This Green House

Eco-friendly Living in Outdoor Spaces

Date: October 13, 2011

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By David Pferdekamper and Brian Sewell

Considering the changing colors and the crisp air, autumn is as good a time as any to spend outdoors. If you don’t have an “outdoor living space” yet, it may be time to create that welcoming, comfortable and eco-friendly addition to your home.

Humans have long incorporated garden spaces, porches and gazebos into their daily lives. Tea in the English garden, meditation on a stone bench and cookouts on the deck present idyllic pictures of days spent at home and outside. But only recently has the awareness of expanding outside rather than inside become a popular way to increase a home’s square-footage.

First, consider a patio or terrace instead of a porch. Use low-maintenance materials that are also environmentally friendly, such as local stone or scrap marble from a quarry.

If a porch is part of the plan, carefully consider your building materials. Natural wood is eco-friendly if it comes from a properly managed forest but naturally rot-resistant wood is expensive. Composite decking uses recycled materials and waste wood and lasts a long time with little maintenance. Add an an awning or roof to create the spatial impression of another “room” on your home.

Let There Be Light:
Use solar garden lights with LED bulbs and rechargeable, solar-powered batteries to light up the night with minimal electricity. If you prefer natural lighting, candles are the way to go. Not only do they provide just the right amount of light for intimate get-togethers, but some repel bugs and eliminate the need for a costly patio screen or an energy wasting bug zapper.

Dinner Time: Cooking with an infrared gas grill uses about a quarter less gas than a conventional grill. If charcoal is a necessity, get a ceramic, fuel-efficient kamado grill. Kamado grills cost more, but because they use less charcoal over time, they save money while helping save the Earth.

Keeping It Warm: Everyone loves sitting around a fire. Use firebowls or clay ovens on patios and porches to extend the season of your outdoor “living room.” Build a rustic fire pit next to your patio by clearing grass and leaves and assembling a rock border to contain the flames. For a more permanent structure, simply cement the stones together.

Create a space you love and you’ll quickly find that your unconditioned addition is the place to be, saving you, your friends and family money while conserving energy.

Recycling Reaches New Heights

Photo by Michael Oppenheim

At Burton Street Community Peace Garden in Asheville, N.C., a new outdoor community gathering space uses salvaged and repurposed materials and employs a passive solar design. Coordinated by Asheville Design Center and Appalachian State University adjunct instructor Luke Perry, students from ASU, North Carolina State University and Virginia Tech cooperatively designed and constructed the 300 square-foot pavilion during summer 2011.

“If you look right to left, there’s a sequence of wood, metal, plastic then glass,” says Oscar Sorcia, a junior at ASU. “[The pavilion] tells a story of that place, a transition from chaos to order. There was a lot of found trash the owner collected from the area. Now there’s landscaping, gardens and a structure.”

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