Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Green Tip: Annex the Outdoors and Save Energy & Materials

All text and photos by Sally Kneidel at

I visited my dear friends Kathleen Jardine and Jim Cameron again last weekend. They have the coolest home I've ever seen. It's a true passive-solar design and has solar thermal panels on its durable steel roof, but it looks like a French country cottage!

I arrived at the home's lovely east end (above) which has vines growing on trellises. The vines help the wide overhangs to block sun from the windows in summer, keeping the interior cool.

As I paused in the yard, I saw flowerbeds...everywhere I turned (above and below)

Then I walked in and saw in the entry-way the little Buddha statue and the Japanese-style shoe rack, and I felt a little rush of pleasure. Everything in this home seems intentional, aesthetic, and practical, all rolled into one - unlike my own home, awash with clutter. I took my shoes off and put them on the rack (optional), then walked barefoot on the lovely scored and red-tinted concrete floor that gives the home such a warm feel. The floor is also a perfect thermal mass for the passive solar design.

I turned the corner into the living room, hollering yoo-hoo for Kathleen, and saw the enticing garden through the south-facing windows (below).

The house is so pretty, it's just a pleasure to immerse myself in it. Kathleen's luscious paintings line the walls opposite the windows, and I admired them all the way to the dining room, with its vine-draped French doors (below).

Their house is not only the most beautiful home I know of, it's also probably the greenest in terms of energy-efficiency and durability. Kathleen and Jim design and build passive-solar homes, and sell passive-solar house plans. Check out their website at

Kathleen and Jim are both artists - I met them in college when Jim was throwing pots, majoring in art, and Kathleen was already painting, drawing, and stitching and who knows what. They're both bold people of action, proven fully capable of turning dreams and principles into reality, and making a livelihood of it. That's something I really admire. It's not easy to convert ideals to income. As a writer, I've struggled with that for many years...

Anyway, back to my Green Tip. Here it is, something I learned from Kathleen and Jim, who are featured in my last book (Going Green). The tip is "annex the outdoors." That wouldn't have made any sense to me before I met them, but it makes so much sense now. Annexing the outdoors means building your home in such a way that the outdoors feels like part of the home: traffic in and out of doors is easy, and your outdoor space is a desirable place to be.

As lovely as Kathleen and Jim's home is, their outdoor space rivals it. Soon after I arrive for any visit, we almost always go outside to sit by their burbling goldfish pond and catch up on all our news. If Jim is home, all three of us go. If it's evening, we may have a glass of wine and some snacks, or even dinner on the table by the pond.

The flowers by the fish pond (above and below).

The table between the fish pond and the bird feeders, where we have our refreshments (below). Isn't it inviting?

The benefit to counting the outdoors as living space is that you have much more square footage of living space, without the expense of enclosing and heating it! You save on materials, you save on energy-bills, you help the planet by using less power and fewer materials. Plus you have the tremendous psychological benefit of spending more wholesome time outdoors under the open sky.

To make full use of your outdoor area, here are a couple or three guidelines:
1) Walking out the door should be effortless, which means that the floor should be level or almost level with the ground so that no steps are needed. A lack of steps also means no wear and tear on the knees, one of the first body parts to show wear as people age. Kathleen and Jim's houses are supremely durable and low-maintenance, with low energy bills, so you can stay put forever if you like.

2) As Kathleen and Jim have done in their own home, consider putting a stove and a shower outdoors - roofed but without walls other than perhaps a shower curtain for privacy. Outdoors, the heat of cooking and showering doesn't heat up or steam up the house. Plus, it's really fun to cook outdoors, and to shower outdoors. Eating and cleaning up feel like an adventure!

3) Consider a regular dining area outdoors. It doesn't have to be on a patio or deck - Kathleen's and Jim's outdoor table and chairs just rest on the ground and they're fine.

After we got through eating during my recent visit, the vet had arrived to look at their horse's eye. So we went to greet the vet and watch what she was doing, which was entertaining.

In the photo below, yet another vine-draped lovely trellis covers the gate into the horse corral and barn area.

Callie the horse awaits the vet (below) on this misty evening.

While waiting, Callie eats her dinner (below). Kathleen's and Jim's barn is as immaculate as their house, and just as pretty, in its barn-like way.

Kathleen brings out Baboo the pony (a.k.a. Pootsnack) to join in the fun.

Pootsnack is wondering who I am (above).

The next morning, Sleety the accomplished Jack Russell terrier demonstrated one of her many talents in jumping on Kathleen's back and clinging like a book satchel!

I was impressed at Sleety's numerous feats of daring, but the backpack imitation was especially endearing.
And with that final adieu to the people and animals who live in this wonderland of loveliness, I hopped in my car and made my way to Chapel Hill, to eat lunch with my son. Btw, my son Alan concurs that Kathleen and Jim's home is the loveliest place he's ever seen, and the perfect abode in his own mind's eye.

Web sites to check out:

Key words:: energy-efficiency passive solar green homes sungarden houses sun garden houses using the outdoors for living space saving materials saving space

All text and photos by Sally Kneidel at

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