The House We Live In: A Series on Building the Sustainable Home in Tucson, Arizona
Matthew asked me the other day if I want my carport to be wired to support future electric vehicle charging. I said, “Sure, why not?” thinking of my law school professor, Bob Weisberg, who answered most questions this way. I don’t have an electric car. I don’t even have a hybrid. So I don’t need that feature now. But after a little reading on electric cars, how they’re charged, and where they’re going, I wholeheartedly agree that it’s worth planning for that.
The White House is throwing its support behind electric cars and the infrastructure necessary to make them practical. New models are coming out what feels like every week. (BMW, Nissan, Chevy, and Ford, to name a few, all have electric models, in addition to electric-only Tesla). I’ve seen charging stations cropping up around Tucson. And the other day, when I was up in Phoenix, I saw an electric car actually plugged into the charging station in one of the city’s garages.
What does this mean for my house? It means there’s a decent chance that the next car I buy will be electric and I’ll want to be able to charge it during the night at my home. So whatever kind of special wiring that might need, we should put it in now, rather than digging trenches and ripping open walls five or ten years from now.
You can charge a car in a standard household outlet, but it takes forever. Different cars can be charged different ways and at different speeds, and I need something that will be useful for anything I might choose a few years down the road, even if it doesn’t exist yet. So what do I build in now? Certainly not an actual home charging station built into the house, for a car I don’t have. Those are certain to improve, and standards may change. But I should make sure my carport is wired with 240-volt power, to which I can attach a charging station that’s at least decently fast in the future. (That’s like what you need for a stove or electric dryer—more juice than a regular outlet, but still within the range of what’s in a typical home).
All of this to say I am going to put the kind of wiring that would support an electric dryer in my carport even though I have no use for it right now. But it also raises a bigger question for me: How can I build something that capitalizes on the best technology available now without locking my house into the year 2017 when the future will certainly include new technologies we haven’t thought of yet? I’m going to have a grid-tied PV system, but ultimately I’d like to be able to have batteries. We’re going to plan for that with the solar contractor. My parents’ house is wired with Ethernet available in every room, but plugging into it is actually slower than the wifi network they’ve set up. Could we have known, in the late 90s, that we wouldn’t actually want that 20 and 30 years down the road? Could the builders have installed some other feature that would have made service available but been more flexible to adapt to future developments?
For now I think the best approach to this is the way I approach fashion. Good, high-quality basics, and details that evolve. I’m always going to want blue jeans that fit perfectly, soft T-shirts, and well-cut jackets. But the shoes and the earrings and the purses (or backpacks, or bike panniers) come and go. That way I don’t need a whole new wardrobe every time the trends change. The house itself will be efficient, minimalist, and prepared to make use of the resources we know are going to stick around (sun; rain). The specifics will evolve.
Don’t get me started on how this was the point of the Constitution which may or may not actually be working at this point.
Amy Knight is the fiction editor for Terrain.org. In this weekly 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. Visit her website, or follow her on twitter @amypknight.