Low-Carb Building Design

A home carved into Canadian Shield is a one of a kind getaway in Ontario’s cottage country

Written by: Steve Maxwell

If you’re planning to build a new house or cottage, you have decisions to make that go way beyond floor plans, roof designs and wallpaper samples. Sure, visuals like these are important, but there are a whole lot of other homebuilding design decisions that will go on affecting world climate, our environment and your pocket book for as long as your house stands. A lot of this influence comes down to the element carbon.

Modern society runs on carbon in the form of fossil fuels, and besides debilitating price increases for gasoline, oil and natural gas, there’s another big problem with our carbon-based lifestyle. It’s warming up the world.

The way you build a new house exerts many times more influence on carbon pollution than how you manage the thermostat or light fixtures or shower use in an older home. That’s because huge efficiency gains are possible with the right kind of home design, especially when those design decisions are informed by a 21st century carbon-consciousness. The key is understanding the significance of carbon pollution and designing buildings to minimize it.

Growing stacks of scientific evidence say the world’s temperature is rising and that carbon-rich gases added to the atmosphere are partially responsible for this change. This is global warming. One of the most significant gases causing the so-called ‘greenhouse effect’ is ordinary carbon dioxide. Every time fossil fuel is burned, it releases carbon compounds into the atmosphere, and much of this is colourless, odourless, non-toxic carbon dioxide. Sounds innocent enough, except that much of today’s carbon dioxide output includes brand-new carbon that hasn’t been in the biosphere for millions of years, if it ever was. Current atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen well above natural levels, and this condition captures and retains more of the sun’s energy, making the weather more volatile and more violent as average temperatures rise. Beating the greenhouse effect comes down to a new challenge for all of humanity: We all have to go on a low-carb diet of a new and different sort.