Most home builders are focusing on green elements in the home, which increases the price of the home. Passive features achieved through smart design does not cost more, and this can be the best green feature.
All home inspectors bring their own perceptions into evaluating a home. Having been a food service manager, I look at food safety issues in the kitchen. Being a father, I examine safety issues involving children quite closely. Going through my own green home conversion, I look at elements in homes that can be considered green or sustainable. Builders have not always been concerned with these features, but they have been incorporating design elements that are green. They were attempting to create features that would make the home interesting for clients, like high ceilings, which turned out to be green, even though they had no intention of being green. When inspecting a foreclosure last month, I found a truly great green feature in a home, but this was probably only meant as a nice design. The staircase was in the middle of the home.
How can a staircase be a green building element? All of my children love the idea of a two story home. Many of my clients have expressed a preference for a two story home. I sort of like my one story home, but I do see some advantages in two story structures. I do wonder about the staircases in many of these homes. I have seen large staircases that make dramatic features at the home’s entrance (sometimes I feel that they become to grand, so they are a waste of space), and staircases that do not really add to the design (but the builder thought that the staircase was somehow an important feature so there were flourishes). Most of the time the staircase is in a central location, but it is closed off from the rest of the home. The advantage of a centralized staircase is air flow, which can be a green feature in a passive design.
Before air conditioning, we had to design our homes to deal with our environment. In Texas, this meant high ceilings to allow heat to rise out of the living space. In all parts of the country, we did have to be concerned with air flow. Opening and closing windows at different times of the day became a routine in many homes, since this served as a type of air conditioning. By having a centralized staircase with proper openings of windows, you could force the hot air out of lower living areas. The air flow could come up the stairs to bring even more of an air flow to the upstairs. What is special about the staircase in the photograph is the open walkway around the staircase. The air could flow evenly to all rooms. Downstairs the staircase is not by the front entrance. The stairs are between the back of the home (kitchen,breakfast, and family area) and the front of the home (living room). What would make the stairs even more effective in the idea of air flow is to have the bottom of the stair open up to the two halves of the home. Currently these stairs have an entrance in the wall. The air flow idea still works, but a simple design change could make this better. I do have one other problem with the stairs: no light over the stairs. The idea was to have light from the upstairs hall around the stairs to provide the light. This does not work out so well.
If you are thinking of a home redesign, consider changing the stairs. The majority of the homes will have a staircase ending near the front entrance. If you can switch this to be more central, the air flow could be improved. If the second floor communicates with the first floor in something like a balcony overlooking the living room, you do obtain some of the same air flow benefits, although maybe not to the same degree. The other aspect to consider is having the open hall to spread the air to each room. In some homes this easier to accomplish. I liked this home in the photograph, because a homeowner could make a few basic changes to have a green home features, but this house is less expensive, since it is a foreclosure. Nothing beats a smart design.