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Frugal Buildings

Frugal buildings can be considered frugal in eight aspects: The first three are their frugality with the energy to construct and operate buildings, and the energy of transportation associated with the occupation of the buildings. Next are frugality of materials to construct, the recycling of the materials of construction and operation, and our stewardship of the water and the air that surrounds the buildings. Finally, frugality extends both to how we conserve the nature around us, and also how we conserve our own wellness. Specifics of these eight aspects of Frugality are as follows:
Proponents of Gizmo Green profess their concern with energy required to construct buildings. But Gizmo Green was born from a fascination with all things technical. Its practitioners therefore prefer highly-processed high-tech materials over traditional materials. The problem is that traditional materials generally contain much less embodied energy per pound than the high-tech ones. So while Gizmo Green makes some contributions to reducing energy required to construct buildings by calling for materials extracted and regionally, living traditions do the same, and they also prefer materials that have been processed less, embodying less energy.
Energy required to operate buildings is the measuring-stick of Gizmo Green. Here, proponents of Gizmo Green have made large contributions. Unfortunately, those contributions focus heavily on the mechanical operation of the buildings, and because machines have a lifespan much less than a durable building, they will eventually break down and need to be replaced. Our recent track record has been one of continually better machines, so it could be argued that eventual breakdown is actually a good thing since it requires the machine to be replaced with a more efficient machine. But buildings created from living traditions that condition space first by passive means are more certain to work for the life of the building because passive means are not dependent upon any particular technology.
Transportation energy is nowhere on the Gizmo Green radar screen. The New Urbanism, however, has been developing methods of producing places where people can walk to work, to shop, to school, and to play for decades. Transportation energy is an essential component of any serious conversation on true sustainability.
Gizmo Green is rightly concerned with building from rapidly renewable materials or recycled materials. Living traditions did this for millennia out of necessity, because a tradition that lived long enough to be passed down for generations obviously could not be built with materials that ran out in short order. The difference is that living traditions more easily use low-tech materials because they have no predisposition to the aesthetics of high technology.
Methods of recycling today have been almost completely defined by the proponents of Gizmo Green, and there is no known downside to this. Credit should be given where it is due.
The Gizmo Green is also highly concerned with our stewardship of the water and air around us, and rightfully so. There are two downsides. Within buildings, when mechanical systems which are the heart of Gizmo Green fail or are somehow compromised, then the entire building is likely to perform very poorly if at all until the parts arrive and the technician is able to install them. We have all likely experienced a mechanically-conditioned building rendered uninhabitable when its systems fail. The second downside is that the Gizmo Green’s near-religious regard for water in its current form does not allow urbanism. The greatest cities on earth are almost all built along a manmade hard edge of a river, a lake, or an ocean. This allows close contact of humans to the water, therefore making the city a more enticing place for people to live compactly, leaving more of nature untouched.
And that is a perfect segue into the next aspect of frugality, which is our stewardship of that which remains natural around us. The Gizmo Green is again rightfully concerned with this issue, and addresses it in a number of ways, such as the avoidance of light pollution, recycling rather than consuming new construction materials, encouraging brownfield redevelopment, encouraging renewable energy, etc. The New Urbanism protects the environment by enticing people to live more compactly in order to leave more of nature untouched, and to pollute less by driving less. Living traditions have always been based on making do with the materials and craft sets that are available regionally, and doing things in the least invasive way.
The final aspect of Frugality is that of conserving our own wellness: at least wellness of body, likely wellness of mind, and possibly even wellness of spirit. Gizmo Green addresses primarily chemical aspects of wellness, such as the use of low-VOC building materials and proper ventilation to remove indoor pollutants. The New Urbanism addresses physical wellness by encouraging walking, and also wellness of mind by allowing for the creation of community again. Living traditions fulfill a broad range of wellness roles too comprehensive to list here that can best be encapsulated within the notion of engaging each person in a living process of achieving a sustainable way of life.
Frugality, as the last foundation of sustainable buildings is considered the entirety of sustainability by many in the popular green movement. This is unfortunate. Not only is Frugality only one of eight foundations of sustainable places and sustainable buildings, but it is only partially addressed by Gizmo Green today, as illustrated above.

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