Sustainable Design from a Dog’s Point of View

Tom Keel, who lectures at Deakin Business School, says that by paying attention to the family dog we can make our homes and other buildings more sustainable, comfortable and cheaper to run. “Since long before we built homes and burnt coal and gas for heating and cooling, dogs have been living comfortably,” Mr Keel said. “They, and all other animals, evolved ways to live without creating emissions or needing money. Humans had done the same until we became reliant on using money and resources. But we can relearn what we forgot and again live comfortably with less financial expense, emissions and pollution.”

Looking at the way animals keep cool in summer and warm in winter, the materials they use and how they conserve energy provides valuable insights that can be aligned with today’s sustainable building design practices, Mr Keel said. “Our goal should be to design and redesign buildings that will hold a comfortable temperature on their own, maximize natural light, produce their own energy, lower utility costs, leave a small carbon footprint and increase the building’s value.”

Here is how to ‘design like a dog’:

Pay attention to where sleeping dogs lie. If it’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in winter and your dog is basking in the sun on the laundry floor, something is amiss as the sun should be shining on your favorite chair in the living room. The benefits of good orientation, that require only a few minutes of planning, can last for centuries often at no extra cost. Orientation is a consideration of how the sun moves across the sky, and of the seasons. Designing around the solar axis is the key; knowing the winter sun sits low in the sky and the summer sun passes high above. We can design to capture and to block the sun’s light and warmth as needed.

Left to their own devices, dogs use natural materials. We can learn just how few materials are needed to be comfortable and what great materials nature already provides – dogs use only natural materials, dens of soil for the winter, a bed of leaves for summer. We should look to increase our use of natural products such as rammed earth, a sustainable building material that has been in use for thousands of years. We can also reduce, reuse and recycle as much as we can.

Dogs only use free energy. Thermal mass refers to a material’s ability to absorb and hold heat. This principle is seen with animals in the wild who sleep underground in dens and burrows, knowing the earth is always constant, both in desert and icy climates. Ideally, we should try to ‘connect’ our buildings to the earth so their temperature is steady. Materials such as a dark colored stone floor placed in the winter sun will absorb the heat and help keep a room warm. Just like a sea-dog knows to lie on a dark colored rock heated in the sun. Similarly, if we don’t want our building to absorb heat, we can choose materials such as light-colored timber to reflect the sun.

Our dogs also make use of passive heating and cooling. Their panting for example is mimicked by the heat exchange of thermal piping used by in-ground heat-exchange systems. A dog pants to transfer their body heat to moisture on their tongue that hangs outside their body in the cool air and the liquids return to them cooler. Similarly, when our room air is too hot, we can run it through pipes underground and it comes back to us cooler. No air conditioning is needed.

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2 thoughts on “Sustainable Design from a Dog’s Point of View”

  1. Not our Dogs, when they are Hot they are looking for the AC, and in the Winter they love to lie under the Wood Stove. And Panting is really more like a Swamp Cooler. Kelly I love you but I thought this was a bit simplistic and dumb. Sorry
    But on a Side note, we have just about finished our 900 ft shop for my wife out of Hyperadobe, and you are correct, it is struggling to fight back the Southern AZ Heat, but is solid as a Rock!

  2. Very interesting information. I know these things from reading and experiencing some of these natural uses. However, this article brings all these perspectives to light in a unique way. I enjoyed reading this article.


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