The concept of sustainability (meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations) has been around for a number of years now. However, its application to housing has been slow. Those projects that have been undertaken tend to focus largely on producing ultra-green housing that is extremely hard to reproduce as mass development projects.
People might falsely believe that when they are building a house incorporating any sustainable solutions will require additional costs and effort. It is actually the opposite. Sustainable housing has the potential to produce good quality housing at a price that is affordable both in the short and long term. Some of the sustainable solutions require very little if any additional financing with comparison to the costs that need to be incurred anyways in a newly constructed building. Moreover, while an initial cost might be a bit higher as for purchasing, for example a sustainable heating system, there is a fast return on investment as utility bills are much lower with sustainable heating than a standard one. It is possible to save around 30% on the use of energy and water in a sustainable house.
A truly sustainable housing project should incorporate economic, social and environmental issues in the planning and design stages with the aim of providing a building that is affordable, accessible and environmentally sound. It goes without saying that compromises will have to be made, but the result is a project that can be applied to the mass housing market, where the greatest environmental impact lies.
Sustainability in housing is a major decision in any development as the design of the building will play a major role in dictating the building materials used. The design of a building is generally decided and subsequently the materials selected that are required within the job. However, if specific building materials are to be prescribed it is sensible that these are highlighted. The structure of the building will be a major issue in the sustainability of the materials required for construction. Ensure that the structure that is decided upon is going to have a durable framework but also has the potential to be easily removed at the end of its life. Certain goals should be set out early on, especially the longevity of the building. Most buildings are currently only designed to last 60yrs.
The energy use of the building will depend on the efficiency of the insulation and also the way in which the insulation is fitted. Thermal bridging, where two building elements meet, should be looked at closely as these areas can be major sources of heat loss. The way in which a building is heated is important. If you are increasing the insulation of a building you can decrease the heating requirements. Don’t forget to take into account solar gain and also the heat given off by household appliances. Renewable sources of power should be investigated as these may be able to provide either heated water or actual power for appliances.
Electrical goods (primarily white goods) have the potential to consume large volumes of power, therefore select goods on their energy efficiency. Light fittings can be selected that will dictate energy efficient bulbs. It is important to ensure that the outside temperature, through insulation, does not unduly influence the building although it is equally as important the building is adequately ventilated and also receives sufficient daylight. Heat exchange extracting fans can be used to good effect in bathrooms and kitchens to ensure that the heat is not all lost to the outside.
The security of the development will play a major role in making the development desirable to live in. This is not only influenced by locks and intercoms but also by lighting and design. Aspects of the development which influence how the new project will integrate into the existing community should be examined such as the capability of local facilities to support the development.
Below is list of sustainable solutions that can be applied in every house.
- Heat recovery system for the ventilation, heating and cooling.
- The use of a geothermal heat pump for heating the house, allows for great savings on heating costs.
- It is common to use only floor heating as a heating option in energy efficient houses (no radiators).
- Use of low energy doors and windows (recommended triple glazed windows).
- Good insulation of the house (both walls, slabs and the roof!), exceed standard requirements, gives great savings in the long run on heating and cooling costs.
- Installation of kitchen hood with charcoal filter which does not keep the heat inside but retains it and reuses it in the house.
- Big openings – big windows but with shutters, allow for maximum light to get into the house but shutters are necessary protection against direct sunlight, and protect the interior from excessive heat. Glass roof or big roof windows that allow for a lot of light to come inside.
- The right positioning of the house, entertaining areas and rooms that are going to be used most – in the south.
- Use of natural and recycled materials for building the house – wood strongly recommended, especially from local areas where the need for long transportation is avoided. If concrete is to be used – find out about recycled concrete, possibly lower prices!
- Light roof and façade colors that do not cause overheating the exterior surfaces in summer, thus less energy is required to cool the house.
- Light control devices that are switching the lights off automatically in unoccupied spaces.
- LED lighting fixtures, that use very little energy and last forever.
- Electrical appliances (washing machine, dishwasher, fridge and so on) energy efficient.
- Use plants that do not require much watering and adapt easily.
- Limit areas with asphalt driveways and concrete pavements to a minimum, allowing for as much greenery as possible.
In order to incorporate those solutions effectively, when building a house, it is recommended to contact a consultant specializing in sustainability. Another option is to signal to the architect assigned to the project, a wish to have a sustainable house. It is important to do it in a pre-construction phase, where the design is developed.
When someone buys a piece of electrical equipment they are provided with a detailed instruction manual that explains how each component works. Though few people read this guide cover to cover it is generally kept and used as a reference when and if problems occur. A new house or development of houses should be provided with an instruction manual that explains how all the appliances work, locks are used and rooms ventilated. The document can also be used to explain how to reduce power consumption and also to increase the warmth within the building. A list of local shops and services will serve the occupier and community well and reduce the time it takes for new residents to be integrated into a community. Providing appropriate garbage bins for the new owners and also the location of the nearest recycling facility should encourage recycling of household waste. To prove the success of the building project it may be desirable to monitor the power consumption of the houses once the tenants have moved in. This information can be compared to other developments that are not as sustainable to prove the long-term economic benefits of a properly insulated building.
It is easy and cost effective to construct a sustainable house. While the natural resources are being saved from an excessive exploitation, many dollars for utility bills are saved from our pockets. So do not hesitate. Be a part of the change.
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