Sustainable design is now considered obsolete by many in the industry. Trying to prevent further damage to the environment through sustainable design is like applying a band-aid to a bullet wound. A more forward-thinking approach is necessary. Regenerative home design holds the key to our future by reversing ecological damage, repairing what has been lost, and contributing to a positive impact on the environment and our health.
In this first post of the Regenerative Home Design series, I discuss what regenerative design is, why it’s crucial that humanity shifts its relationship to the built environment, and I offer examples of regenerative design in practice.
A Little Too Little, A Little Too Late
The global energy crisis of the 70’s was the housing industry’s first rude awakening to our dependency on the finite resources of the planet. The United States responded by mandating all new homes to meet a new code of energy efficiency.
Though the original energy efficiency campaign was well-intentioned, there was still tremendous misunderstanding of how a home functions as a whole system. The outcome led to unhealthy homes with chemicals trapped inside a tightly sealed building envelope. This was the advent of Sick Building Syndrome, and our first glimpse into the way our health is impacted by our homes.
Learn more about how your home might be making you sick in our Sick Home Series HERE.
Meanwhile, in Germany, Green architecture was born, focusing on alternative energy sources, such as solar power, and the use of natural materials, such as wood, stone, and rammed earth, that limit adverse effects on the environment.
Sustainable design emerged in the 90’s and took Green Design one step further by including societal, economic, and technological variables with the intention of mitigating further damage to the planet.
The problem with these well-intentioned design techniques is that they only act as a band aid to the damage already done. Sustainability practices aim to achieve less bad ways to design and build buildings, but the problem is that they stop at sustaining. It’s no longer enough to simply sustain the natural environment. We must seek to regenerate what has been lost!
Where We Stand Now
Sustainability consultant, Andres R. Edwards warns that currently the built environment generates 40% of annual global CO2 emissions and uses 40% (3 billion tons annually) of all raw materials! In the USA alone, buildings are responsible for 65% of total electricity consumption, 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions, 136 million tons of construction and demolition waste per year, and 13% of drinking water use.
The world’s human population is growing at an exponential rate, currently at 7.8 billion people and increasing by 67 million people per year. It’s estimated that by 2050 there will be a whopping 9.7 billion people…all of which will need homes to live in.
Even if Green and Sustainable Design practices had become mainstream back in the late 20th century, we still would have to contend with the finite resources available for housing the ever-increasing human population.
We’re at the tipping point and cannot afford to continue with the design practices of the past. Even though some of the concepts of regenerative design may seem futuristic or impossible to obtain with our current political and socioeconomic climate, we must begin to think outside the box in order to design a better future.
As Einstein said, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Features of Regenerative Design
Regenerative means “able to regrow or be renewed or restored, especially after being damaged or lost.” Regenerative design looks to nature for inspiration and works with the understanding that humans are a part of the natural ecosystem. This style of design creates buildings that mimic the restorative functions found in nature.
Architecture that is regenerative integrates the home with the land, energy, water, climate, flora, fauna, homeowners, and the local community. It functions as a system that provides resources such as clean water, food, air, and energy. A regenerative home goes beyond just limiting a negative impact, it’s designed to have a net positive impact.
The six main components of regenerative design include:
If sustainable design is viewed as a band-aid,
regenerative design is the cure!
Generating and Storing Energy (Net-Zero Homes)
One of the most important features of regenerative design is self-sufficiency. Homes that generate their own energy and creates zero carbon emissions, eliminating all reliance on the utility grid and potentially even serving as a small-scale energy resource for the surrounding community. Of course, this is not currently possible in some areas of the nation where communities are forced to be grid-tied.
However, passive and active solar design are methods that can be currently used in many areas of the nation to achieve a net zero or net positive energy home. If considering passive and/or active solar, your designer and their recommended solar design team needs to be able to strategically position your home on the property to work with the path of the sun, while simultaneously taking into consideration the local climate and other natural features, such as tree coverage and exposure to the elements for your passive and active solar design to be effective.
Because your home functions as a whole system that interacts with the natural systems around it, many components of your home (as seen above) must be carefully designed in order meet energy requirements that are able to be supported by solar while also maintaining a healthy and comfortable indoor environment. Insulation selection, window type and placement, and HVAC design all play major roles in creating a net zero home.
Water Storage and Treatment
Regenerative design aims to achieve net zero water use in addition to net zero energy. Clean water has become a scarce resource across the world including here in the United States. Municipal water treatment facilities are not able to keep up with the loads of chemicals that find their way into our water supply including the unhealthy chemical additives that are supposed to keep the pipes from corroding to the detriment of human health.
Learn if your water is safe HERE.
Access to water here in the United States is becoming a dangerous threat to many heavily populated areas of the nation as many of our rivers and lakes are going dry. Homes must reduce their dependency on municipal water systems and turn to ways of collecting, storing, cleaning, and using rainwater to replenish underground water for future use. *Note: Some areas of the nation do not allow rainwater collection.
Water can be stored through various rainwater harvesting systems, cisterns, and closed-loop water systems. Constructed wetlands can capture, store, and filter stormwater naturally to replenish underground aquifers while providing a natural habitat for plants and animals. Reuse of greywater (the relatively clean wastewater from baths, sinks, washing machines, and other kitchen appliances) can be used for landscaping and toilet flushes. Onsite wastewater treatment can provide long-term water conservation.
Regenerative design aims to create homes that can evolve as the climate changes. Your home designer and construction team must have a thorough understanding of the way your home will interface with the environment as the environment changes over time.
Climate adaptation strategies that you can include in your home design today include passive cooling techniques, properly planned drainage layout, planting for shade, enhanced foundation systems, no obstruction to wildlife corridors, material selection appropriate to the location, and proper flood mitigation.
The home shown above is an Aidlin Darling Design with materials chosen to match and meet the needs of the desert landscape. Different treatments were applied to the pine wood siding (acetylated, burnt, wire-brushed, stained, and sealed) to provide a finish that’s bug and rot resistant, and minimizes movement caused by the extreme daily temperature swings of the local climate.
Many new technologies are being developed for climate adaptive homes and though they may currently appear rather sci-fi, they’re already being employed in many areas around the world.
Climate Responsive Facades can adapt to the climate through the exterior. Facades are the interface between the interior and exterior of the building and is where the thermal gains and losses occur. Facades like these adapt to the environmental conditions around it and transforms itself simultaneously. The main goal of Climate Responsive Facades is maximizing natural sunlight while maintaining a comfortable indoor thermal environment without expending lots of energy. These special facades also protect from solar radiation while controlling ventilation and heat input/output.
Air, Agriculture, and Biodiversity Rejuvenation
Regenerative design aims to restore and rejuvenate the flora and fauna of this world and the air we all breathe. Human territory has expanded across the globe, consuming more and more land with destructive industrial agriculture.
The World Wildlife Fund points out. “Where and how food is produced is one of the biggest human-caused threats to species extinction and our ecosystems.”
One way to shift our impact on the species of this world is to recognize that we ARE a part of the ecosystem. Our homes can be designed as a habitat not only for humans, they can provide habitat for many of the species required for a healthy ecosystem.
Regenerative design pays close attention to the needs and behaviors of the species already in existence in a desired home site. Homes are designed to have no negative impact on natural migration patterns and act as additional places of refuge for wildlife.
Regenerative design includes regenerative agriculture with green walls, green roofs, and permaculture practices to boost biodiversity, clean the air, produce more oxygen, and reduce demands on the industrial food industry. Again, the goal of regenerative design is self-sufficiency with the ability to grow one’s own food by using the surfaces readily available from the structures we live in.
Adaptation and Integration
Regenerative design acknowledges that humans are a part of the ecosystem, not removed from it or elevated above it. We are dependent on the environment for our survival and health. We need clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and healthy food for sustenance. Even our electricity relies on natural resources (coal, wind, water) to function. Nothing is possible without the involvement of the natural environment.
Our homes and other structures are also a part of the ecosystem and should be designed to enhance the wellbeing of all natural systems already in place.
With regenerative design homes are built to co-evolve with the surrounding environment, adapting to the various seasons, natural processes, and to the needs of all other organisms required for an ecosystem to thrive.
A regenerative home integrates people and place by enhancing the relationship between humans, the home, and the surrounding environment.
Positive Impacts on Health
Regenerative design takes the concept of a “healthy home” to the next level. Previously a “healthy home” was designed to mitigate the many toxins emitted from common everyday household materials such that the homeowners could limit their exposure. Regenerative homes amplify the wellbeing of homeowners AND the world at large.
All the techniques previously listed that are designed to regenerate the environment, are the very techniques required to clean the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat…the building blocks to a healthy life.
Our health as a human race is directly linked to the health of the planet. By regenerating the natural processes of the earth, we will in turn be restoring our health by default.
It’s in our best interest as a species to turn to Regenerative Design as a way to reverse the damage that’s already been done to our Mother Earth. It’s time to shift the paradigm of what’s possible for the world by design.
I intend you see great possibilities for the future of your home.
Inspired by you,
Jenny Pippin, CPBD, FAIBD, CGP
Pippin Home Designs
I am Jenny Pippin, founder of Pippin Home Designs and creator of my own inspired living. I grew up as an ordinary southern girl, working in the fields of my family’s tobacco farm. It didn’t take me long to realize I had greater gifts and so I chose to step into my power and create my own path in life, inspired by my heart’s true passion. (More on my personal story HERE!)