Living in an eco-friendly home is among the best life decisions one can make. Both for comfort and the health of the planet. But there are many ways to go about it. Of course, the most ecological way would be to not have a home at all. But before you pack your things and head for the nearest woods, let’s put that on the back burner and explore some options. When it comes to sustainable living ideas, many people are left grasping at straws.
That’s great! Straw has amazing insulation properties and stores tons of carbon. It is the best natural building block. However, there are other aspects to consider beyond building with bio-based materials.
Here are some tips for creating a cosy cocoon of a home and a few projects that really nailed it.
1. Integrated greenhouse
First stop - Upsala, Sweden. There are many hobbies one can immerse him or herself in, but few are as rewarding as growing your own food. You get to enjoy the fruits of your labour as well as literal fruit! Local fruit, vegetables, and herbs are always best, and it doesn’t get more local than next room.
Thanks to an integrated greenhouse, the owners of this beautiful home have a fresh supply of vitamins all year round. While greenhouses are not uncommon, having one built directly into the house is something else. And bound to get attention.
2. Passive shading
Even if you don’t have a greenhouse, your home can easily become one due to improper architectural design. Large windows are trendy these days, but there’s the issue of overheating. In summer, things can quickly go south. Before they do, why not plant a tree close to the southern facade? Along with a built-in external shading, this is both an effective and efficient way to optimise your indoor climate.
During summertime, the high sun is blocked by the shading and filtered by leaves of a deciduous tree which ensures a pleasant atmosphere. On the other hand, during winter months, the sun in the southern sky is very low. The shading is angled so that the sun reaches the windows and provides free extra heating.
Since trees shed their leaves for winter, the rays can pass through. Just make sure to double check and avoid trees like beech or hornbeam as they retain leaves all year round!
3. Super-insulated envelope
Speaking of heating, it may be a good idea to consider building a home to the Passive house standard. It definitely requires a bit more effort, but it pays off immensely in the long run. Passive homes have ridiculously low heating and cooling bills. They are designed to deliver 20 degrees Celsius throughout the entire dwelling right throughout the heating season while using a minimum amount of energy.
This means that the energy required to heat a passive house is 90% lower than that of other buildings - only 15 kWh/(m²yr).
There are a few things that must be implemented to achieve the standard. High-performing windows, mechanical ventilation, airtightness, but above all highly insulating walls. There are, of course, the standard options, but if you decide to go with aggressive artificial materials, you may end up with a certified Passive-aggressive home instead.
Natural alternatives, such as EcoCocon straw wall panels, are far superior and get you most of the way to meet the Passive standard.
We often sing the praises of straw as a natural building material and for good reasons. If you wonder why, we have listed some of them here.
4. Harnessing the sun
So the bills can be cut significantly, but we can do one better. Dealing with outages and grubby energy companies, who just can’t wait to charge that late fee, is a pain sometimes. What if we did away with them entirely? Solar technology has come a long way, and today it is more than feasible to be self-sufficient and enjoy self-sustainable living.
Better yet, if the local legislation allows “net metering”, surplus electricity can be sent to the grid and sold. That’s right, charge the energy companies back!
Taking it even further, you can go entirely off-grid. The owners of the “Living house” in the heart of Fribourg canton, Switzerland, went all out and showed everyone how it’s done. The energy they produce comfortably covers their consumption. They also have heat exchangers and a bidirectional charging station in the car shelter. The battery of the electric vehicle can be charged by the house or discharged into the house. On top of that, they collect rainwater from the canopy, store it in a tank, and then use it for personal needs as well as the greenhouse. Oh, did we mention they have a greenhouse?
5. Small-scale living
Sure, having passive shading, a water tank, and a greenhouse would be nice. But sometimes less is more. For some people a home as little as 9 m2 is more than enough. They live in what could be, somewhat uncharitably, described as a well-equipped shed. The idea may sound strange but pushing compact design to its limits has spawned a movement of tiny house enthusiasts.
In such a home it is almost impossible to be materialistic. Everything is boiled down to bare essentials and each square centimetre is fully utilised. This is already a great boon if one is prone to hoarding, but there are many other benefits. The homes are cheap to build, easy to maintain, and easy to heat. An ideal setup for a holiday cottage.
Of course, this is not to say to go as small as possible. Just to think smart rather than think big and plan carefully. A house where each space is used every day is a well-designed house.