• James Monroe's modest home at Ash Lawn benefits form cooling breezes and shade, demonstrating that the best sustainable features are free.

    Credit: Frank Harmon

    James Monroe's modest home at Ash Lawn benefits form cooling breezes and shade, demonstrating that the best sustainable features are free.

James Monroe lived in this modest house at Ash Lawn for many years before and after he was the fifth president of the United States. His cabin is similar to thousands built by colonial families throughout Virginia and North Carolina. The only thing that distinguishes his house is the mahogany furniture inside and a marble bust of Napoleon, presented to Monroe by the Emperor himself.

The form of the house, with a porch facing south and a central hall between rooms, welcomed cooling breezes in summer. Materials to build the house were dug or grown nearby. Tall ash trees shade the roof in summer and allow the sun to warm the dwelling in winter. Today we call these features sustainable. To Monroe, they were common sense.

Then, as today, the most effective features of a sustainable house are free.

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