Lower environmental impact

American housing has a huge environmental impact – and that is true of our designs also.

Modern housing, with its many comforts and conveniences, is simply resource intensive. We can only claim relative superiority – which begins with the fact that our houses use so little energy in heating, cooling and lighting.

We use affordable substitutes in any possible material to achieve lower environmental impacts, from wall systems to roofs to floors to insulation to interior detailing.

We make many substitutions for the conventional use of wood. This is an easy decision for anyone who has lived next to a forest when it is clear-cut. American use of wood is problematic from the point of "harvest," through its all-too-brief life in use, to its disposal in landfills. According to  the architect, Witold Rybzinsky, no one else in the whole world builds wooden houses like those in the USA.

Our travels are limited but we have seen nothing like American housing in Europe or Asia, where buildings are made mostly of concrete, and made to last for generations.

It would appear that the asphalt shingle is illegal in other countries, because we certainly were unable to find any in use; tile or slate roofs seem to be the norm all over the world. These materials are too expensive in the US for standard inclusion in our plans, unfortunately: we must settle for long-lived and affordable steel roofs.

Our wall system, AAC, is composed primarily of sand, which is possibly our most renewable resource. The cement used in both the AAC exterior walls and the poured and scored concrete floors is a cartel product, and is environmentally toxic to make – but it constitutes a small proportion of the total ingredients – and is preferable to the use of wood, mostly because cement-based products last so long in use.

Concrete has an overall low environmental impact because it is everywhere made with local sand and gravel.

Other design considerations

In some applications, there is no substitute for wood. We recommend the use of good wooden windows and doors. We love natural wood for trim because it makes a house feel so warm and requires so little maintenance. And we accept that there is no affordable replacement at this time for the wood used in US roof and interior framing.

We avoid plastics wherever feasible and affordable.

We recommend the use of cellulose over fiberglass insulation. Blown-in borate-treated cellulose insulation has a better environmental impact and costs no more. We also avoid polystyrene except as an under-slab insulation barrier, where it is presumably buried for centuries. Polystyrene is extremely toxic to make and it off-gasses for a long time.

We no longer recommend the use of radiant barriers to further reduce internal summer temperatures.  Instead, we're convinced of the greater utility of increased attic insulation.  For more information: 

We avoid the use of treated wood except in interior plates and in framing contacts with AAC walls (where it is required by building codes). We generally avoid designing decks with our houses becausethey are short-lived, high maintenance, toxic to manufacture and toxic to live on.

Whenever possible, we recommend the use of patios made from concrete, brick or stone.