With ever-increasing energy costs ecohousing is no longer just an idea. It is a necessity. If we waste energy then we have to produce more and more. This means building more polluting power stations - or the more dangerous alternative - atomic energy power stations, with all the waste problems that will be left for our children to sort out. If we want to reduce pollution we have to change how we live.
Make sure no-one will build a house immediately to the south blocking the sun. The sun is only 12 degrees above the midwinter horizon when you need most heat. Woods nearby will supply a wind break and increase fresh oxygenated air. In the country but close to a city is ideal. Make sure the land is a clean 'green site' not a 'brown site' which has been used before and might be contaminated. Half way up a hillside, with a view of the sun, is better than in a valley which could be a damp, sunless frost-pocket. Avoid exposed sites - especially as wind speeds appear to be rising.
All houses should face south to make maximum use of solar radiation.
Ecohouse design and construction
Use local, natural materials to cut down on transport costs and pollution and use a simple design to cut down building costs and enable a degree of self-building. A turf roof will reduce heat loss and noise. 'Breathing' walls to let the high humidity out but keep the expensive heat in are good. Thick insulation is a top priority.
There is a growing trend for big houses but common sense tells us that smaller houses will be better because of rising materials costs and energy prices. There is a new and growing trend for micro houses. Basically, it isn't how big, it's how much space do you really want? 50 square metres is enough for one person. Two people do not really want double this amount as many facilities are shared. Unless your house is 90% efficient at keeping it's expensive heat (very unlikely but just a few are) then think small.
Circular is more human-friendly but more difficult and expensive to build. It helps if you live near a whisky distillery that is closing down. The circular house in the picture once held many gallons of whisky and is a good example of recycling. The oak timber should last for many centuries There are no dark corners to fill and circular living spaces encourage people to be creative with their furnishings and think out of the box. Hand-made fittings can be made to fit close to circular walls or just live minimally with the bare minimum of furniture. However, square is the most efficient enclosure of a living space if you have to build from scratch. A square 50 metre chalet would have a wall length of 7 metres. If using a rectangle have the long side facing south for maximum passive solar gain.
Windows and natural light
Triple-glazed, external window units are essential to insulate against heat loss and sound pollution (and are more intruder-proof than single). Not all windows need to be opening but those which do should open inwards for ease of cleaning. Shutters increase security and heat retention at night and during the winter. In our rising climate it seems common sense to fit insect-proof screens on windows and external doors.
Natural light should be used in every room from two directions at least, using windows, roof lights, borrowed lights over doors, glass panels in doors, north lights in ceilings, light tunnels or fibre optics. This double light arrangement adds to our psychological well-being as well as cutting energy costs.
The most efficient roof material, considering cost, locality and availability, is probably turf which adds insulation against heat loss and sound intrusion and is ecologically desirable and aesthetically pleasing.
Having a turf roof means that you are, in effect, raising the grass land up over your walls, together with the wild plants that grow there. The grass might need the occasional mow if it is a tall growing variety and turf roofs are heavy and require extra support but your house won't blow away in a storm if it's held down with turf.
A low south-facing slope is useful to accommodate photo-voltaic and solar energy panels. This is all about as ecologically-sound as you can get.
© yoruk.co.uk 2000 - 2013