Despite our modern living with all its many conveniences, the majority of homes are energy inefficient, polluting our natural ecosystem and stressing the quality of our lives. If we want to live in harmony with nature, it is up to us to demand that builders, architects and manufacturers step up to the plate and provide eco-friendly, affordable options to make this possible. Our demand will inevitably create the supply. Therefore, create your vision for an eco house.
So how do you design an eco house? Let us look at some of the criteria involved such as the building materials, site location along with energy and water efficiency.
Your chosen site location will determine some of your available options. What kind of climate do you live in? How much sunshine do you get, how much wind, rain, snow and cold? You want to orient your home to take advantage of the natural elements like the sun, wind and shade, and protect you from the disadvantages of cold and wind. If you have a good southern exposure, you can utilize solar power for heat and electricity. If you have big shade trees, you can use those to provide cooling and wind protection. If your climate is rainy, you can situate the house relative to your future garden for rainwater catchment. If you are not familiar with the weather patterns in this area, talk to the locals. Find out the direction of the dominant wind pattern so you can orient the house to protect you, and your garden, from heavy winds. Know what direction most storm patterns come from and what impact those will have on your location. In New Mexico, the dominant wind patterns, especially in summer, come from the southwest. Many barns for horses are built on the southwest side of the house without this understanding so the result is a continuous house full of flies all summer long. Just locating the barn to the northeast side of the house would eliminate this problem. Your work to orient your eco house properly is to study all of nature in your environment, ask questions, learn and be guided by nature’s wisdom.
There are so many new, green, sustainable building materials on the market today. I plan to do a more in depth post on this as some are more suited to specific climates, and some have specific advantages as well as disadvantages. Yet, they all have in common the purpose of using renewable resources that provide greater energy efficiency. Some will be recycled materials, some sustainably harvested, some salvaged and refurbished. Whatever their history, they are designed to lower the impact of pollution, energy consumption, waste and toxicity, all which contribute to greenhouse gases and climate change. You can build from renewable timber, strawbale, rastra, structural insulated panels, adobe clay, rammed earth and many more. They even make a green dry wall. To maximize sustainability, try to utilize local building materials.
How do you want to heat and cool your eco home? Most all homes can be built to utilize a southern exposure for solar power. If your home site does not include a south facing roof, you can use free standing solar panels away from the house that face south. If you live in a windy climate, you can include a home wind turbine that can efficiently run some of your appliances. If you live in a very sunny location, passive solar is ideal by making sure the longest portion of the house faces south with large double glazed windows, and the use of insulated drapes/shades at night. With passive solar, the use of tile, brick or concrete flooring, as well as a thermal wall, will effectively work to absorb large amounts of heat to be slowly released during the night hours. If you install solar panels for thermal heating, you can incorporate a radiant floor system that can be heated by the sun. This is a wonderful, hypo-allergenic heating system. Specific types of wood stoves can also be used. Geothermal is another option for heating and cooling, which I will do a more in depth post on soon. The only disadvantage is that it does rely on specific locations to be most effective. And lastly, you want to choose energy saving windows and appliances.
You can minimize your use of water by choosing low pressure, efficient sink faucets, shower heads and toilets. There are systems available now to convert your gray water into usable water for plants, the garden, washing clothes and more. Install rain barrels for rainwater catchment. You will be amazed how much water you can collect from one good rain! Be mindful of water runoff around your house and driveway. Design the driveway to absorb water, and direct runoff towards gardens and trees. All of this is especially important if you live in drought prone areas where water conservation is of the essence. We take water for granted when it is a natural resource that can have its limitations.