The House We Live In: A Series on Building the Sustainable Home in Tucson, Arizona
One of the things I miss about childhood is the legitimate sick day or snow day—a time where normal obligations are unexpectedly and completely suspended and give way to pleasures we often don’t have time for. (Even a sick day has its pleasures of trashy television and bendy straws and extra hours of sleep). I don’t really have those things anymore—and not just because I live in a place where it doesn’t snow. I didn’t really get them when I lived in Montana, either, where, for several months, it doesn’t not snow. The obligations of my job don’t pause because I can’t be there on a certain day, so even if I’m under the weather, I either have to work anyway, or know that the tasks are piling up in my absence.
The closest thing I get to that in my adult life is when the internet goes down, or better yet, the power goes off entirely. You can’t work on your computer, or watch television, or vacuum, or do laundry. You can’t use an elliptical machine. If there’s ice cream in your freezer you’d be advised to tuck in. Your choices, for the most part, consist of reading or conversation by candlelight, or perhaps a run outdoors in the fresh air. There is no guilt for not working on that brief or trying to get closer to inbox zero because you can’t. You are gloriously free.
This week Matthew sent me some near-final floor plans and, thrillingly, a couple of 3-D renderings, including one of my future living room/library. From the inside, like a real room, with furniture and walls and ceilings and yards and yards of bookshelves. All of the worry about systems and power and water tanks and energy was pushed to one side as I imagined the thrill of living in my new space, of curling up on that couch with a glass of bourbon and a book from the stack that is collecting on my piano because right now, I’m out of shelf space. Such thrill, such pleasure to put aside the should of efficient and sustainable design and revel in the want of my own perfect space.
Of course, being me, I could do that for about five minutes before the should started tapping me on the shoulder. I looked at my stack of drawings. The task, now, is to finalize and sign off on the floor plan—the first phase of my agreement with Matthew, the completion of “Schematic Design,” before we progress to “Design Development,” which includes much more detail (inches instead of feet; materials; ceiling heights, built-ins). The building scientist has done his part with Matthew to make sure the orientation and layout of the house are optimized for passive solar, so at this point, to complete this phase, there is nothing more to do on that front. The rainwater systems, the energy efficiency, the low-impact materials, will all come in the next two phases of design. Now, like a day with a power outage, all I can do is enjoy.
I imagine myself walking through the rooms, from the kitchen with its space to cook with a friend, through the dining room to the library with its ladder, to my bedroom and my glorious bathroom. Into my courtyard where I can sit in the shade with a steaming cup of coffee with my dogs frolicking across the way. The hard work will still be there tomorrow. I couldn’t work on it today if I tried. Today, I feel the warmth of a project that is a labor not just of obligation, of doing the right thing, but of self-affirmation, of my ability to choose the things I want and enjoy them. Cheers, self. You’re building a house.
Amy Knight is the fiction editor for Terrain.org. In this weekly blog series, she chronicles the process of designing and building an eco-friendly house in Tucson, Arizona. The series will explore both how it’s done and what it means, from the perspective of someone who wants to do the right thing but knows almost nothing about sustainable building. Look for new posts every Monday. You can email Amy at [email protected] or leave a comment here.