Yet, we’re all becoming increasingly aware of how we can use energy wisely to help make a difference – to bring down our own costs, as well as to tread more lightly on our land.
It can start through small changes, such as choosing renewable energy – instead of fossil fuels – and replacing expensive halogen lighting with LED lighting.
And we can change the way we think about energy in our homes. Passive, active and present – a sustainable lifestyle can be adapted, as well as created. Innovative design principles and examples are being tested, tried and proven. Some are barely commercialised yet they are the spark igniting our imagination, propelling us towards more sustainable lifestyles.
Habitat will showcase some of these examples here, as well as surface exciting – and practical – new design elements as they emerge.
All over the world, families are building self-sustained homes which not only produce enough energy, but have more than they actually need.
These structures are, essentially, power plants in their own right, with the ability to put energy back into the local electrical grid and get paid for it. And while some are high-end designs, there is also a renewed focus on how we do green design more cheaply.
Norway is pushing beyond net-zero-energy buildings – which create roughly as much as power as they use in a year – with a new ‘plus’ type building that creates twice as much energy as it needs and uses.
Built for the Research Centre on Zero Emission Buildings (ZEB) the house combines clever design and technology to become a mini-generator. Gains through passive design – using thermally efficient materials and positioning the building to maximise solar gain, while reducing overheating in winter – are amplified using new technology that tracks and improves energy usage.
The main secret of this energy ‘plus’ efficient building is the careful planning and calculation.
One relatively easy step you can take is ensuring the roof is built for optimal sun absorption. Also, the house shape should encourage cross-ventilation, including allowing for a natural updraught to let air out of the building.
Another example of a prototype house that produces zero electricity bills – yet is inexpensive to build and maintain – is the Pop-Up House, in France.
It’s exactly as it sounds: a house built in as little as four days, with the help of a screwdriver and nothing more.
This prefabricated house – built by French architectural firm Multipod Studio – is lightweight and recyclable, as well promising to be inexpensive and extremely efficient to run. The below prototype – which at the time of writing cost €30,000 – was being revised in preparation for going on the market. Remarkably, the home requires no heating, due to the way it is insulated and is in accordance with the Passivehaus standard of energy.