GAIA Builders


A substance capable of causing an allergic reaction.
Ambient lighting
Lighting in an area from any source that produces general illumination, as opposed to task lighting.
A single opaque or translucent element used to diffuse or shield a surface from direct or unwanted light.
Bamboo is actually not a “wood” but rather a tall, fast-growing hollow grass that is used in numerous ways. Zoos shade and feed animals with bamboo. In India, it’s sometimes called “the wood of the poor” and used to house a large part of the population. In landscaping, bamboo is used as a vertical screen. Bamboo is also found in household products such as salad bowls and furniture. Bamboo flooring is now a popular alternative for traditional hardwood floors. Once bamboo is processed, it’s hard to tell the difference and the maintenance is the same as for traditional hardwood floors. Since bamboo is a fast-growing resource, it’s become a very popular product among clients that want to be earth-friendly.
a German word meaning building-biology. It’s a holistic concept that strives to bring humanity into harmony with the building environment. Baubiologie literally means, “The relationship between buildings and life.” Read more.
The use of living plants, or a combination of living and non-living materials, to stabilize slopes and drainage ways.
The wastewater generated by toilets, kitchen sinks, and dishwashers. Some may include showers as well.
That part of a building rising above the roofs or other parts, whose walls contain windows intended to provide lighting to the interior.
Composting or compost toilets
A self-contained and easy-to-install toilet that uses little or no water and electricity and turns human waste into a valuable soil additive. The human waste consists mainly of water, so a heating mechanism dehydrates the waste and leaves only a usable product perfect for garden fertilizer. The new models are designed to be odorless. More information »
Constructed wetland
Systems that are designed to approximate natural wetlands by using aquatic plants that can be used to treat wastewater or runoff.
Cotton insulation
An environmentally safe; non-itch insulation made from natural cotton fibers that offers exceptional acoustic and thermal performance with no formaldehyde or harmful chemical irritants used and requires no carcinogenic warning labels. See
In stormwater management, ponding of runoff in pools and basins for water-quality improvement and flood prevention.
Earth bags
Using soil-filled sacks (earthbags) or tubes for construction. See
Earth-rammed tires
Designing and building structures that use sustainable, non-harmful materials and techniques, integrate with the environment as much as possible without harming it, and result in buildings that are aesthetically beautifully as well as healthy for the occupants and the surrounding eco-system. See and
An ecosystem is made up of an ecological community and its surrounding environment, including both nonliving matter and living organisms, all functioning together as a unit. See
Overhang that shades the high sun in the summer months and when the sun is low in the winter it lets the light in.
Any opening, or arrangement of openings, in a building (normally filled with glazing) that admits daylight and any devices in the immediate proximity of the opening that affect light distribution (such as baffles, louvers, draperies, overhangs, light shelves, jambs, sills, and other light-diffusing materials).
Feng Shui
A natural earth science originating in China that reveals how people are affected by their immediate surroundings. "Feng" literally means "wind" and "shui" means "water." Modern usage of the words implies balance. The expression "good feng shui" indicates a space that is balanced, harmonious, life-enhancing or lucky. Read more at
Fuel cell
A device that converts the energy of a fuel, (hydrogen, natural gas, methanol, gasoline, etc.) and an oxidant (air or oxygen) into useable electricity.
Gaia Movement
An international network of individuals and Gaia groups that share concerns with living more sustainably on the Earth.
Cloth or clothlike materials intended for use in the soil, usually for filtering or containing soil water. Often used to prevent or control erosion.
Graywater (or Greywater) is defined as any wastewater, except in the toilet, produced from baths and showers, clothes washers, and lavatories in a home. See and
Green Roof System
An extension of the existing roof that utilizes a high quality water-proofing and root repellant system, a drainage system, filter cloth, a lightweight growing medium and plants — essentially a rooftop garden.
Greenhouse effect
The Greenhouse Effect is a natural warming process of the earth. When the sun's energy reaches the earth, some of it is reflected back to space and the rest is absorbed. The absorbed energy warms the earth's surface, which then emits heat energy back toward space as long-wave radiation. This outgoing radiation is partially trapped by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor, which then radiate the energy in all directions, warming the earth's surface and atmosphere.
Greenhouse gases (GHG)
Some Greenhouse Gases (GHG) occur naturally in the atmosphere, while others result from human activities. Naturally-occurring greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Certain human activities add to the levels of most of these naturally occurring gases. Carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere when solid waste, fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), and wood and wood products are burned. Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from the decomposition of organic wastes in municipal solid waste landfills, and the raising of livestock. Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities and during combustion of solid waste and fossil fuels. Very powerful greenhouse gases that are not naturally occurring include hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), which are generated in a variety of industrial processes.
Decomposed organic material that is an essential component of fertile soil; produced through composting.
Infill Systems
The use of wood and wood-like materials, bound together with clay as an insulation infill for exterior and interior walls. (Slipstraw, cob, etc.) See and
Integrated pest management (IPM)
An environmentally sound system of controlling landscape pests, including well-timed nontoxic treatments and understanding of the pests’ life cycles.
Invasive vegetation
An exotic plant adapted to very similar growing conditions as those found in the region to which it is imported. Because these plants usually have no natural enemies (pests, diseases or grazers), it flourishes, disrupting the native ecosystem and forcing out native plant species, resulting in habitat loss, water-table modification, and other serious problems.
LEED or Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design is a building environmental certification program developed and operated by the U.S. Green Building Council.
A series of baffles used to shield a light source from view at certain angles or to absorb unwanted light. The baffles are usually arranged in a geometric pattern.
Native vegetation
A plant whose presence and survival in a specific region is not due to human intervention. Certain experts argue that plants imported to a region by prehistoric peoples should be considered native. The term for plants that are imported and then adapt to survive without human cultivation is naturalized.
Noise reduction (NR)
The simple loss of sound level that occurs in passing through a medium. Most often noise reduction refers to a single octave or one-third octave-band noise.
On-demand hot water
The relation of a building, its openings and interior surfaces to compass direction and to the location of the sun.
Organic toilet
A toilet with a vent that draws air into the holding tank, dehydrating the contents, and circulating the air out of the top of the house via a pipe in the roof.
Passive Energy System
Using the least amount of technological and mechanical systems to perform the same activities that can be accomplished by using natural systems. The natural systems that are in place at the center are solar, wind, and water. See
Passive solar design
Designing a building’s architectural elements to collect, store, and distribute solar resources for heating, cooling, and daylighting.
Light-sensing cells used to activate controllers at dawn or dusk.
Powder coating
A durable finishing method for metals using a dry, powdered plastic that is heat-fused onto the surface. No solvent is required and practically no waste produced.
Radiant energy (radiation)
Energy traveling in the form of electromagnetic waves, measured in units of energy such as joules, ergs, or kilowatthours.
A method of constructing walls in which the cladding is separated from a membrane by an airspace that allows pressure equalization to prevent rain from being forced in. Often used for high-rise buildings or for buildings in windy locations.
Rammed earth/Stabilized earth
A construction method that compacts a mixture of earth, cement, and water in forms. The forms are then removed, leaving solid earth walls, 18 or 24 inches thick. Like adobe and cob, rammed earth provides thermal mass for passive solar heating and cooling. See and
Recycled material
Material that would otherwise be destined for disposal but is separated from waste, reintroduced into the manufacturing process as re-useable material.
Renewable energy
Energy resource that is replaced rapidly by natural processes. Some examples are sunlight, wind, geothermal, micro-scale hydropower and wood. When you use sunlight to warm your building, more is made almost immediately available. Water flowing in the river or creek is continually replaced by rainfall. If you chop down a tree and burn its wood in your campfire, it takes a while for the forest to grow enough to replace that wood, but it will happen within your lifetime.
Renewable energy technologies
Active, passive, and photovoltaic strategies integrated into building design.
Renewable Materials
Agricultural fiber boards: Environ, Dakota Burl, Biofiber. See
Return air
Air that has circulated through a building as supply air and has been returned to the HVAC system for additional conditioning or release from the building.
Shallow trench system
A type of drain field used in conjunction with a graywater system that allows for shallow placement of distribution pipes and use of the graywater for irrigation.
Site selection and preparation
That complete sequence or series of activities and actions that begins with the natural environment and results in some specific geographic location defined in terms of boundaries, and altered and modified to the point where it has become the building “Site” ready for “Construction” to begin.
A relatively horizontal, glazed roof aperture for the admission of daylight.
Solar electricity/photovoltaics, solar heating
See, and
Solar hot water systems
Solar radiation
The full spectrum of electromagnetic energy including visible light from the sun. When solar radiation strikes a solid surface or a transparent medium such as air or glass, some of the energy is absorbed and converted into heat energy, some is reflected, and some is transmitted. All three of these effects are important for effective passive solar design.
Straw bales
Straw bale construction uses baled straw from wheat, oats, barley, rye, rice and others in walls covered by stucco. Straw is the dry plant material or stalk left in the field after a plant has matured, been harvested for seed, and is no longer alive. Straw bale are traditionally a waste product that farmers sell as animal bedding or landscape. In many areas of the country, it is also burned, causing severe air quality problems. See, and
Straw board
A biodegradable building board made from agricultural straw waste. The straw waste is finely ground down, then reconstituted using a low-toxicity binder. See this.
The condition of being able to meet the needs of present generations without compromising those needs for future generations. Achieving a balance among extraction and renewal and environmental inputs and outputs, without further burdening the environment. To be truly sustainable, a human community must not decrease biodiversity or consume resources faster than they are renewed; it must recycle and reuse virtually all materials and rely primarily on regional resources.
Tankless water heater
Tight buildings
Buildings that are designed to let in minimal infiltration air in order to reduce heating and cooling energy costs. In actuality, buildings typically exhibit leakage that is on the same order as required ventilation; however, this leakage is not well distributed and cannot serve as a substitute for proper ventilation.
Trombe wall
A south-facing masonry wall that is covered with glass spaced a few inches away. Sunlight passing through the glass is transformed into heat at the wall’s surface, which either migrates into the building interior or is thermosyphoned to interior spaces through vents.
Water catchment, electricity, sewage, thermal comfort
Water harvesting
Collection of both runoff and rainwater for various purposes, such as irrigation or fountains.
Water reclamation
Reuse of effluent from wastewater treatment facilities through irrigation, land application, or other recycling methods.
Area of land that, as a result of topography, drains to a single point or area.
In stormwater management, a shallow, vegetated, ponded area that serves to improve water quality and provide wildlife habitat.
Wheat straw particleboard
Xeriscaping is derived from the Greek word "xeros", meaning "dry" and combined with "landscape", xeriscape means gardening with less than average water. A trademarked term referring to water-efficient choices in planting and irrigation design. It refers to seven basic principles for conserving water and protecting the environment. These include: (1) planning and design; (2) use of well-adapted plants; (3) soil analysis; (4) practical turf areas; (5) use of mulches; (6) appropriate maintenance; and (7) efficient irrigation.