Green Design, Green Upkeep: Building and Maintaining Your Environmentally-Friendly Home

Residing in an energy efficient building not only lowers your utility bills, but can add an average of 14% to your home’s value, meaning it is not only good for the environment, but also beneficial for you as the homeowner. When setting out to build a green home, there are several factors to take into account, but the most important one to keep in mind is that a green home needs to be treated as such, from inception and throughout its lifetime.

The first, and perhaps most important, step in building a green home is a design conducive to environmentally favourable construction. A green home is much more than simply designing the living spaces, but must also account for the mechanical systems and materials used to qualify as a green construction. Once you have your design in place, you can move on to choosing which green materials will make your home as efficient as possible.

Sustainability is Key
Choosing sustainable products is one of the most important aspects of constructing a green home. You’ll want to make sure you select building materials that are certified as such by a specialist organisation and to research those materials in terms of eco-friendliness and stability in the long term. For the larger portion of the construction, you’ll need to procure sustainably forested timber, and perhaps to look into a roofing material that can be recycled or repurposed at the end of its life cycle.

For the interior of the home, there are many green products that are aesthetically as lovely as anything else on the market. From flooring and skirting boards to countertops and backsplash tiles, there are a multitude of sustainably produced, recycled or recyclable, and re-purposed materials to select from that will fit any style. With green building being so popular now, manufacturers are quick to disclose such properties and advertise themselves as appropriate for ecological construction.

Pay More Upfront
Energy efficiency is one of the main components to green building and you’ll want to take this into account in all aspects of the home, from windows to mechanical systems. High efficiency systems may cost more upfront, but will save you energy and money in the long term, eventually paying for themselves. Many of these systems will come with a guarantee, and the manufacturers will have already done the maths on your projected savings over the life of the home, so you’ll quickly be able to see how much you’ll save.

A Finished House Isn’t the End
Once you’ve completed a sustainable, green home, you have to keep in mind that environmentally-friendly maintenance must be part of the plan. Some of this maintenance should factor into the home design, especially in terms of landscaping. You’ll want to select plants and grasses that are native to the area, therefore, requiring less water and fertilisation. Additionally, you’ll want to explore some eco-friendly cleaning solutions, as many cleaners use harsh toxic chemicals that can be damaging to the environment.

Committing to a home that is environmentally responsible is one that will last a lifetime. The process may be challenging, but keeping your goals and reasons for undertaking such a project is key. The financial commitment upfront may save you some money in the long run, but it will take more effort and money to bring your green home dreams to life, and to maintain it thereafter.

Designing and maintaining a zero-energy home takes a lot of thought and consideration as well as a know-how on the best way to get the most out of the technology involved. Technology is rapidly changing which means that the trends of today are often out of favour a few years later. Government subsidies and schemes can play a big part of how well companies market their preferred product in terms of benefits, efficiency and cost so it is important to do your research.

The bulk of the battle to become zero-energy often lies with simple aspects such as making sure the building is well insulated and air-tight. Thought should also be given to the orientation of the building in relation to the sun; as natural light can help reduce energy bills in terms of lighting, heating and cooling. Using some form of brise-soleil (an architectural feature of a building that reduces heat gain within that building by deflecting sunlight) can prevent overheating in the summer; whilst still gaining the warmth and light from the low winter sun. Trees that provide shade can also help.

Moving onto the technology side of things, there are many routes available that each have their benefits and drawbacks. Where energy is sourced from is perhaps the main hurdle to overcome. Whilst solar panels are one of the more well-known ways of reducing energy costs, other alternatives to look at include Micro CHP boilers, air source and ground source heat pumps. Upgrading appliances to more energy efficient ones is often overlooked. Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery can remove stale air whilst retaining some of the heat which transfers to the fresh air entering the building which reduces the amount of heating required.

The Tiny House Movement: Ecocapsules

Following the tiny house movement, which is a movement in which people are downsizing the space in which they live. The main reason for choosing this lifestyle is financial gain. What they’re not spending on their home, they have to spend elsewhere.

A Slovakian architectural company called Nice Architects Studio have taken this idea and created what seems to be one of the next eco friendly tiny houses.

Their product, the eco capsule, could become the next big thing in the tiny house movement. It’s 86 square feet of eco friendly space, off the electrical grid, and it’s also portable. Each capsule has solar panels across the roof of the egg shaped exterior, and a retractable wind turbine so you can get power in all kinds of weather. If you are in very poor conditions and need backup power there is a high capacity battery built into the structure which you can use, so that hopefully you’ll never be without power. The design of the capsule allows rainwater to be caught on the surface, and run down the side into a space at the bottom where there are filtration systems in place so that the fresh water is safe to use, hot or cold.

They would also fit into a ship container, and so could be taken overseas if the owner were a keen traveller, or a scientist, explorer or anything which required being out of the country.

These will be available to pre-order at the end of 2015 with shipping starting in early 2016.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics

Solar panel

What a code 6 house is.

We are currently working on an exciting project involving a code 6 eco house. The design for this house has been assessed using the Code for Sustainable Homes.

The code is an environmental assessment system for rating and certifying the performance of new homes in the UK. It is a set of standards which are used in the design and construction of new homes with a view to encouraging continuous improvement in sustainable home building, and it is assessed at 6 different levels, with level 6 (or code 6) being the highest.

You achieve these levels by meeting 9 different pieces of criteria, and each piece of criteria is then combines to give you an overall score showing your homes overall impact on the environment. Level 6 is the highest level that you can attain for this overall score, it shows an exemplary development in terms of sustainability.

The 9 pieces of criteria categories are as follows:

  • Energy and CO2 emissions – operational energy and emissions of CO2.
  • Water -Both external and internal water saving measures.
  • Materials – Sourcing and environmental impact of materials used to build the development.
  • Surface water run-off – Management of surface water run-off from the development and the flood risk.
  • Waste – Showing storage for recyclable waste and compost, and care taken to reduce, reuse and recycle construction materials.
  • Pollution – The use of insulation and heating systems which don’t add to global warming.
  • Health and well-being – Good daylight quality, sound insulation, private space, accessibility and adaptability.
  • Management – A home user guide, designing in security and reducing the impact of construction.
  • Ecology – Protection and enhancement of the ecology of the area and efficient use of building land.

It all sounds rather expensive doesn’t it?

There are simple and inexpensive ways to gain credits towards each piece of criteria, for example; you could specify compost and recycling bins (it may sound too simple, but it can count towards the overall score). But as with everything, there are cheaper methods, like installing solar photovoltaic panels.

Currently, compliance with the higher levels of this code is voluntary as it is more expensive to reach. Some landowners and estate agents are selling sites with an agreement made with the buyer to make the buildings there reach a certain level of the code. To comply with each assessment criteria at certain levels, your DER (Dwelling Emission Rate) should be lower than the TER (Target Emission Rate), each level had a different minimum requirement TER.

This scheme puts zero carbon development at the top of industry agenda by the Association for Environmental Concious Building. Even if there was a zero carbon building, it would only reach level 1, which is the lowest level of the scheme assessment. This is because it is only reaching a high level of one piece of criteria, so to reach a higher level, the owner(s) of the building would need to look at improving on some or all of the other 8 pieces of criteria.

Some aspects of the assessment are restricted to the public this is so that the individual doesn’t have access to the information needed to calculate data and pass the code themselves. This information is kept by the CSH (Code for Sustainable Homes) to be used by paying customers. By doing this, the CSH are not only making sure that developers reach a certain standard when building homes, they’re also making sure that developers pay for the CSH standards by restricting the information.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.