Building Houses That Are Healthier for People and the Planet

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I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.  Today we tell about the Green House movement.  Its goal is to produce houses that are healthier for people and the environment.

Most people think of a greenhouse as a special glass structure used to grow plants all year long.  Now there is another definition. A green house is the result of a movement to produce houses that are less harmful to the environment than other houses.

Recent films, books, magazines and newspapers have reported about serious threats to the environment.  Changes in climate, increasing pollution, rising energy demands, and decreasing supplies of water are worldwide problems.  Designers and builders around the world are reacting to these environmental concerns.

Green houses are designed to be sustainable.  Something that is sustainable provides people today with what they need. But it does not use up or damage the natural resources that people will need in the future.

Green houses use much less fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – for energy.  The houses are placed on the land so the sun warms them during cold months and is blocked during hot months.  The houses have plenty of windows that open to let in cooling air.  They have special equipment that uses a lot less water.

Green houses are made of wood from fast-growing trees so old growth forests do not have to be cut.  They include recycled materials so something old is re-used, not thrown away as waste.  The houses are healthier for people to live in.  Materials used in them are not processed with strong chemicals that can produce harmful gases.

Houses that are environmentally friendly are not new.  For years, architects in many areas of the world have designed and built them for environmental activists.  But now, rapidly rising energy costs are increasing the demand worldwide for houses that use less energy and other resources.

The National Building Museum is in a large historic building near the center of Washington, D.C.  It is a private, non-profit museum that educates people about buildings.  It has exhibits that show how buildings are made, how land is used, how cities expand. The Building Museum has a new major exhibit, "The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design."  It demonstrates how houses can be designed and built to use less of the Earth's resources.

As visitors enter the exhibit, they are entering a house.  It is called the Glidehouse.  It was built in a factory in many parts.  They were transported to the museum and put together. The Glidehouse has glass walls, recycled materials in its floors and walls and wood from fast-growing trees. It also has equipment that uses much less water and energy.

The house is both environmentally friendly and modern looking.  The glass walls on one side can be covered with sliding wood screens to control the amount of natural light and heat that enter the building.  Floors are made of bamboo that is sustainable because it grows so rapidly.  Furniture is made of interesting materials.  Chair seats, for example, are made from recycled seat belt material from cars.  A large colorful table is made of unused ends of different kinds of wood.

The Glidehouse  costs less to build than the average new American house not made in a factory.  And the costs of energy to operate it are a lot less.  Glidehouses have been built in different areas of the United States and Canada.

The Green House exhibit at the Building Museum has small models and photographs of twenty other houses.  These houses were built in the last five years and follow green design rules.

They have been built in Australia, China, Finland, Mexico, the Bahamas, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States.  They are on mountainsides, by oceans, in cities, on deserts and in hot, wet areas of the world.

Martin Moeller is senior vice president of the Building Museum.  He says the houses shown in the exhibit were chosen to show it is possible to combine excellent design with environmental responsibility.  He says the examples are international. Some of the most interesting and technologically progressive projects are not in the United States.  Many countries lack the natural resources – land, trees, water – the United States has.  So there has been more demand elsewhere to find ways to reduce the use of natural resources and energy.

A film in the exhibit shows the growing demand for energy as population and development increase.  It says experts believe worldwide energy needs will increase by fifty-seven percent by the year two thousand twenty-five.

The top five energy-using nations now are India, Japan, Russia, China and the United States.  The United States has six percent of the world's population and uses twenty-three percent of the world's resources.  The green house movement aims to cut this resource use.

Mr. Moeller says the growing demand for green houses and sustainable building in the United States is based on the rising price of gas and oil.  He says Americans realize they can learn about green building from other countries.

One goal of the Green House exhibit, Mr. Moeller says, is to show that individuals can make small changes, even if they are not building new houses.  The resource area of the exhibit has sixty examples of green building materials.  Visitors can see and touch recycled rubber and glass used for walls or bamboo for floors.  They can get information about where to find these materials to use when making changes to older homes.

Another part of the Green House exhibit at the Building Museum teaches visitors about five rules of sustainability.  The first is to stop depending on energy from fossil fuels that experts expect to last only forty more years.  Instead, green buildings use the sun's energy as much as possible for heat and power.

The second rule of sustainability is to make sure the air inside a home is healthy and clean. Improve air quality by using air filters to remove pollution and by choosing materials that do not give off harmful gases.  The third rule is to use the land responsibly.  Build smaller houses and keep as much natural land as possible around them.

The fourth rule is to stop wasteful use of energy in a home. Turn off lights and buy household equipment that uses less energy.  The fifth rule of sustainability is to wisely use the Earth's natural resources.  Choose materials for a house that are re-useable and last a long time.

The Green House exhibit helps visitors realize that they can move toward a more sustainable future with the decisions they make about their houses.  Next month, the Building Museum will have a weekend of family activities to help people learn how to "Go Green."  The Green House exhibit will be at the Building Museum until next June.  Then it will travel to other American cities.  You can learn more about the Green House at www.nbm.org.

In many American cities, new stores are opening that sell parts of old houses and other buildings that were torn down or remodeled.  One such store, called Community Forklift, opened last year near Washington, D.C.  Jim Schulman started it.

The Community Forklift store is in a huge old industrial building.  There are hundreds of doors, windows, toilets, stoves, cabinets, refrigerators and big pieces of wood.  Mr. Schulman says that everything in his huge store would have been thrown away.  Instead, the material is sold at low cost to people who re-use it in their homes or businesses.

This helps the environment because something new does not have to be manufactured and the old material does not have to buried or destroyed.  He says, "I believe that re-using materials is the greenest thing you can do."

Mr. Schulman says he wants to help start some new kinds of small businesses.  He wants to train people to take old building materials that do not sell and turn them into something that will.  Providing new jobs for people, and a new life for unwanted used building materials, are further steps in the green house movement.

This program was written by Marilyn Christiano. It was produced by Mario Ritter. You can read and download this program at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember.  Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

Source: Building Houses That Are Healthier for People and the Planet
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