Home Sweet (Sustainable) Home!
When I think of a sustainable home – my mind instantly takes me back to the 1999 Disney Original Smart House. In the movie, The Cooper family wins a Smart Home complete with a computer, PAT, who has natural conversations with the family. She picks up the house – including any spills or dirt on the floor, entertains the dog, and even connects with the Dad’s work computers, so he doesn’t have to commute to work (the futuristic form of Working from home!)
The Smart house also controls the temperature, turns the lights on and off, and tracks the family’s health so that they are as comfortable as possible in the home. Everything was self-sustaining and in this harmonious balance.
The Smart House was futuristic and full of technology – not too unlike our own homes.
From the newest inventions of 4 Hour composters that are the size of toasters to smart thermostats, lighting, and even appliances that allow us to turn off lights, regulate the efficiency of our heating and air systems, and use less waste – all at the touch of a button.
But is all that technology REALLY necessary? How have homes been built in the past to maximize efficiency and sustainability before they were in use? What truly makes a home sustainable?
We’re going to answer those questions today!
A sustainable home is a home that has been built and designed using environmentally friendly materials and appliances.
The home is in harmony with its surroundings from the design phase.
The materials are natural, recyclable, and non-polluting. And everything else in the house reduces energy consumption – saving resources and money.
Home Sweet (Sustainable) Home
The history of sustainable homes
Sustainable homes are not a new fad. Many homes throughout ancient times were sustainable because they used natural, local materials like stone, plaster, brick, mud, and wood. They used their materials efficiently and consumed less energy and resources than now.
Rethinking the future tells us how rammed earth was a popular building method in the past. Rammed earth is exactly as it says – packed with earthen materials. They say, “Rammed earth has excellent thermal mass, and it can hold heat for about 12 hours, after which it is radiated out. It has been extensively used in Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian ancient architecture, where homes were constructed using this technique to drastically reduce the temperature of the enclosed space.
Wind towers were built into structures often in the Middle East to cool the interior. And homes constructed from mud and mud brick were common throughout ancient times.
The industrial revolution
It all changed when the Industrial Revolution came and sparked people to use more materials and heating and cooling methods that relied on an inefficient energy supply.
In the early 70s, we started to wise up and realize that the consumption rate of these natural materials was causing havoc on the planet.
Research shows that the volume of natural resources used in buildings and transport infrastructure increased about 23-fold between 1900 and 2010. Even between 2000 and 2017, there was a massive increase in the global consumption of building materials. It tripled from 6.7 billion tons in 2000 to 17.5 billion tons in 2017. That number is expected to continue growing along with the demand for natural building materials as our population and standards of living rise. We also have to ensure that we are building these homes to achieve energy efficiency or net-zero energy consumption so that we don’t continue adding to our global climate crisis.
It’s more vital than ever that we are building sustainable homes that last and can support our way of life and work in harmony with the planet.
So let’s start with some examples of these types of design.
The first design you may be familiar with is Tiny homes! What makes these homes so sustainable is that they have such a small footprint, meaning they often make little disturbance to the surrounding area. They use fewer materials and less energy to heat and cool. Some people have made tiny homes for as little as $500 with reclaimed materials – something familiar in these types of builds or with old storage containers that would’ve otherwise gone to a scrap yard. But don’t be fooled – these homes are beautiful and functional even with reclaimed materials.
One of the most important benefits of a tiny home to me is the shift in mindset when you realize you don’t need all of the stuff just sitting around in your home to be happy.
Similar to Tiny Homes are Prefab homes. These are sustainable because they ensure that there is no waste in the construction process – unlike the building of traditional homes. They’re like IKEA in that someone designs the parts somewhere else until they get to you and put them together quickly. However, they’re often made with high-quality, strong materials while having a lower price tag and energy footprint.
Passive homes look like ordinary beautiful homes – with a full face of windows most people would die for. But Passive houses stand out from traditional homes by having a very low (to no) energy consumption without any active heating or cooling systems. They are well insulated with highly efficient southern-facing windows. This allows the home to utilize the sun for their needs but also body heat, lightbulbs, and heat from appliances within.
They also incorporate strategies for “airtightness, natural ventilation systems, heat recovery ventilators (HRVs), and as much fresh air circulation as possible.” according to Sustainable9.
Earth – Sheltered Homes
Earth – Sheltered Homes give the nod to the past. Unlike the other homes I’ve mentioned, which stand above ground, Earth Sheltered homes are built into the soil and rock or are entirely underground. The goal is to use fewer materials, like wood, resist extreme weather changes, and have a self-regulating climate without artificial heating and cooling methods. You can even create a passive solar earth-sheltered home to be extremely sustainable.
These earth-sheltered homes can be found in many parts of the world. In Iceland, homes (Reminiscent of the Hobbit Holes in the Shire in Lord of the Ring) utilize stone, turf, and soil as insulation. In Coober Pedy, Australia, over 80 percent of the town’s population lives in “dugouts” carved completely underground to keep them from extreme temperatures during the day.
Zero Carbon Home
On the other hand, Zero Carbon Homes lean more toward the futuristic side of design. They deliver on the promise of no carbon emissions by using the latest and greatest technology to get energy from sustainable sources. They do this through high-efficiency insulation, solar water heaters, ground source heat pumps, and super energy-efficient windows. Essentially they have a carbon-negative footprint annually but often can produce more energy than they need – giving back to the grid.
And resembling the Smart House even more, are homes like the Eco-Capsule, which have a small footprint and can go completely off-grid. These mobile type of homes Power their needs with solar and wind with a rainwater collection system built in. They’re like little bean pods for families and can be placed anywhere – even on the tops of buildings or on open land.
The main tenants of these designs are that they are designed with a renewable energy source, water supply system, High-Efficiency Insulation, High-Efficiency Windows, and Doors, and are oriented to take advantage of the sun, shade, and wind.
And as far as natural, recyclable, nonpolluting building materials go – wood, stone, cork, and brick are commonly seen in sustainable homes, but new material innovations are rising.
Mycelium – or the network of mushroom roots under the earth, can be “transformed into building bricks using their root-like fibers.” Some studies show that along with being 100% biodegradable, “the mycelium tissue can trap more heat than fiberglass insulation, it is fireproof, non-toxic, partly mold and water-resistant and stronger pound for pound than concrete!”
3D printing homes are becoming more common. While it usually uses ABS (a form of plastic) for the filament – many companies are experimenting with recycled materials like recycled concrete and plastics or biodegradable materials like soy, seaweed, and wood.
Eco Bricks are gaining popularity to deal with the world’s plastic problem. Eco bricks are plastic bottles filled with bits and pieces of used plastics to a set density.
These bricks are solid and durable and have been used in the construction of masonry walls and columns, septic tanks, water reservoirs, multistorey buildings, and more. It’s great because anyone can make them by collecting materials that otherwise would’ve gone to a landfill (like plastic bags, plastic packaging, styrofoam, cellophane, and straws) and stuffing them into a plastic bottle until it is packed enough to be a building block.
The issue with Eco Bricks is that they are a temporary solution to the plastic problem. Since they don’t break down and leach chemicals (as plastics do), their actual impact is unclear.
And whenever possible, using local materials will make a build more sustainable.
Appliances + More
Another part of a sustainable home is what you put inside when you build—installing appliances with an A+ energy rating, “devices such as low-consumption shower heads, toilets with two usage options, or a rainwater collection system to control water use,” and a highly energy-efficient water heater.
So what does all this have to do with you?
If you’re ever planning on being a homeowner – remember that there are more ways than one to build a home, and many of those can be more sustainable and rewarding for you in the long run.
If you already own a home, you may be able to incorporate some of these design styles or appliances to make your home more sustainable.
And if you never plan on building a home, understand that the principles of sustainable home building apply to almost any inhabitable space – including where you may visit, or work, and more. So sustainable design and building should be a future we should all be encouraging and moving towards.
Something to grow on
For this week’s something to grow on segment, I’ll leave you a quote by Stephen Gist. “Sustainable architecture looks to the future by looking at the past.”
Building a sustainable home isn’t just about making sure your house lasts. It’s about helping the planet stay healthy for generations to come. By building with green materials and sustainable designs, you’re choosing a future where our planet can continue to provide us with everything we need to live happily and healthily—for years and years to come.
So go ahead and put out the welcome mat – Home Sweet Sustainable Home.
Until next time, thanks for joining me, neighbor.
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