HOW TO DESIGN AN ECO-FRIENDLY HOUSE
our simple guide to those sustainable initiatives everyone's talking about
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If you are anything like me, you will have spent many a Sunday Afternoon lying on your tummy with a bowl of crisps, watching re-runs of Grand Designs and imagining the sort of hobbit-esque, eco-friendly dwelling you would create if you suddenly found that pot of gold.
These eco-friendly home designs we see on the telly are definitely growing; from living walls to fancy composting systems to south-facing solar panels, the imaginative ways people are building their homes to have a lower impact is really inspiring. Some of these ideas feel far-out – others a little more accessible – so let’s dive into some of the most popular eco-friendly home designs and see what all the fuss is about.
Eco-friendly home design #1: The Living Wall
This sounded a little – spooky – to me, at first (a living wall? As opposed to a dead wall? Like a sort of permanent Halloween fixture?). But, never fear, the living wall is actually far cheerier than this; these walls are also known as green walls. The fairy-cottage image in our heads of ivy crawling up the side of old brick is not quite what we are talking about here, as these plants still get their majority of water and nutrients from roots in the ground.
A living wall is usually either a wall of suspended plants (in pots or on trays), or a wall that has soil pressed into it so that the plants are rooted into the structure. This second variety is not as common – as you can imagine, it’s far harder to build. Most of these walls have in-built irrigation systems to ensure the plants are living their best life
These walls improve air quality, help reduce noise pollution, create homes for wildlife, add a layer of insulation (reducing energy loss), deflect water during intense periods of rain, keep homes cooler in the summer as well as boosting mental wellbeing. However, the start-up costs can be expensive, and they do require a lot of maintenance to keep them looking fresh and fabulous.
Eco-friendly home design #2: The Bore Hole
Do you remember learning about the hydrologic circle & water table in Geography at school? It comes in handy now (I really should have paid more attention). Stored below the earth’s surface is groundwater, found in the nooks and crannies between soil, sand and rock. Precipitation, melting snow and water leakages keep groundwater topped up, and this groundwater can then replenish bodies of water such as rivers and lakes. Bore holes are the best way to capture this groundwater for homes to use.
Drilling your own bore hole for your home can save you money from your water bill, and is a cleaner, more eco-friendly source of water (as long as the construction company ensure the impact of the boreholes is reduced to a minimum – such as choosing environmentally friendly casing to line a borehole, rather than metal, as this can contaminate the surrounding area).
Eco-friendly home design #3 Rainwater Collection
In the very grizzly grey land that we live in, rainfall could well be used to help run our homes. In fact, collecting rainfall could save people between 40-50% on their water bills. How does it work I hear you ask? Well, the rain whooshes down the gutter from a rooftop and is channelled into a water butt. From here, you can either access the water directly (for activities like hosing down the car) or it is filtered through a tank where natural goodies like leaves are removed.
In essence, if all you’re after is water to feed the flowerpots, then an above-ground water system (the sort that looks like a Medieval barrel of ale) might do the trick, which is much cheaper to install. However, if you fancy washing your hair or scrubbing the Sunday dinner dishes with the collected rainwater, you’re looking at a below-ground water tank, which has added layers of filtration and pumps water directly into your house. It is not advised that you drink the water however, as there could be risks of contamination.
Why is collecting rainwater in this way so good for the environment? As the planet heats up in the current climate crisis, our precious water resources are put under huge strain. Reusing rainwater is one way we can help lessen some of this pressure. Additionally, it can help reduce flooding in urban areas. This is because in these highly built-up areas, the ground surface is plastered over with non-permeable materials such as concrete. The water cannot infiltrate these materials and seep into the soil – so instead runs off, gathers, pools and floods.
Eco-friendly home design #4: Solar Panels
Ah, the favourite solar panel, the gadget that lets us use pockets of sunshine to power our homes.
There is a difference between active and passive solar panels.
Passive Solar systems use sunlight directly, usually utilising the sun’s rays to heat buildings. When new eco-friendly homes are built, they take into account the position of the sun in order to maximise the rays that can hit the panels. This type of design is not new; 6000 years ago it was common for Chinese households to place their front-door on the wall facing south so that sunlight could seep into the home. Passive solar also includes thermal solar panels, which heat water for the home. No extra machinery is used to process the sunlight in these systems, just the simple magic of sunlight. A conservatory is a really good example of passive solar.
Active Solar does require extra machinery, such as pumps and a heat exchanger. This method magically transforms rays of sunshine into electrical currents that power our homes. Active solar systems process sunlight into something else, rather than the sun directly heating a home. Contrary to popular belief, solar panels also work when it is overcast (but prefer when it is sunny!)
The initial installation cost may be expensive, but sunshine is free so your electricity costs will decrease after this first payment. It is a renewable source of energy, as solar energy is low carbon, so installing solar panels reduces your carbon footprint.
Eco-friendly home design #5: Composting
Hopefully, most of us now will have a home food-waste bin (if you don’t, try emailing your local authority & asking for one). These are brilliant, but can be a little… unsightly? We may also have composters in our garden – those large Tardis-looking contraptions. Whilst it isn’t the point of a composter to look aesthetically pleasing, we believe at Old Green that our homes can be both sustainable and stylish; the two can work in synergy.
Some examples of pretty good lookin’ composting include:
DIY Cedar/Wood Slat Compost Bin
These DIY jobs are simple but effective; these wooden slatted boxes fit in nicely in a garden and are relatively straight-forward to assemble.
Keyhole Raised Garden Beds
Imagine a large slice of cake with a wedge taken out – that’s essentially what a Keyhole Raised Garden looks like. Built with a pathway to the middle, this structure is designed so that gardeners have access to all of their growing plants. In the middle of the cake, you can also insert a circular composting basket. This should have a lid, to protect the composting matter from the elements, and the sides should be open to enable all the nutritional goodness (and worms!) to travel into the adjoining soil. The composting basket is barely noticeable in these beds; so, if you’re after a gardening project & a discrete composter, this may be for you.
Woven Compost Basket
These baskets are made from twigs and branches and weaved together to form a circular frame to store compost, with the thicker twigs acting as posts. To get you started, lay a floor of leaves on the bottom, before filling up with garden and food waste. These structures blend in beautifully into nature as they are made from nature.
English Composting Garden
This design involves stackable planters, with a brick-like surface to blend in more naturally with the surrounding environment. Each planter has a hollow core which can be filled with compost, helping the plants and soil flourish. These pods can be stacked vertically and used individually.
Terracotta Home Composter
These stylish composters are widely available and super sustainable. The word terracotta is fused from the Latin ‘terra cocta’ which translates to ‘baked earth’. This means it is a completely natural material, made with no toxic chemicals or nasties. The manufacturing process is eco-friendly (it simply requires the clay being heated and shaped, and is energy efficient), it is a durable material that will stand the test of time, and it is easily recycled/reused. For composting, terracotta is a brilliant material as it absorbs surplus fluid and humidity created during the decaying process.
For those that want to get a bit creative, you could build your own composting hut in your back garden. Like a small shed, these huts can then be decorated however you fancy – like those gorgeous beach-huts dotting the coastline – from pastel pink to post-box red.
Other eco-friendly home designs
And of course, insulation – covering those draughts, blocking those leaks, and keeping your home as sealed as possible to prevent heat loss. When building a home, insulating your walls and double or triple glazing your windows.
To read more about creating an eco-friendly home connected with nature, check out our journal: Bringing the outside indoors: How green interior design can boost your mood and relationships. And to keep up to date with our sustainable storytelling, join our mailing list.