As home consciousness grows, people want their homes to be as eco-friendly as possible. Here's how to build a safe and comfortable home with an eye on conserving natural resources
What is an EcoHouse?
An ecohouse is a house or flat that is built according to environmental regulations. Such a house uses materials and technology that reduce its energy needs and carbon footprint.
A house is considered eco-friendly if it has:
- a high level of thermal insulation;
- it uses renewable energy sources (the sun, wind, natural thermal sources) to provide the functionality of appliances, communications and heating;
- natural light is used as much as possible;
- all made of natural materials;
- Energy-efficient glazing: suitable technologies are implemented to protect the dwelling from heat loss;
- rainwater or wastewater collection structures are installed;
- a compost bucket or toilet is installed.
The idea of building eco-houses is not new. In 1996, a 300-square-metre zero-emission house was built not far from Zurich, Switzerland. The owners managed to achieve such an effect thanks to ecological solutions. They used translucent glass for the exterior of the house. Solar panels were installed on the roof. They provide the house residents with hot water and electricity. Thick concrete walls help to keep the house warm. There is a swimming pool in the backyard. The pool is filled with water collected from the roofs after the rain.
Green Balance has carefully considered everything from the solar panels on the roof to the position of the house in relation to the sides of the world and its special architecture. But the main "feature" of the cottage is the insulation with stone wool. This solution has fully justified itself. The specific energy consumption of the cottage is now almost half the norm, and the owners save up to 50,000 per year on heating.
What materials should be used for construction?
Environmentally friendly materials are usually used for the construction and decoration of structures. These can be renewable, such as wood and bamboo, or recycled research, such as chipboard fronts made from recycled wood covered with plastic film from recycled PET bottles.
But some owners have gone a step further. Yahaya Ahmed, an engineer and director of the non-governmental organisation Renewable Energy Development Association in Nigeria (DARE), has figured out how to use discarded beverage bottles on the street. The Nigerian built a house in Kaduna using 15,000 sand-filled plastic containers instead of bricks. The man says the idea is to encourage recycling and ensure the environment is protected.
Yahaya Ahmed in front of a house made of plastic bottles
Yahaya Ahmed in front of a house made of plastic bottles (Photo: bbc.com)
"This is the cheapest house to build from discarded plastic bottles found on the streets. They are the ones that pollute our environment and cause floods and other disasters," explained Yahaya Ahmed.
How to keep warm and safe in an eco-house?
The main sources of heat loss are:
- ventilation system (20-30%),
- roof (25-35%),
- walls (15-25%),
- windows, doors (10-20%),
- floor, foundation (5-15%).
An eco-house should be well insulated so that as little energy and fuel as possible is wasted on heating it. In houses built with green technology, preference is usually given to insulation made of natural materials. This includes mineral wool: rock and glass wool. When choosing between them, it is important to understand the key difference.
Glass wool can endure, without deforming, temperature up to a maximum of 600ºC, but rockwool can endure up to 1000ºC. In the event of an emergency, a stone wool 'shield' will keep out fire for much longer. Stone wool is even used as thermal insulation in technical equipment and pipelines, as well as in fire protection systems, because of its high thermal resistance.
Thermal insulation must be permeable so that no condensation will form in it. The parameter sorption humidity is used to assess the behaviour of insulating materials. It is the ability of the material to accumulate moisture from the air. Glass wool has a moisture absorption coefficient of about 5 %, and stone wool has a moisture absorption coefficient of not more than 1.5 %. This means that under the same operating conditions, glass wool insulation will absorb more moisture than stone wool. Please bear in mind that higher moisture in a material will significantly decrease its insulating properties. Any insulation only works in a 'dry' state.
How to Installation features
Soft glass wool rolls cannot be handled by a single person, while the installation of stone wool is much easier and does not require the presence of a second person. Moreover, due to its softness, glass wool is difficult to cut into any kind of projection or size adjustment, and this is especially important when insulating sloping surfaces such as pitched roofs. Rigid boards are much easier and quicker to shape. But you have to work with both materials according to the rules, using personal protective equipment.
Experts advise making the most of natural light. What are the solutions for achieving this?
- Polymer window films that help reflect the sun's rays.
- Skylights for the ceiling.
- Interior partitions made of glass.
- Replacement of part of the wall on the south side with a wall made of transparent material (e.g. panoramic windows).
Eco-homes save water and electricity by preferring faucets with an aerator, choosing only LED lighting and appliances with the highest energy efficiency class.
According to experts, 10-20 years ago the main criterion for choosing glazing was usually ease of maintenance: plastic windows, unlike wooden ones, are easier to clean. Today, when buying a flat or building a house, the owner is no longer afraid that the windows in it will "freeze". Energy-saving technologies have become the norm, and "warm" windows are installed by default.
Why does an eco-house need a vegetable garden?
The pandemic has helped many people discover new things to do. Some have started learning foreign languages, while others are growing mangoes and avocados in their homes. If people can do it in an ordinary flat, it is worthwhile to take advantage of the opportunity, provided they have a plot.
Not only does a vegetable garden need to provide residents with food all year round, but it also helps to preserve the environment. Goods from other countries and regions travel a long way with a sizable carbon footprint before reaching the shelves. But the transport footprint of food that's grown in your garden is nil. Also, plants improve the micro and macro climate and enrich the atmosphere with oxygen.
And there's no need to spend money on fertilisers if you organise everything in advance. The experience of a family from Los Angeles in the USA proves it. They installed a compost bucket in their kitchen when equipping their eco-house. It recycles food scraps. This humus is used as fertiliser for the owner's small vegetable garden. There she grows vegetables and fruits for the family.