Here are some examples of green homes in the US, Australia and the UK, provided to give you some ideas of what is being done around the world. There are many more examples out there, so this is just a start!
USA – Casas de San Juan
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Casas de San Juan provide eco-friendly solutions to new housing and are designed as affordable housing with energy efficiency measures. Rather than include expensive features such as wind turbines, which may not be suitable for a suburban context, these houses focus on thermal efficiency, such as double glazing, a high efficiency boiler, radiant heat and weather-sensitive sealants. The architect, Greg Walke, also ensured that locally produced materials were used wherever possible, reducing the energy costs of transport and providing the houses with an exterior style that reflects that of the region. Mature trees on the site were carefully build around and preserved, further lending to the environmental sensitivity of the building work.
At $80 per square foot, these houses were cheap to build even by local standards. This proves that being environmentally aware does not have to be expensive. Quality is maintained throughout, with careful finishes (that were also specified to be low-VOC and made from CFC-free products). The houses passed the test; they were awarded the Parade of Homes Judge’s Choice Award for houses under £250,000. The Casas de San Juan may well set the benchmark for future constructions, for using environmental and architectural savvy to create an eco-friendly home at a reasonable price.
Australia – Mount Best
At Mount Best, in southern Australia, the principles of conserving energy and self-sufficiency come together to create the paragon of a ‘green home’. 100% energy and water self-sustainable, the house uses a combination of solar and wind power, garnered from turbines and panels on the roof, to provide all the power needed for the house. Solar power also heats the home in winter – mirrors on decks surrounding the house double the amount of light energy that enters the home, and efficient insulation keeps the warmth in. At the same time, solar panels on the roof directly heat water that is stored in insulated containers for use throughout the day or night. Additional heat is provided by geothermal energy, through the transfer of heat from the ground to water tanks under the earth’s surface. A wood stove provides extra warmth in the living room; if this doesn’t seem environmentally friendly, consider that it is 70% efficient, which is nearly 20% more efficient than the burning of fossil fuels. Moreover, trees are a more readily sustainable resource than oil or coal; the Mount Best site was orginially covered in thick forest, which was ruthlessly cleared in the 19th century. Now, the owners of the house have committed to restoring the natural woodland, thus replacing precious habitat, as well as providing a renewable resource on their doorstep.
These measures come at a high initial cost, but more than pay for themselves in terms of energy savings over the long term. Government subsidies, especially in areas receiving plenty of sunlight hours for solar panels and wind turbines can help offset this initial cost and make greening up your home even more accessible to the average homeowner. If you are living in the US and are interested in installing solar panels, take a look at the incentives your state offers and whether this investment versus another eco-friendly alternative makes sense for you.
United Kingdom – EcoHome
Although one of more densely populated countries in Europe and in the midst of a chronic housing shortage, the United Kingdom is still looking for innovative to solve these problems using green solutions. One symbol of this effort is EcoHome, the country’s first environmentally friendly showhome. Although inhabited, the house is primarily an advertisement for the green movement, and since opening in 1989 has seen more than 100,000 visitors. Energy-saving and ecologically friendly ideas and touches are everywhere, from the organic garden to the roof-top solar panels to the compost toilet. Ms Bull, who lived in the house for a while, said ‘it was inspiring to see how easy it was to live like this’.
Britain has witnessed a surge in interest in environmental issues in recent years, and encouragingly, this has manifested itself not only through popular desire for green enterprises, but in pledges to support the environment at the government level. With regards to housing, late last year the Communities Secretary, Ruth Kelly, stated the government’s aim to ensure that all new houses will have to be carbon neutral in 2016. Responsible for 27% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, this will be a significant step towards the longer term aim to cut emissions overall by 60% by 2050.
If you’re interested in making some eco-friendly changes, check out the tips in the other blog postings. And, for some more inspiration, take a look at these examples and resources, and, of course, the EPA site.