Sustainable Living

How one Houston couple’s environmentally sensitive home transformed their lives and influenced a neighborhood,  So many any of us hear the words "green" or "sustainable"

and think, "How nice. Not for me." It's all thanks to a

common misconception: that living green means living

without. This is particularly true when these terms

are applied to homes and architecture. The phrase "sustainable home" instantly

conjures images of "tree hugger" communes, where we don

our humble hemp kaftans to toil in organic gardens.

In reality, today's sustainable homes cater not only to the

needs of the environment, but also to the immediate needs of the

homeowner. And they do it with impeccable style.

This story of one Houston couple's sustainable home and workplace

will re-educate you on what "sustainable" means to architects and the

Houstonians who are lucky enough to call these green masterpieces home.

WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE DESIGN?

First, let's define the term. According to ecomii.com, the 'credible,

comprehensive resource for a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle,"

"Sustainable design describes a design philosophy that values the natural

environment as an integral factor in creating new products or modifying old

ones. The term often refers to the movement in architecture that incorporates

the local environment and takes advantage of natural resources, such as

sunlight, wind patterns, and geographic location to minimize the impact of

building on the local, regional, and global environment."

THE HRUSKA STUDIO/HOUSE

Rame and Russell Hruska comprise the husband-wife architect team at

lntexure Architects, a Houston firm that does residential and commercial

work throughout Houston, as well as residential design-build development

within the Museum Park Neighborhood (within the Museum District).

The Hruskas take a holistic approach to design. "We are not only

thinking about where to locate a window on an exterior facade, but also

what it means to the space inside in terms of light, furniture placement,

and views to the exterior," Rame says. "And we are also considering what

that window means in terms of the landscape and what features should

relate to it in the garden--for example aligning a window with an

existing mature tree, or planning a new landscape element to create a

sense of vista," she adds.

 

The Hruska's live and work in a

sustainable home/studio they designed

and built as an example of sustainable

architecture and living. They built the

structure on an urban lot they found

littered with garbage. In a decision to

more closely merge their work and home

lifestyles, while still defining a distance between

the two, the couple designed their space with

the studio and office on the ground floor, and the living area upstairs.

Some spaces serve dual functions between working space and the private

living space. Outdoors, a pavilion accommodates gatherings for up to

12 people. Kid-friendly play areas with water features complete the picture.

"It really has been a transformative process accommodating our first

child (now almost 4) and a second baby due late March," Rame says.

"The live-work configuration has allowed me to participate in the work

environment much more than I might have otherwise been able to, and still

juggle time with children as a mom."

The Hruska home/studio was designed with large windows oriented

primarily to the East, with a roof overhang, capturing prevailing breezes and

flooding the studio with natural light. "With sustainable design,

We rarely turn our lights on at all

during the daytime," Hruska comments.

An in-ground pond captures rainwater from the butterfly roof.

A permeable driveway and parking surfaces reduce storm water runoff

and create a more appealing "softer" landscape, allowing parking spaces to

double as outdoor gathering areas.

The Hruska's successful and happy transformation to a sustainable

lifestyle has won converts in the form of neighbors. Immediately adjacent to

the family's live/work studio, the couple has designed a series of sustainable

homes. "It has really been an exciting opportunity to build a community

starting right here in our own neighborhood," Rame says. "Our clients are

now our friends and neighbors. We have impromptu get-togethers outside

in the green space and let kids play while parents visit. We have a children's

sandbox, play area and organic vegetable garden."

 

Custom graphics

add a touch of

whimsy to the

child's bedroom.

 

THE WHY AND HOW OF

SUSTAINABLE HOMES

Efficient living

space with

kitchen beyond.

 

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As with other architects, the Hruska's motivation for designing

sustainable homes is multi-fold. Rame notes that sustainable homes

have many direct health benefit for families, improving indoor air

quality and eliminating toxins from the home, which can significantly

improve health, especially for children suffering with allergies.

"We also believe strongly that it's the right thing to be doing for

demonstrating to our children how to reduce one's environmental

footprint," Rame adds. "But what has made it more financially feasible

is to use energy modeling to demonstrate to clients the true economic

paybacks that sustainable features can provide, in terms of energy

efficiency and water conservation ."

Rame outlines the key features she deems as fundamental to sustainable

home design:

  • Careful building orientation to take advantage of prevailing

breezes and use appropriate shading to reduce energy consumption -

These solutions don't require expensive systems, just more thoughtfulness in

the design process.

  • Special attention to the materials and products that go into a

home to eliminate hidden toxins - For example, formaldehyde is often

used in many wood based glues, carpet adhesives, and paints. Utilizing green

low voc and no voc products made a big difference in air quality. Enhanced

air filtration systems utilizing MERV 13 HEPA filters improve indoor air quality

and reduce allergens in the home. Non-toxic pest/ termite control systems

prevent toxins from leaching into soil and toxin exposure to family and

pets. Whole home water filtration systems reduce chlorine and sediments

and improve the overall taste, clarity and water quality. All these factors

contribute to a healthier environment and green home.

  • A variety of technological systems - There are many to consider

adding, depending on the homeowner's needs and desired return on

investment, including solar photovoltaic, and rainwater harvesting,

which increase the upfront costs, but have a long-term utility savings

and financial payback.

For Houstonians, sustainable homes are not a fad, but rather just one

thread in a tapestry of more enriched lifestyles. " It's just the right thing to

do," Rame says. "As more people begin thinking about Bisphenol A (BPA) or

phthalates used in baby bottles and baby lotions," she continues, "they will

also start thinking about the potential for the same chemicals to be present

in the PVC piping supplying water to their family. It's a ground-up movement

with consumers demanding more accountability and responsibility from

product manufactures through the choices they make about where to

spend their money."

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