In the development of modern sustainable construction there has been a focus on technological solutions. One of the most effective ways to diminish one's carbon footprint is through reducing residential energy consumption. A simple yet overlooked component of residential energy reduction is to better acclimate people to their local environments.
Since the advent of engineered climate control in the mid-20th century, the majority of Americans have “forgotten” how to live with their local climate conditions. This study examines from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives how acclimation via landscape and architecture design interventions can reduce residential energy use. Within a variety of climates in California, it conducts a cost-benefit analysis of reducing enclosed residential square footage to quantify the savings in construction and energy costs. These monies could then be spent on ecologically-appropriate outdoor rooms that fulfill the functional and spatial requirements of the home, requiring little to no extra energy costs. Case studies illustrate a variety of options for the design of the outdoor spaces including: a) multiple spaces around the building for movement with the sun and wind; b) movable controls within a single space such as umbrellas, retractable overhead shade structures, and opening louvered fences for wind; and c) additive devices like fire pits to warm, and water features to cool—all of which would also have aesthetic design qualities.
The study highlights not only energy reduction through moving people to comfortable outdoor “rooms,” but considers the possibility that outdoor spaces can match the spatial and functional needs of indoor rooms. Additionally, this way of thinking about design improves quality of life for the homeowner by increasing the amount time they spend outside. It weaves together a story of successful design solutions in all climates for true sustainable design.