Builder Sam Clark (Independent Builder: Designing & Building a House Your Own Way) walks you through some of the preliminary steps of planning a sustainable house that makes the best use of your particular site and resources, including how to incorporate principles of passive solar design.
Along the way, Clark gives a first-hand account of the burgeoning owner-builder movement in Vermont in the early ’60s and ’70s—a “scene” marked by innovation, creativity, and for the first time, a sense of ecological awareness.
There were a lot of people using native materials, thinking about solar, building small houses, using recycled material, and also, I think, using a lot of imagination. We built passive solar houses, we built post-and-beam houses, we did some timber framing.
Usually, by the time I’m talking to them, people have a lot of ideas about what they want to do. The kind of classic architectural approach is what’s called “the program.” Where you ask your customers to articulate what they want, you try to identify the needs, the way you live. And I also get people to give me a sense of what their resources are like, because what often happens in design is people design extravagant projects, then they have to cut back. It doesn’t really work.
And then there’s the site. It’s the lay of the land, where you’re going to get water, it’s how far are you to the electric pole, it’s a lot about the solar orientation. And you’re trying to find, you know, where on the site you can build that works from a solar point of view. Let the land do the work for you. You don’t want to be fighting with what the landscape is.