Step 10 – Context

Step 10 – Context (PDF)
Step 10 – Context (Page 1)
Step 10 – Context (Page 2)
Step 10 – Context (Page 3)

  • Katrin

    I like this section very much. I think, though, it would be helpful to add something about two income, two commute households. These days, in my experience, most single family homes such as those in your examples are owned by two income families, which really complicates location decisions — and therefore people need more advice/help with their decision-making.

  • BradW

    This section of the book attempts to reinforce some important points regarding location. Walkability, proximity to work, good schools, nearby parks, older neighbourhoods with large trees are obviously desirable and, therefore, expensive. Affordability is why most people sit in cars for a couple of hours a day not because they love driving. I am very tired of green terrorists hijacking every issue, beating me over the head with the obvious and offering no reasonable alternatives. By all means, talk about context and attributes of a good location but kick the environmental guilt trip to the curb.

  • Jane

    I like this section.
    Issue: example 2 – ‘this multi-family unit’ (caption is a 2555 ft2 single family house). Are these captions really necessary? Does it matter what size the house is if there is no mass transit?

    Unfortunately your examples are not pitfalls of the house, but of the development or city, and a homeowner maybe forced to purchase a home in car orientated neighbourhood (especially newer builds).

    Energy source section – I think we all know the issues with ‘dirty coal’ and other dirty energy sources, so can you comment on ‘house sized’ clean/renewable energy sources (wind, water recycling, solar, passive) which may also be covered in the next section. this section seems a bit ‘god-like’. although buying green credits is a good suggestion, those of us in the oil industry know the problems with carbon credits, so I’m not supporting that!!

  • jim baer


    my scanner is feeling better, so i got to do redlines!

    i did not get a chance to comment at the end of last week or over the weekend.

    i think there is a disconnect between assigning fast or slow to each of the rooms and then assigning a number to the overall house. especially when the majority of the rooms are fast, but the final number is slow.

    there either needs to be a straight line between x number of fasts = a fast house and x number of slows = a slow house. or some way of evaluating the whole that is not a straight sum of the parts.

    maybe the final evaluation should be more on a sliding scale of slow on one end and fast on the other where one can rank the house along the line somewhere.

    also, i agree with the speedometer analogy…. slow is a low number/speed and fast is high number/speed. we all need to just slow down some!

  • MJ

    I like the above mention points.

    I also think it’s important to be transparent and objective when presenting the various sources of energy. I don’t think any of them are perfect yet, and it’s important not to single out one but perhaps point out the features and the flaws of each instead so that the reader can make the conclusion themselves to avoid “fear mongering tactics”.

    For example, although coal is not the best source of energy, some coal power stations are better than other because they use scrubbers and very energy efficient equipment. How does an existing coal station compare to a new nuclear power station? Or to a new natural gas power station? What about the chosen location of wind power stations, how do they affect the environment and people living near them compared to a a hydro-power station? How feasible is solar energy in North America? There’s also the very important cost issue. I also wonder how much a homeowner with an average income can influence the type of energy he/she gets in his/her home.

    Very interesting section.

  • JimG

    I’m not convinced that whether a house is in a new, or an established neighbourhood adds to the water and sewer load. As long as the population is larger than the number of people the system was designed for it doesn’t matter where they live does it?

    Of course I’m thinking of the capacity of the treatment facilities, of course new construction will need new supply lines.

  • Doug Roberts

    I am not sure how the cleanliness of a house’s energy supply can be used as a means of evaluating the slowness of a particular house. I understand that if a house is “off grid” and generates all of its own energy needs with a wind turbine and/or solar panels, then that will likely contribute to it being a slow house, but being “off grid” is not a reality, or even a possibility, for most urban houses. Also, most houses in a particular area typically use the same type of heating fuel and obtain their electricity from the same source. The fact that the existing owner of a house has chosen to pay a premium to their electricity provider for “green” electricity should not factor into the slowness of the house, as that “green energy” contract is not part of the house.

    To me a better approach would be to focus:
    1) firstly on the total amount of energy and water that the house would likely consume, which would take into account:
    (a) its heating/cooling efficiency, including furnace, air conditioner, insulation, orientation, landscaping, etc.;
    (b) its electrical efficiency, including access to daylight, light fixtures, appliances, etc.;
    (c) its water efficiency, including faucets, showerheads, toilets, landscaping, etc.; and
    2) secondly on the extent to which its energy and water needs are (or could be) satisfied from “green” sources that form part of the house itself, such as wind turbines, PV arrays, rainwater capture systems, etc.

  • James Scott

    Reviewing the examples shown it’s simple to say that what is slow for one person is not slow for the next.

    I believe it is important for the homeowner to make his or her own evaluation of what is slow, what is necessary, what is redundant, etc. We’ve had this debate many times before discussing the reality of having a three car garage or not. For some the “peace of mind” that comes with the security of a garage entrance is a slow feature. Another example, some people love to cut a large yard on a riding mower, myself…I can’t stand it, but hey…

    I return to my comment of a week or so ago about the buyer constructing a list or matrix of requirements and developing the slow home standard that works with them.

    I think maybe you are treading on thin ice here. Again some may consider your values for a slow home completely contrary to their own.

  • Terri


    In my critique I tried to steer the writing to sound more objective, removing the “you” from it. I think it helps in not making this section come across as almost preachy in tone.

    I agree with others above that there are lots of little ways that one’s energy consumption can be limited besides not driving or getting on a grid that uses clean energy, yet at the same time, we’re less able to make those larger choices involving how energy is produced. I’ve made a few notes on the critique to this effect.

    The topic seems more general in scope, even though it’s very personal in nature. For this reason I believe it would be best as the last one of the group.

  • Elizabeth


    Hi John and Matthew,

    I like the concepts that you’re bringing up in this section, just think that they may need a little focusing. It’s good to think about where and how you intend to live overall, and it speaks to an individual’s philosophical approach to life more than any other section. So, I think it’s important for you to get your messages across, but tone down the evangelism. Statements need to be factual and fair, though a little bias is OK too, I think! It’s your book!

    I’d consider retitling this section: “Location.” Although it’s called “Context,” most reviewers here refer to it as a house’s location. Or you could call it “Environment” which touches on the “environs” of the home as well as the carbon footprint. I just think that “Context” is a bit abstract as used here.

    I think the description of context jumped too quickly to “driving cars.” Give us a description that covers all the aspects of “context” in this context (ha!). Afterwards, you can move on to vilifying the car! I started a version of para 1, definitely not done, but it might help:
    The most important decision in buying a home is to choose a location that is close to other parts of your life: work, school and shopping. Your home’s location contributes to how fast or slow it is because location defines how you interact with the surrounding neighbourhood and further destinations. For most suburban households, driving a car is the single biggest source of energy consumption and green house gas emissions. Living close to where you work, shop, and go to school significantly reduces this environmental footprint. It also improves livability by reducing the amount of time spent in transit. Alternatively, you can reduce your car usage by choosing a location with good mass transit service.

    Commonpitfalls 3. Do you mean that the monetary value of the house will decrease? I think you’ve got to be careful when framing these statements. It’s certainly a good idea to consider the future when buying a house (your own future requirements for space, transit, etc as well as the direction the community will take), but the statement that your home’s value will decrease because it’s not currently near a bus stop makes me wonder whether that’s really true, or you simply hope it’s true. Bus and transit stops may be added over this long term (but you may have to keep on top of your community to help it progress the way you’d like).

    BOX: Second last line of second para: … check the list compiled BY the Canadian Wind Energy…

    Jim Baer, I agree there is a kind of disconnect between the Fast/Slow assessment, then assigning a numerical rating out of 10. Couldn’t access the site over the weekend, but I’ll try to commment further in another post. Getting a little behind here…

    Thanks, as always for the oppportunity!

  • Elizabeth


    Trying ‘em again.

  • Murray


    My jpegs offer comments on the chapter as it now stands.

    That said, I would like to suggest that the entire chapter be reconsidered. Not particularly for the concepts explored, but more reconsidered in terms of presentation. I am not convinced that the concepts discussed within this chapter easily fit the established format of all the other chapters. The entire chapter, as it stands, seems a bit forced, and is quite weak in comparison to all the others.

    On Day 1 of this exercise we saw your soup can-label-analogy checklist which was sub-divided into 3 parts. The 3 areas give the impression of moving from general over-arching issues to the very specific, and indeed within the structure presented we have moved (backwards) from international environmental concerns to the specificity of the location of the toilet. I also note that we have not reviewed “Neighbouring Uses” – perhaps this section no longer exists, or it exists in another format. (An aside – this seems to be the single instance where you spell “neighbouring” as per British/Canadian vs. American).

    Thus Context and Orientation exist as a pair. I believe that Orientation is also very specific to a particular piece of architecture, as is Shape/Size, Organization, and then all the rooms and spaces that make up the house. Context, in the manner it which it is presented, I suggest, does not deal with specific architecture, rather it deals with the “idea” of a house existing in the environment. This is not the same type of specificity that defines all the other areas of the book that we have seen.

    If you agree, now Context sits alone.

    Many have suggested the chapter is about location, but you wish to expand the issue of location to include a much broader range of issues, particularly lifestyle and environmental concerns. I do not think your concepts of context, location, and the environment easily apply to the Slow Home as we come to realize it in the following sections of the book. I know “Slow Home” means much more than architecture, and so this chapter should not be dealt with in the same manner as the other parts of the checklist.

    Many of the points you raise are ideological and political, which adhere more readily to the Slow Homeowner, rather than the Slow Home itself. You raise valuable points about urban planning, political will at all levels of gov’t, current practices in land development, and corporate profits at the expense of the environment.

    It is stating the obvious to recognize that no-one wants an extended commute to their job, school, shopping, etc. Anybody, fast or slow, will take this into consideration when looking at a home, so it seems a bit odd to make this the focus of many of the pitfalls. The pitfalls are redundant, and I find most of the arguments accompanying the illustrations to be less than convincing.

    As an example, 1 & 2 are the same pitfall seen from opposite sides of the fence. To me your arguments imply that this is a 1 car/1 driver scenario. Maybe the homeowner takes public transit, maybe they carpool with 3 other people, maybe they drive an electric car, maybe they ride their bike – the counter-arguments are pretty much limitless which, therefore, makes the initial supposition untenable. There are similar issues with most of your other examples.

    Also, each example seems to present a snapshot scenario – a specific moment in time that could easily change at some point in the future. All of the other chapters present issues that seem less changeable, and if so, then more in control of the individual as a homeowner/renovator rather than as an environmental activist.

    I think that this chapter would be more successfully realized simply as text with a well-written and focused argument about the environmental impact surrounding the choices we make as homeowners. I also think it may make a much greater impact at the end of the book than at the beginning.

    If you do decide to separate Garage as a single chapter then there may be scope for sidebars about commuting time and distance, environmental impact, etc.

    My musings may appear hyper-critical, but my true desire is to offer constructive criticism towards a chapter I found disappointing after all of the excellent work that preceded it.

    As they say “A camel is a horse put together by a committee” – John and Matthew, please hold fast to your vision of this book.

    It has been an enjoyable and educational experience to have participated in your project in this manner. A greater joy has been the growing sense of community that exists internationally and communicates through this site. You know you have started something important here. Thank you.