This article originally appeared on Bluffton1.com in July, 2005. A local business owner and creator of Bluffton1.com, Jeff Urell was interested in a column from the New-Comers perspective. This was especially pertinent in 2005, as Bluffton was inside one of the fastest growing counties in the country. This was the third column in a series of three. (The link from that site is no longer available.)
Shotgun porches, tin-metal roofing, and legs to stand upon, should the waters rise too high, punctuate the architecture I have come to adore in this low and old Newcountry. I knew the old Oaks, stylishly draped with Spanish Moss curtains, would charm me, and that the rivers would calm me. I did not expect buildings would challenge me to study, understand, and help them to become healthier. But they beckon.
The historical architecture I admire was built with Mother Nature in mind. In Emerson’s version of 19th century America, nature was an ally, not a foe to conquer. Well before sustainable construction was a niche market, it was a necessity. With no air conditioning, placing a home based on the rising and setting of the sun was standard practice. Now, too far removed from common sense, it seems we are hell bent on outsmarting the sun, instead of working with her for everyone’s benefit.
Given that Beaufort County is one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S., I find myself bewildered by the lack of “green” and solar technologies offered. With all of the advertising showcasing our local construction industry, I have yet to find a builder, developer, or any such company working to integrate sustainable building techniques and philosophies here in the Lowcountry. Savannah has a few wonderful and interesting programs, with Southface and Melaver, Inc. paving the way. There is hope. But the closest solar panel provider is 2 1/2 hours away.
What are the factors keeping a region so rich in resources, including abundant sunshine and wealth, from developing alternative building strategies?
For starters, South Carolina is one of the few states in the nation that does not offer financial incentives or “green” loan programs to people or businesses wanting to explore alternative energy resources. Without either, solar is seldom a cost effective means of generating electricity. So where do we, as a community, begin to effectively implement a shift in thinking about the way we are doing business?
Let us begin with dialogue involving our city planners, state representatives, community developers and neighbors about energy efficiency and positive alternatives to the slap-and-paste growth we see around us. Imagine the difference one committed builder can make when s/he begins to offer real strategies for constructing a sustainable neighborhood. This is not only attainable, but also economically advantageous for both the builder and his/her customers. Add that it preserves our precious and finite natural resources here in the Lowcountry — key components to our quality of life — and it’s a win-win from every angle.
A few Fridays back, I had the great privilege of attending a Southface seminar in Savannah. I absorbed as much information as I could, directly from the minds of mechanical engineers, seasoned and visionary architects and assorted community firebrands – all looking to encourage sustainability as a viable alternative when building and renovating. I learned about healthy buildings that don’t “sweat” due to inefficient, overworked HVAC systems and improper building envelopes. I learned about basic tenets, such as placing buildings North facing, or South facing with an overhang. But most of all, I came away from this experience positively charged about the potential for change. Famous anthropologist Margaret Mead’s words ring truer now than ever:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”