Nowadays, every modern home has to be built to certain environmental standards. However there are some buildings that go above and beyond to minimise environmental damage. These ultra-green homes are commonly known as ‘eco homes’ or ‘eco houses’.
Many eco homes are self-builds. There are various reasons as to why people choose to build an eco home. For some people, it’s simply the desire to save the planet. Others choose to build an eco home to save money on energy bills or even to reap the personal health benefits.
So just what features go into an eco home? There are various different features that can help to make a home ultra-green. Below are just some of the features to consider when building an eco-home.
Good insulation and airtightness
One way of building an eco home is to focus on providing good insulation and airtightness. The aim of this is often to keep a home as warm as possible by preventing heat from escaping. A few features may include:
- Double or triple glazed windows
- Walls and roofing designed to contain heat
- Draught-proofing measures
A building performance standard known as ‘Passivhaus’ is sometimes used to build ultra-energy-efficient homes. This is a performance standard developed in Germany that sets the levels much higher than current UK standards in an attempt to reduce as much heat loss as possible. This allows homes to stay warm for hours on a cold day without the need to use heating.
While reducing heat loss is the main aim, aspects such as ventilation are still important for maintaining good air quality. Use of an MVHR unit can help to keep a home ventilated, while still reducing heat loss.
Passivhaus principles can also be applied to homes in warmer climates. In these cases, homes are designed to stay cooler longer rather than staying warmer longer. Ways of doing this could include using materials and colors to reflect heat, while factoring in airtightness to stop cool air escaping.
Energy-efficient appliances and fixtures
When it comes to adding in initial fixtures and appliances such as boilers, toilets, showers, ovens and lighting to your home, consider the energy-efficiency. Eco-friendly homes are often built with some of the greenest options available. This could include opting for LED lighting, a multi-flush toilet and an oven with a good energy rating.
As with insulation and airtightness, these features will help to reduce your energy bills. They may be more expensive to buy than regular appliances and fixtures, but you’ll make your money back in the long run and reduce your carbon footprint.
Reliance on renewable off-grid energy
Another feature to consider when building an eco home is the use of off-grid energy sources. Solar panels are the most common way of generating renewable off-grid electricity. Home wind turbines are also an option. Biomass boilers can meanwhile be an eco-friendly alternative to gas when it comes to heating the home. It’s even possible to collect water off-grid via rain barrels, reservoirs and wells.
Homes can also be designed to recycle waste in order to reduce utility consumption. A greywater recycling system for instance can help to take waste water from showering and washing hands and reuse it in processes such as toilet flushing. When combined with rainwater harvesting, such a system can greatly reduce reliance on mains water.
Sustainable building materials
The materials that you use to construct your home can also have an impact on your home’s carbon footprint. Those building eco homes sometimes take on the challenge of only using environmentally-friendly materials. This could include:
- Only using natural materials such as timber, stone, straw and sand
- Only using recycled materials such as reclaimed wood, recycled metal and repurposed plastic
- Only using locally sourced materials as to reduce carbon emissions during transport
Sustainability of materials sometimes has to be carefully balanced with properties such as airtightness and insulation. For example, a fiberglass window frame may not necessarily be less eco-friendly than a timber window frame – while a timber window is more biodegradable helping to prevent landfill waste, a fiberglass window could provide better insulation helping to reduce carbon emissions.
Healthy home design
Healthy home design encourages features that are not only eco-friendly but beneficial to the occupant’s health. A few different factors that go into healthy home design include:
- Avoidance of materials that may give off toxins
- Good ventilation to maintain healthy air quality
- An emphasis on encouraging natural light into the home
- Sound insulation to prevent unhealthy noise pollution
Healthy homes aim to combat the issue of ‘sick building syndrome’ – the idea that things such as poor air quality, unhealthy noise levels and lack of sunlight can affect our physical and mental health.
Connection to nature
Some homes can feel detached from the natural world. Eco homes can help to establish a greater connection between one’s home and the great outdoors. This involves using more natural materials, introducing more natural light and using more plants within the architecture itself.
On top of improving the wellbeing of the occupant, such features can often have major environmental benefits. Green walls and green roofs are a key example of this. These are living walls and roofs made up of plants. These plants not only help to counter air pollution and provide a home for local wildlife, but they can also serve as an organic form of insulation, helping to reduce your home’s energy consumption. From a visual standpoint, your home will also blend more seamlessly into the natural landscape.
How to design and build an eco home
As you can see above, there are all kinds of features that can go into creating an eco home. It’s up to you as to how far you go to be environmentally friendly – you may only want to include a few of the above features or you may want to include as many as possible.
To get the design right, it’s often best looking for architectural practices that specialise in this area of architecture. There are a growing number of architectural practices in London that have experience with eco homes. By working with one of these companies, you can explore a range of eco home features and try to work within your budget.