Eco House Design

Eco house design is becoming an important topic across the world. In this article we will look at a few of the advancements in house design technology. There are many factors to consider such as materials, design, electricity-use, and heating and power generation, that all go a long toward eco green living.

Eco impact of houses

Believe it or not, a good eco house design can be one of the most important factors towards combating climate change. As Chris Goodall comments in his book Ten Technologies To Save The Planet, good eco house design does not gain “the same media attention in the climate-change debate as cars and electricity hungry gadgets.” But it is an equally important consideration.

Depending on your country of habitation, various organisations and movements already have or are establishing codes, guidelines and, in the case of governments, actual regulations with respect to building. All of which focus on how a building will be used, it's carbon cost during construction, and its potential life-long carbon output.

A building will create a certain amount of pollution during its construction phase. This is something that can be approximately calculated based on materials used, man hours (including electricity for tool use, human comforts such as sewerage, rest rooms), transportation of materials from source to building site, damage to local environment and so on.

However, it does not stop here. The impact to the environment continues even after a building is finished. Building and even homes have also been found to be sources of manmade causes of global warming. Some scientists claim that building maintenance, temperature control (such as air-conditioning or heating) and the cleaning of buildings can account for up to 15% of green house gas emissions.

So it is no coincidence that many countries are beginning to look very carefully at reducing the possible carbon footprints of new buildings (as well as the carbon footprints of existing buildings) through eco house design.

In the UK there is an ambitious drive to make all new homes carbon neutral after 2016. In the US, the United States Green Building Council (U.S.G.B.C) is pushing for greener builds, commenting that: “Buildings in the United States are responsible for 39% of CO2 emissions, 40% of energy consumption, 13% of water consumption and 15% of GDP per year.”

The US Government also offers a Federal Tax credit for eco home improvement for up to 30 per cent of costs (or capped to $1,500).

But perhaps Germany is leading the way with several incentives in place to encourage green builds and green renovation as well as vitally supplying homes with green energy. As TDC, (the global marketing arm and service hub for Hong Kong based manufacturers), comments on their website, “Germany has set up an attractive incentive scheme for home owners by supporting thermal building insulation improvements, investments in new efficient heating systems and the installation of solar panels by granting subsidies or by giving favourable loans”.

Aspects of eco homes

In domestic or commercial use, a building requires two main things to function – electricity and water. Clever building design can facilitate efficient use of these two essentials which will save the building owner (and maybe even the tenants) money, whilst also, helping the environment.

Water and electricity are particularly important especially considering how we heat up (during winter) or cool down (during summer) our homes. In line with the U.S.G.B’s statistics regarding the importance of eco house design, Goodall also noted that with all the various means by which we manage the “temperature of buildings – either through heating or air-conditioning… is the world's single most climate-damaging activity.” Read about what causes climate change.

One of the leading concepts and designs to-date for eco house design comes from a group of Swedish academic architects. The group led by German engineer, Wolfgang Feist, has set a standard for excellent eco house design called 'passivhaus'. The passivhaus design uses clever but very simple technology to maintain a comfortable living temperature.

Without radiators, such a house manages to be warm in winter and cool during the summer. The way in which it does so is to focus on keeping a building air tight. Most homes lose a lot of their heat through windows, gaps in the brickwork and badly insulated exterior walls and roofs. The passivhaus model ensures that a house is put together as air tight as possible and all windows are triple glazed.

Windows are a big key to the secret in eco house design. Not only should they be triple glazed. But as Goodall reported: “only 70 per cent of a window is glass. The rest is the frame and the fittings”, the energy loss can be greater from these parts than from the glass, so great care is taken to design window frames so that they do not leak heat. Large windows also leak more heat. Therefore the passivhaus design also typically has fewer and smaller windows.

If you want to find out how much your windows leak heat, put some flour on your window sill and you will see how much draft from your windows blow it around. The experiment demonstrates that colder air is getting into your home and therefore acting against your heating system.

The only problem with an air-tight house is that building do need ventilation, otherwise a house would be filled up with carbon dioxide, as all the oxygen is used up.

The passivhaus solution is to have clever air ducts which bring fresh air into the house. It manages the ambient temperature based on location – so in a colder climate, a duct expelling the hot stale air would run underneath the duct bringing in the cold fresh air, and so gently heating it. In a warmer climate, the duct may travel underground – where it is significantly cooler – so chilling the air slightly before arriving in the house.

Passivhaus techniques are not limited to new builds. There are several things that can be done to existing buildings. Usually this involves providing extra insulation to either the inside or outside of the building.

Nonetheless, in older buildings the problem may be that exterior insulation will dramatically affect its character and appearance. Interior insulation however will reduce the internal dimensions somewhat and may not be so appropriate for smaller buildings.

In most countries a key area in eco house design that would benefit from exterior insulation would be in social / council housing. These are typically buildings which have been around for many years, which certainly suffer due to older, less eco-beneficial design.

Again, looking to Germany as a keen supporter of this concept, they have demonstrated how whole apartment blocks can be resealed using glass and metal frontage, that not only improves the appearance of some tired, drab buildings, but also improves heating efficiency and therefore energy consumption dramatically. Read about other energy efficiency tips.

Replacing windows with double or triple glazed glass, and making sure your loft is well insulated is a simpler way to improve your home’s heating and energy efficiency and can be done in nearly all cases. And as more governments offer financial assistance to help you green your house, making your home 'green' will become a lot easier.

Looking for a house with eco-friendly design?

Hear from manufacturers of eco-friendly construction materials and real-estate agents and developers of eco properties on where to find your dream eco home.

And if you are a manufacturer or supplier of eco friendly construction materials, or a real estate agent or a developer for eco-designed houses yourself, share more about your eco construction products or real-estate developments with our readers.

Other ways to “green” your house

Other strategies in eco house design include generating your own green electricity from solar panels or installing solar water heaters in warm, sunny climates, as it can help reduce a home’s need for grid supplied energy. Nonetheless, this strategy may not be applicable for all places.

Read about other green home improvements you can make for a more environmentally friendly home.

Other than eco house design, read about going green principles you can also adopt at home, as well as tips for eco green living at home.

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