Self-sustainable ecological homes are autonomous homes that have little or no adverse effects on the environment. They come with their own resources – their own energy, sewage system, food, water, heating, cooling, and drainage. But more importantly, their resources are eco-friendly.
There are many ways to achieve an eco-friendly home, however, no matter the design one opts for, three key elements must be present.
At the core of an environmentally-friendly house are sustainability and renewability. Being able to have as little negative impact on the environment as possible is easy when your home runs on resources that are easily replenished. Being replenishable ticks the renewability box while the ease of replenishment covers sustainability.
Beyond being sustainable and renewable, an eco-friendly house must be efficient. The resources must produce maximum output with minimum wastage. Features like insulation, on-site sewage treatment, or even heat pumps can promote this. You read more from this article on home heat pumps to learn more if this is a suitable option for you.
The Core Parts of Self-Sufficient Homes
In most parts of the world, the primary sources of energy are fossil fuels. But since they are limited resources that can pollute the local environment, they are considered non-renewable.
Non-renewable energy sources are not environmentally friendly. So, when building an eco house, renewable energy sources are the only acceptable option. This is where energy sources like geothermal energy, solar energy, wind energy, and hydro energy come in.
For domestic purposes, solar and wind energy are more popular due to their accessibility.
Still maintaining the primary goal of not harming the environment, most of the materials used for an eco home must be sustainable. In other words, they must come from sources that do not erode the environment.
Recycled materials are a good example of sustainable materials. Since you can use them over a long period of time, they barely harm the earth. Plastic bottles, cans, and even metals can make up part of the structure of self-sufficient homes.
Plants are another source of materials for a sustainable home. They are renewable (plants typically grow within a reasonably short time), and their products contribute to the balance of life on earth. So, like many others, they are a prime source of natural materials for building sustainable homes.
Plant materials like palm fronds, bamboo, straw bales, and cob find use in eco-friendly home construction. For some, their roles are purely structural while others are used to contribute to an energy-efficient dwelling.
Local resources like mud and stones are also valuable in constructing a sustainable home.
Insulation, Cooling, and Ventilation
Beyond renewability and sustainability, self-sufficient homes must promote energy efficiency. They must prevent wastage and save energy where possible.
Insulation is one of the key elements for an energy-efficient home. A super-insulated house will retain its heat longer, improving efficiency and reducing waste. In other words, with proper insulation, you get to use most, if not all of the heat you generate.
Besides insulation, natural ventilation is also vital. The top advantage of ventilation is air control; proper ventilation promotes the removal of polluted air. But beyond that, it can also help with cooling. It goes without saying, but if you have proper ventilation, you may not need a cooling system.
As the seasons change, you’d have to alternate between heating and cooling. While insulation will help with the heating part, ventilation will help with the cooling part.
In some ways, insulation and ventilation are antipodal. So, you’d have to find a balance between both systems. In other words, eco homes should not be too ventilated so that the expected air-tight insulation becomes ineffective. They should also not be too insulated as there’s no airflow.
Having a sustainable water system is crucial to a self-sufficient ecological home. From cooking to laundry, eating, and bathing, living without water is almost impossible.
Ecological homes get their water from sources like rain, mountain stream, or snowmelt. But in many cases, the rain.
The rainwater collection is stored in tanks from which the water is fed to a treatment system. The treatment system will include filtration and some other purification steps.
After treatment, the water goes to a solar water heater or a heat pump where it is heated. Then the hot water goes into a pressure tank, which finally feeds the house.
The description above is an instance of a water system setup for an eco house. It gives a general idea of what can be done. So, you can modify it when working in your own home.
In many cases, solar panels, heat pumps, and biomass heaters are used as ecological alternatives to conventional heating systems.
All three options are more efficient and eco-friendly than regular boilers. But then, two of them – solar panels and heat pumps – might be pretty expensive at the start.
Biomass heaters and solar arrays are more eco-friendly than heat pumps. You may consider this when choosing a thermal system for your home.
Self-sustainability will never be complete without food production. But then, for self-sufficient food production, you need space.
The lack of space is typically a snag in many instances. But then, living close to a farmers’ market or other similar food sources is a worthy alternative.
In case you have limited space, you can still make a garden out of the space you have. Products from the garden can contribute to your overall food reserve.
You may also try to improvise your own vertical farm. This can help you maximize the limited space.
Normally, sewage from houses goes to a sewage plant where it is processed into reusable water. But to be self-sufficient, one must have an in-house sewage treatment system.
In the past, the sewage system was a latrine. But these days, we have options like biodigesters and wetland filtration.
Biodigesters convert solid sewage into liquid (gray or black water). Then in wetland filtration, wetland plants treat the black or gray water.
When treated by wetland plants, sewage water can be used for toilet flushing, irrigation, and other similar purposes.
Sustainable Drainage System
A sustainable drainage system will remove waste and pollutants as expected. However, it will come with water-retention features.
A green wall and roof are some ways to achieve a sustainable drainage system. The plants in your green wall or roof can remove pollutants from the water while their substrate retains the water. The water retained in the substrate may then be collected.
Installations for an Eco House
Solar panels work by converting solar heat to electricity. Unlike fossil fuels, they do not contribute carbon emissions to the environment. So, of course, they are environmentally friendly.
Besides being eco-friendly, solar power can help you save on energy bills. Sure, the initial cost of setting one up is typically huge. But in the long run, it pays off. For one, they can raise home value.
Installing a solar system might be expensive, but there are solar leasing programs for people who cannot afford it and there are also government incentives.
Solar panels provide a way to generate your own electricity. With enough solar cells, you can provide enough solar power to run every electrical device in your home. Hence, their ability to integrate readily.
Beyond using solar panels to just generate electricity, the solar industry now produces tailor-made solar products. From solar attic fans to solar lights, solar refrigerators, and even solar ovens. These would make for even easier integration as they get better.
The ability to easily integrate into modern homes is one of the reasons why solar panels are pretty popular worldwide.
Wind turbines may not be as popular as solar panels in ecological architecture. But they are an effective way to generate more energy for sustainable living.
Driven by the wind – a source that never erodes – wind turbines are surely good for self-sufficient homes.
Like solar panel systems, a wind turbine system can help you save on utility bills. However, it is not as easy to integrate as solar systems.
One of the main snags in the way of wind turbine integration is wind speed. On average, if your area gets below a wind speed of 4-5.8 m/s at a height of 10 m, a wind turbine may not work for you.
Another potential issue with turbines is their size. Turbines used for domestic purposes are typically rated between 400 watts and 100 kilowatts. But the higher you go in that range, the larger the turbine size.
In the end, the turbine you’ll use will depend on your average energy use and how much electricity you want to generate off-grid. So, you can tailor things according to your resources.
Experts recommend using a wind turbine alongside a solar system. Together, they provide cover for all seasons.
While the solar system will be the main alternative during the hotter months, the wind turbine will be the predominant option in the colder seasons. This synergy makes them the perfect combination for sustainable homes.
Green roofs are of immense benefit in a sustainable home. While the most obvious benefit is how they contribute natural materials (living and nonliving) to the earth, there are many others.
For instance, green roofs act as a thermal mass. They reduce the heating needs of eco homes and consequently reduce energy consumption. Basically, they enhance insulation.
Sustainable homes typically have their own water collection system and green roofs can be a part of that system. Since their substrates store stormwater and the atmosphere retrieves the water via evaporation, green roofs can serve as a moderator for your water collection system.
In other words, having a green roof reduces the chances of your water system getting overwhelmed.
Green roofs in the form of green walls help with ventilation as they remove pollutants from the air. Similarly, they help reduce the effects of carbon emissions through carbon sequestration.
Finally, green roofs can be an aesthetic addition to an eco-friendly house, especially older buildings. But then, this depends on the plants grown in them.
Heat pumps are driven by heat exchange. They pull latent heat in the form of hot air from the atmosphere, waste, geothermal sources, or even water.
After that, they compress the hot air, making it hotter. Then the compressed hot air passes its heat to the air inside the house, heating the house.
Unlike conventional central heating systems, heat recovery pumps do not generate heat. They simply move heat around which makes them more efficient and eco-friendly.
Underfloor heating will come in handy during the colder seasons. While conventional radiators do a great job, underfloor heating based on solar heating or heat pump is eco-friendly and more efficient.
Natural lighting is not actually an installation; it is more of an upshot of sustainable design. For instance, an eco home built with floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights will surely get a lot of natural light. As a result, the house will be less dependent on electric lighting and will tend towards being low-energy.
Benefits of Eco Houses: Why Do We Need More Eco-Friendly Homes?
Reduced Energy Consumption
The architecture of an eco-house is such that the energy needs are kept at a minimum. With airtight insulation, there’s less heat loss. Reduced heat loss means less energy demands for heating.
With proper ventilation, there’ll be little or no need for an HVAC. This takes another energy-demanding process out of the way.
Less Strain on Public Resources
With on-site sewage treatment, in-house food production, and a water system, an eco-house will reduce the burden on public resources.
Reduced Cost of Maintenance
Eco houses use natural ventilation and heat pumps/solar arrays for their cooling and heating, respectively. So, they rarely ever need HVACs and boilers. Since the house does not need said systems, you will not incur maintenance costs on them.