Saturday, August 15, 2009

Green Houses

When I was searching for a house to live in a few years' back, I was sorely tempted by the idea of finding a small patch of land and building my dream house upon it. It would be as energy efficient as possible, open to the South, protected to the North, with wood paneling and floors, compact and cozy, intelligent with storage space, shelves, closets, etc., intelligently thought out and built.

As life goes, it wasn't in the cards for me this time round. I purchased a very lovely old house made of stone, nestled in the corner of a larger structure, with painted cement and clay tile floors, and very little wood (other than the furniture I've put there). I'm not complaining. I love my home, but it is more than a bit drafty in the winter, and my gas bills are high, though I'm working on this by using a wood-burning stove in the winter, and simply limiting hot showers. My roof is East/West -- and as such not an ideal surface for solar panels (South is preferred), if I could afford them. My garden is small, but fine for me and my boys. I make do with what I have, improving it as I am able, and not unhappily.

However, amongst my friends on both sides of the Atlantic there are those who've built or are building homes along the lines of my dreams. I've visited some neat energy efficient and even off-the-grid homes in Michigan (a land of wood and pitched roofs) that render me wistful. Between intelligently placed solar panels and a windmill, and rain-water collecting containers, all energy needs can be attended to. Wow.

Here in Provence, my dear friend Martine is building the house of her dreams. It is mid-construction, and won't be ready for her for some time, but it is going quickly. It is tiny, but just right for a woman and her teenage son, or a visiting friend. Roland, her friend from Uzès, has designed it and leads the building team. Wood is omnipresent, organic/safe insulation, unbaked bricks, rounded windows, gliding doors, cupboards and shelves, mezzanines, solar panels. It is a perfect little house that will cost pennies to heat, and that will be lit by a maximum of natural light.

Granted, hers is the only one in her neighborhood to break from the tradition of cement or red bricks, masonry, stucco, and shallow pitched roofs (In Provence you need a special dispensation from the town hall to have a more steeply pitched roof better adapted for solar panels). Martine is the rebel for her village. But maybe, just maybe, others will see the lovely detailing in the doors and windows that just isn't possible in a stone house (cutting round edges is far easier in wood!) and reconsider. And oh, how cozy she's going to be.. and what a perfect spot for a shia tsu massage, or tai chi, or yoga?

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