The importance of a building's frugality is amplified by its longevity. Lovable, durable, and adaptable buildings are likely to last for a very long time so it's pivotal that they sip energy and other resources rather than guzzling them.
A Cool Dip
When we first decided to use small pools in the courtyards of Alys Beach houses like this one, we thought that their prime benefit would be to provide the psychological cooling effect that bodies of water are known to supply. But one of the homeowners later told us that "my courtyard is so private that if I get too warm, I simply take my clothes off and hop in the pool!"
Capturing Tiny Spaces
A house can live much larger than its square footage if it recaptures little nooks and crannies that are normally thrown away. This space, for example, is a night nook just off the owners' suite where if one of a couple is sleeping, the other can slip away to read or work without annoying their spouse. And it's all built under a stairwell, in space that's normally completely wasted. If you're over 6 feet tall, you can't even stand up where the desk is… but you don't need to, of course. And the refrigerator to the left is tucked under part of the stair that's even lower.
Creating a breeze with a ceiling fan makes you feel ten degrees cooler than sitting in dead air of the same temperature, but the power required to run the fan is a small fraction of the cost of air conditioning that same air to be ten degrees cooler. Plus, they can be visually interesting as well, like they are in this suite.
Courtyards like this one at Alys Beach play a crucial role in frugality because they can entice people outdoors where they become acclimated to the local environment. When they return indoors, they may be comfortable enough to open the windows and leave the equipment off. But this only works if the courtyard is comfortable. Trees play a huge role, shading the courtyard in summer, dropping the temperature by ten degrees or more. And if they're deciduous, they drop their leaves in winter, allowing the sun to warm the pavers and hold that heat deep into the evening.
Curtained Bed Alcove
Curtains like these around a bed alcove are endearing and provide privacy, but they’re really frugal as well. If a bed alcove is curtained, you can close them on cold winter nights and turn the thermostat down impossibly low because the alcove is small enough that you can pretty much heat it with body heat… especially if there are two of you in bed.
Glamping, or glamorous camping, has opened the door to a very old idea about starting a house lightly: what if it were possible to begin with a structure that was very ephemeral, possible little more than a tent, and then add more substantial parts over time? That would once have sounded like disaster housing, or the common backwoods practice of slowly enclosing a trailer with the shell of a house, but Julia’s TentDweller designs show how’d incredibly cool this approach can be.
An insulated roofline like this house has does several really frugal things. By spraying insulation between the rafters rather than insulating with batts between the ceiling joists, you not only get better insulation, but the entire attic stays close to room temperature. So pipes won’t freeze, and ducts aren’t subjected to temperature extremes, making them more efficient. Anything stored in the attic is protected as well. And you can use a simple board flooring on top of the ceiling joists, exposing them to view and gaining several inches of ceiling space as shown in this image.
Naturally Ventilating Windows
True double-hung windows like these in Katrina Cottage VIII can ventilate a house early on a still morning or late in an evening with no breeze. Just drop the top sash a bit and raise the bottom sash, and because hot air rises, the warm air will flow out at the top, pulling cool air in at the bottom. Single-hung windows might look like double-hungs, but they’re incapable of ventilating like this because the top sash can’t move.
Reflective Metal Roofing
A mill-finish metal roof like this can reflect up to 90% of the sun's heat back into the sky, so the lion's share of the heat never even gets into the roof insulation. No single cooling device has a greater effect. Properly-installed metal roofing fares best of all roofing types in a storm, according to hurricane experts. And a metal roof can last a century or more, so it's not just frugal with your utility bill; it might not need to be replaced until your great-grandchildren's day.
Storage on Boarded Walls
We’ve talked a lot about wall boards already, but here’s another benefit from Katrina Cottage VIII: When the walls are sheathed in boards rather than drywall, you can attach pegs, hooks, shelves, cabinets, and many other things at any point on the wall without having to hunt for studs in the wall because the wall boards are strong enough to carry the load.
Use Every Inch
Why waste any space? Even the space under a bed? Wicker storage baskets slide right under the bed in this cottage, using space normally reserved for dust bunnies.
Cross-ventilation is a good idea, but providing those openings where you’re actually standing or sitting for any length of time is an even better idea because a breeze isn’t cooling you if it’s blowing somewhere else. Katrina Cottage VIII shows how it’s done.
Windows That Breathe
The window in this unit may seem a bit extreme if you live in a cool climate… it’s a louvered tropical window that opens for a big breeze and is lit by a glass transom above when the louvers are closed. But wherever you’re located, make sure that the windows you use can open to let the building breathe, because as people who live in season already know, it’s a great thing to be able to throw the windows open and leave the equipment off on the less extreme days of the year.