“Green” isn’t just about recycling and planting trees—it’s also a way of thinking, of being creative with design, materials and overall aesthetics and ending up with a product that provides a better quality of life. Can you apply green principles when building a shelter for your dog? Of course. Here’s one way to do it.
First, study your dog. Based on climate, the role you play in each other’s lives, and his characteristics and preferences, establish what he needs. This will help determine shelter size, potential material choices and construction type. Use this information to arrive at a design solution that best addresses the issues you’ve identified. Following are some sample issues and solutions.
Issue: Dog needs to see what’s going on.
Design Solution: Provide good sightlines, and perhaps even multiple points to see out.
Issue: A long-haired dog overheats in warm weather.
Design Solution: Provide shade and good natural ventilation.
Issue: Dog is easily startled.
Design Solution: Raise the house off the ground for better views and incorporate a protected back to give him a sense of security.
Then, think about materials. You may sometimes have to choose between long lasting and recycled, but, ideally, you’ll be able to find materials that are both. For my gazebo, I used painted steel, poured concrete, western red cedar (which is naturally rot-resistant) and metal roofing. Other long-lasting exterior materials include stone, brick and several types of wood.
A few tips: Avoid pressure-treated wood, and use nontoxic glue and zero-VOC paint/sealants; on the latter, since you’ll be using small quantities, the cost is minimal even if you wind up purchasing them. Using weather-resistant screws and bolts instead of glue and nails to attach material will make repairs easier and allow for more accurate placement; they also can be incorporated into the aesthetic of the structure.
When it comes to finding these materials, start by looking around the house. Maybe you have some home improvement–project leftovers, or a piece of cast-off furniture—a table, perhaps—in the garage, just waiting for a new life. Check out thrift stores, habitat or recycle/reuse centers (which are popping up everywhere), lumberyards and local home improvement stores for scraps headed for the trash because of some minor flaw. Be creative; there are many places you can find good scrap cheaply.
You can design based on the materials you find, or you can look for materials based on your design. A combination approach is ideal, so before you rush to your local lumberyard, sketch out what you want your dog’s shelter to do and how you’d like it to look. If you need ideas, magazines and the Internet are good sources of inspiration.
Initially, I based my dog gazebo on the principles of Rietveld’s Chair, an approach that pares down a design to its essentials. Some of my ideas for this green gazebo included a sloped roof for water collection, good ventilation, a small porch and a protected back.
You might want to try a green roof or wall (see sidebar), or perhaps a roof onto which your dog can jump and sun himself. The shelter could have openings in both the front and back for ease of access, or be higher off the ground if your dog likes a view. Also, consider the intended orientation; the angle of the sun affects the shelter’s interior temperatures, so take advantage of that to help control inside temps.
To recap: Many design ideas can be incorporated into your structure—just be sure to base them on your dog’s specific needs and characteristics as well as your environment. Explore all the options when it comes to finding materials, and be creative. This can be a weekend or a summer-long project—it depends on the time you have and the detail you want. Most of all, remember that this is for your dog’s benefit, so let that be your ultimate guide.