Eco homes and sustainable construction offer an exciting future for house building and the homes we live in. Who doesn't love the idea of living in an environmentally efficient home, generating your own power, reducing waste and running costs, safe in the knowledge that you are doing something to help the environment? It's a step towards the good life.
On the whole, self builders have been more enthusiastic about embracing sustainable development and eco homes than commercial house builders who, understandably, have been reluctant to invest until public opinion, economics or government regulation motivate them to do so.
We are all aware of the impact that human activity has had on our planet and with the Office for Climate Change attributing 27% of the UK's total carbon emissions to household heating and electricity, house construction is an area where we can make a huge difference.
The pace of change for mainstream solutions is mounting. The Stern Review (2006) advised that the implications of climate change couldn't be avoided any longer and urgent action was required.
In 2007, the Government introduced the Code for Sustainable Homes to improve the energy efficiency and sustainability of houses, along with a target for all new homes to be carbon rated zero (Code level 6) by 2016.
If you are keen to build an environmentally friendly home then the code is a great place to start. Satisfying the criteria of 'level 6' provides some solid eco home credentials and should future proof your house in terms of energy ratings if you ever decide to sell.
To construct an eco home we must focus on and reduce the environmental impact of both its construction and its ongoing operation. Both can be tackled at the design phase.
Let's have a look at each in turn.
An ecological assessment should be carried out to allow the development of a house design and construction plan that reduces its impact. It is even possible to create new habitats in the form of green or living roofs.
Houses are constructed using a vast range of products and materials from a range of sources. For each one you need to consider:
Luckily, a lot of the legwork has been done for you on this one, with resources such as the BRE's Green Guide, which provides environmental ratings for building materials and components.
Material specific organisations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) only certify timber taken from responsibly managed sources.
You can find suppliers who use environmental management systems (EMS) to maximise the environmental efficiency of their businesses. EMS accreditation can be awarded through British Standards (BS) and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).
Start off by discussing the options with your designer who should have a good working knowledge of the materials and suppliers available. They may even suggest incorporating some recycled or green building materials into the design.
Perhaps the most significant decision you will make is in the choice of house construction method. This constitutes a large portion of your material needs and each method has different implications both in construction and operation. Have a look at the options.
Efficient and responsible site management practices are essential to limit energy and water use during construction and to manage waste materials. You can find environmentally considerate builders through EMS certification or the Considerate Constructors Scheme, which encourages environmentally considerate construction practices.
High standards of workmanship also ensure that the finished structure meets its intended design performance.
The modern methods of construction are designed to increase off-site manufacture, thus improving the efficiency of the processes involved.
The second requirement of an eco home is efficiency in its everyday operation. Again, these issues should be addressed early on and incorporated into the house design.
We use energy for our day-to-day power needs including space and water heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, and powering appliances.
Energy replacement and microgeneration methods include:
The Micro-generation (on site) options have the additional advantage that any surplus energy produced can be sold back to the national grid.
Once we've generated the energy we don't want to waste it! Energy loss can be reduced by:
Despite the fact that it seems to rain more often than not in the UK, in many parts of the country there is a strain on water supplies. We can reduce the amount of wasted water and the energy required to pump, treat and heat excess water by utilising a number of systems including:
By considering waste management at the design stage, you can incorporate facilities into the design to help with managing waste, recycling and composting, leading to a reduction in the amount of waste going to landfill.
If you are interested in building an eco home then your first port of call is your designer. If you are really serious, then you should consider contacting a specialist eco home designer.
This section introduces eco homes, and some of the systems and technologies to improve the environmental credentials of our homes. This is the future of house construction so let's embrace it!
For more information on finding land, design, management and the financial aspects of self building have a look through The Self Build Guide.
For more on meeting requirements, refer to the Building Regulations, the Code for Sustainable Homes and the Energy Saving Trust.