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Natural Awakenings

Slow Up Your Home: Creating a Simpler, Lighter Life

Mar 31, 2011 11:34AM ● By April Thompson

Feeling disorganized, unbalanced or out of sync? Your home may be partly to blame. “Mass-produced, cookie-cutter suburban homes are bad for us and bad for the environment,” says John Brown, a Calgary-based architect, professor and founder of Slow Home Studio. “It’s like the difference between a Big Mac and a home-cooked meal, made from local ingredients.”

The concepts of slow home and its parent, slow architecture, are part of the growing, global slow movement that challenges us to rethink our relationships with everything from food to money. It’s simple: A slow home is easy to live in and has a light impact on the Earth. Slow homes use space and energy efficiently, and work with, rather than against, the environment.

While the principles sound like common sense, when Brown and his colleagues surveyed owners of 4,500 newly built homes in nine North American cities, they found that 54 percent failed their simple slow home test. Yet, those houses were no less costly to build or maintain than the ones that made the grade.

Brown’s team has created a 12-step guide to get America’s new housing stock into rehab. Most steps refer to the design and site selection process: For example, a slow home is located in a walkable neighborhood, closest to the places the family visits most; it is oriented to maximize sunlight in central living spaces; and a slow kitchen is a well-organized center of activity, with sufficient storage and ample workspaces.

Slow architecture moves away from oversized McMansions toward quality, durability and affordability.

There are also easy modifications you can make to the place you now call home. For example: rearrange the furniture in an awkwardly designed room to maximize functional space and make it easier to navigate; refurnish rooms by creatively using found objects and repurposed and repaired items; also declare a weekly electronics-free day and spend it in quietude or with good friends.

Slowing your home is also about environmental responsibility, given that residential buildings account for more than a third of the world’s greenhouse gases, according to David Suzuki’s Green Guide. Recycled building parts might be incorporated into a new or renovated structure. Energy-saving measures include many widely-promoted simple steps that any home-dweller can employ.

“It doesn’t have to be like the Atkins diet, where you throw everything out that’s currently in your pantry and swear off McDonald’s forever. The slow home philosophy is about making incremental, sustainable changes to the way you live,” advises Brown.

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