What is An “Ecological House”?

by Philip S. Wenz

Do you want to live in an environmentally friendly house, but wonder what that really means? Does your house have to be loaded with expensive “green” gadgetry, or built with recycled tires? Is it practical to retrofit your existing house? Will your new “eco features” help the environment, or are they just more stuff to consume — trendy, but ultimately damaging to the planet?

Though there is no single, set definition of an environmentally friendly house it’s good, at the outset, to think about what you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve found the concept of the “ecological house” — new or retrofitted, big or small — useful for determining project goals.

An ecological house is modeled on the energy and material flows of natural ecosystems, and thus enhances rather than degrades the environment. Like an ecosystem, an ecological house conserves resources (energy, water, food and materials). It also produces resources, or at least gathers and stores more of them than it uses. The “extra” resources are distributed back into the larger environment to support life elsewhere.

A standard house, by contrast, is a resource sink. Life’s essentials flow into it, are dissipated or degraded until useless, and are dumped off into the environment, sometimes as toxic waste. The flow is unidirectional, from source to sink to waste.

In an ecosystem, and in an ideal ecological house, there is no waste because the resource flow is circular. Like houses, ecosystems import energy — mostly solar, in their case. Unlike standard houses, however, ecosystems store their energy and reuse it. It’s stored first as plant biomass, which is eventually distributed as food to the ecosystems’ myriad inhabitants. Further, and this is the real key to the sustainability of ecosystems, the stored energy continues to circulate, as exchanged nutrients, until it makes its way back to the plants. In the scenario known to every sixth grader, plants make animal food and animals make plant food.

Ecologists and ecological designers describe this behavior of ecosystems as the closing of nutrient loops. Human habitation systems — from cities to houses — create one-way energy and material flows, leaving loops open. Ecosystems unconsciously practice the “reduce, reuse, recycle” dictum and have sustained themselves for billions of years. Human systems have been around for only a million years or so, and might not exist much longer if they don’t start conforming to nature’s rule that “waste equals food.”

How can you mimic nature and close a loop at your house? Compost your food scraps and use them to grow a garden. The standard, open-loop approach to consuming food eliminates nutrient-rich scraps as waste, which requires energy in the form of a garbage truck for disposal. If you turn your unused organic material into plant food and use the sun’s energy to produce human food, you’ve closed a loop and reduced your family’s demands on the larger environment.

As well as circulating nutrients internally, ecosystems contribute to life in their region and the biosphere by releasing unused food, water and minerals into their surroundings at appropriate times. Similarly, a “home ecosystem” can redistribute a resource such as “gray water” — for example, shower water, which is clean enough for certain uses — and store that water in plant tissue, say, in fruit trees grown on the property.

At harvest time, some of the water is circulated back to your family as fruit, closing a local loop, and some is expired for healthy recirculation in the atmosphere as the leaves dry up and drop off (as opposed to unhealthy and energy-intensive treatment in a sewage plant). The dried leaves, of course, can be used as compost and mulch for next year’s vegetable garden.

The possibilities for creating intertwined closed loops are endless.

Using nutrients from your yard, you can profitably grow products ranging from hardwoods, bamboo and herbs to exotic fish. Your house can produce more electrical energy than your family uses and direct the excess to environmentally benign applications, such as heating a food-producing greenhouse in winter. Or, you can feed the public utility grid for credit toward your monthly bill.

The ecosystem model can be applied to all of the fundamental issues in ecological design. For example, optimizing a house’s “life cycle” — the amount of energy and material needed to create the building, its ongoing demand on the environment and its final disposal—can be facilitated by observing how ecosystems use local resources and recycle materials. Nature herself is your best guide to designing and living in your ecological house.

COLUMN #1 (Gazette-Times)
© Philip S. Wenz, 2007
syndicated by Philip S. Wenz, 2007

Feng Shui and Ecology

The View of Janus Welton, AIA, BBEI Architect

Feng Shui & Ecology
Ecology: The Interrelationship of humanity and the natural environment (YANG)

Feng Shui: The Interrelationship of humanity and the natural environment (YIN)

The definition is the same and each describes a facet of the whole in the dialogue of MAN & NATURE.

The Importance of Feng Shui In the Green Design Movement
Ecology and the Green movement focuses on the VISIBLE , Gross, Physical, or Yang aspects of the Man and Nature relationship, in the same way that Feng Shui describes the more SUBTLE , Energetic Patterns, or the Unseen Yin aspects of the same equation.

The elements of Ecology are indistinguishable from the elements of Feng Shui . The proper chanelling of (water) , the harnessing of the wind (air) and the sun (fire) , stewardship of the (earth) and forests (wood) , and management of extracting and manufacturing (metal) all have their energetic quality in Feng Shui.

Best viewed as a Science and interpreted as an Art Form, Feng Shui is based on the underlying principles of the Universal Cycles of Change and the Elements Water, Air, Fire, Earth, Wood, and Metal. Balancing these natural elements with human settlement patterns and building design is the key to both disciplines.

Building Ecology and Biology is the study of Ecological and Biological methods for detecting and eliminating sources of Environmental Pollution that cause Biological Stress and contribute to ill health and disease. The powerful combination of Feng Shui Ecology & Sustainable & Healthy Building Design provides us tools to detect, diagnose, and problem solve to create harmonizing, healing, and healthy environments. A holistic overview and “tool-kit” of Feng Shui and Ecological principles are available to incorporate into new homes and offices and to heal our existing environments. We have the technology to build in harmony with nature- Now it is our challenge to use it on all levels!

What is Feng Shui?
Used by leading edge professionals in Architecture, Interior Design, and Natural Healthcare, Feng Shui is about the Flow (Wind) and the Containment (Water) of Energy or Chi in our environments. Good Feng Shui creates a balance of Yin and Yang qualities and deflects harmful energies and maximizes positive energy flow. It is an understanding of the cyclical nature of energy patterns that creates a harmony between earth, human life, and Nature. In its literal translation Feng Shui means Wind & Water and was originally known as KAN YU . Kan is Heaven : the Cosmological order of The Universe, and Yu is Earth : geology, landscape, ecology, mountains, sun, air, water, agriculture, sacredness of the land, and energy lines called dragon lines.

Feng Shui practitioners use these polarities of the Invisible and Visible Form to create harmonic balance between Heaven and Earth.

Why is the significance of Feng Shui?
Feng Shui links us as Humans to our Environment and Observers of Nature. Most of us are so busy in our contemporary lives, we have very little time to observe, and have therefore lost the “Way” or the “TAO” of the patterns of our universe.

Feng Shui interprets a “pattern language” of natural forms and phenomena, man-made buildings and symbols, with the patterns of the universe. These patterns are closely linked with the phases of the Sun, Moon, Seasons, Time, and the alignments of the Stars and observation of Earthly Energies.

History of Feng Shui
The Ancient Chinese observed that some surroundings are better than others, luckier than others, easier to survive in, more comfortable and more harmonious. Most of us still observe this in our lives today- we know we are affected for good or ill by our surroundings and by the layout and orientation of work places and homes.

From it’s original roots as the earliest form of Ecology; through 5,000 years of Chinese history of site planning, the building of cities, design of buildings, and even the lay out of grave-sites, Feng Shui as it is still practiced in the Orient and Worldwide today.

It is an important “key” to understanding the relationship of Man to Nature and to the Built Environment, and provides tools for healing our own homes and environments we design for others.

While the Ideal Feng Shui setting changes from climate to climate, it is essentially locating the building in a classic armchair embrace with the Mountain behind and the River in front. Other factors such as Geo-Biology also are important in harmonizing Site Design. The underlying energy and water currents in the earth effect our sense of place and are best noted by watching the movement of animals and patterns of vegetation to identify areas with the best energy. Dowsers use a variety of simple tools to locate such currents within the Earth’s crust.

Feng Shui Diagnosis and Cures
Traditional Feng Shui Methods focus on Diagnosis and Principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine applied to the environment. The 5 Element Theory really is a representation of the 5 Phases of energy from the early Taoist Compass- or Sun Dial .

In effect , the energy expands and contract like a “cosmological jellyfish” as the sun continues on its daily path and the yearly path of the seasons . The Sun’s energy rises in the East in the early morning, denoting Springtime , fresh , Green, uplifting Wood Energy. After, the Sun and energy flow rises to its full zenith at Noon , Summer Solstice, and denotes the scattered energy of Fire . Later , the path of the Sun descends in the West in the afternoon and early evening , Autumn, in a downward motion denoting Earth .

In the evening, the sun’s energy is the most contracted, much like Metal . The Sun reaches its lowest point at Night, Winter Solstice, at its most Yin condition denoting Water . Each of the 5 Elements correspond to Shapes, Colors, Archetypal Energies, Body and Health Applications and form the basis of Feng Shui Interpretation.

What are the Benefits of Feng Shui?
In this time of diminishing natural resources and escalating costs, it is necessary to pioneer responsible, ecological, and sensitive design solutions that have a powerful and lasting effect on the environment and the human condition.

Increasingly in Today’s industrialized and densely populated world, the effects of “Sick Buildings” are being felt at home and in the workplace. The Modern Feng Shui practitioner must have a toolkit to test for, shield, and eliminate sources of these harmful pollutants created from the many thousands of chemicals and energy waves that have been unleashed in our ecosystem and building materials since WW II. . It is a well known fact in the Health Community, that chemicals, organic compounds, electro-magnetic fields, molds and allergens, etc. cause Biological stress to the body and promote disease and ill health . It has now become an integral part of the Feng Shui Practitioners role to address the biological and ecological aspects in our environments and provide testing and strategies for eliminating these sources of pollution . Feng Shui Design principles can play a major role to create a more positive Ecologically Sustainable and Healthful future !

Feng Shui Design is important in Site Selection and Site Planning through Interior Design for projects of any size , and can enhance the future of any community or building to ensure harmony with natural site features.

From the cities of Ancient Beijing , Modern Hong Kong, to Donald Trump’s New York City High rises, all pay homage to Feng Shui principles. Commercial property, Office Environments, and Residential Living Spaces can all be greatly enhanced with the principles of Feng Shui. In Summary, Feng Shui & Ecology can be defined as Location, Location, Location : being in the right place, facing the right directions, doing the right things, and at the right time, or essentially being in tune with, and harmonizing the built environment with Nature.