for solutions and the other looks to revive ancient techniques. Lets call them the futurists and the traditionalists.

In the futurists camp you have high tech, in the traditionalists you have low tech.

Futurists design houses with complex energy calculations. They don’t mind using products with high embodied energy if the result is high energy savings. The finished house has a lot of complex mechanics. The walls are sealed with caulks, tapes and barriers that contain complex polymers and can only be made by chemists in large corporations. The furnace room looks like an airplane cockpit full of cables, tubes and magic boxes. In the house you can monitor air flow, energy flow and light usage. These houses tend to cost more and rely heavily on the fruits of the industrial revolution.

On the other end of the spectrum you have the traditionalist house. Energy efficiency is important but more important is embodied energy. Materials with the lowest embodied energy win – mud, straw bale, salvaged wood. Inspiration comes from traditional building in low tech pre industrial cultures. Techniques that require manual labor and little skill are prized. A traditionalist house is built to take advantage of nature’s cycles passively.

Then you have the Hybrid House. The book by the same name exemplifies this synthesis well. The book is called The Hybrid House, Designing with Sun, Wind, Water, and Earth, by Catherine Wanek. The author has done a great job at finding hybrid house examples that use the best of Futurist and Traditionalist synthesis.

For example she highlights a straw bale house with clay walls and passive solar design that has a highly efficient Energy Recovery Ventilators- a great synthesis of old building techniques and new science. And yes, even though she does not dwell on it, there are a lot of Passive Houses in the book since they currently are the best example of this synthesis (when done right, which isn’t always the case. PH can sometimes dwell to heavily on futurist design).

Her other houses are equally well chosen. The book is a great read full of pictures. I highly recommend it as a guide to building right.

About the author: Gennaro Brooks-Church

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