Eco-friendly houses: Characteristics, prices and examples
There are an increasing number of people in the UK who are more conscious of their environmental impact and wishing to take action. Building eco-friendly homes allows them to reduce their energy consumption as well as their carbon footprint.
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What is an eco-friendly house?
An eco-friendly house is a house which respects the environment, is made from non-toxic materials, and is energy-efficient both in its construction and use. However, new technologies and construction methods mean that the concept of an “eco-friendly home” is constantly evolving.
- Its design: the house must be in harmony with its surrounding from the moment the blueprints are drawn up;
- Its construction: the selected materials should be natural, recyclable and non-pollutant;
- Appliances: the electrical appliances should reduce energy consumption of the home.
The objectives of an eco-friendly house are, therefore, to produce the least amount of pollutants, reduce any losses of energy, and to save money.
Different types of sustainable houses
There are different types of eco-friendly houses: bioclimatic, passive, wooden, eco-friendly cement, brick, tiny houses...
Bioclimatic houses are identified by using natural resources from their environment. The location and geographical position of the bioclimatic home are essential, for example:
- The sun to warm the house, with southern-facing windows;
- Heavy tree cover to provide shade to certain rooms.
Therefore, these types of homes use little energy and are pleasant to live in.
Passive houses are identified by having a very low-energy consumption. Their distinctive feature is producing nearly all their heating needs through the sun’s energy, as well as appliances within the house. Therefore, they must be very well insulated and over half of their windows should be southern facing.
To build a home which is respectful of the environment, it is essential to choose natural and sustainable construction materials. Wood is the most used material for this reason when building these types of homes. Natural, renewable and generally originating in sustainably managed forests, it is also a very good insulator.
However, wood can be replaced with other materials when building an eco-friendly home, such as:
- Eco-friendly cement;
- Brick or compacted blocks of earth.
Unprocessed, these materials respect the concept of "sustainable architecture" and minimise, from the construction phase up until their final lifespan of recycling, the environmental impact of the eco-friendly house on the planet.
Tiny houses are small eco-friendly wooden houses built on a trailer. They have many important financial advantages:
- An affordable construction price: when self-built, a tiny house costs around £15-20,000;
- A low usage cost: with an average surface area of 15m2 small houses consume very little energy and encourage minimalist behaviours.
Characteristics of an eco-friendly house
Eco-friendly houses aim to minimise not just the environmental impact of their construction but also their use. Therefore, the appliances used in an eco-friendly house should also respect the principles of “sustainable architecture”, i.e. they should be environmentally friendly and reduce energy consumption. When choosing appliances for the house, innovative and sustainable technology is preferred, such as geothermal energy and solar energy.
All these appliances do not just reduce the home’s energy consumption, but also allow for savings on the electricity bill.
Optimising the exterior design of the house
If in the winter the sun heats the house, in the summer it is better to avoid direct exposure to sunlight to keep the house cool. In order to achieve this, here are a few tips:
- Planting a lush tree in front of a southern-facing window;
- Installing a hedge to provide shade;
- Creating a trellis to house a terrace;
- Choosing wood instead of cement for the terrace floor, as it stores less heat in the summer.
Insulation is essential to avoid losing energy and reduce consumption. It allows heat to be better stored whilst improving the comfort for the residents.
The roof is the most important part which needs to be insulated as this is where most heat escapes. Insulating walls, under floors and windows also helps limit heat loss.
The flow and renewal of air is important both for health and to avoid humidity and dampness in the home. It is advisable to install a Controlled Mechanical Ventilation system to avoid losing energy.
It can be classified into three types:
- Simple flow;
- Simple regulated flow;
- Double flow.
Heating and hot water: using renewables
Renewable energy is essential for the energy transition. To heat using renewable energy it is possible to install a wood furnace system or a heat pump. Producing hot water with renewable energy is also possible by installing an individual solar water heater or a thermodynamic water heater.
Producing electricity using solar panels and solar energy
Self-supply consists in consuming the electricity produced by solar panels, often installed on the house’s roof. The excess electricity generated can then be repurchased by a provider and reinjected into the global energy grid. Therefore, this approach allows one to be self-sufficient and also to save money at the same time.
Consuming better also means saving energy. It is possible to act in different ways within the home:
- Installing low consumption light bulbs, such as LED;
- Purchasing appliances with A+ energy ratings as a minimum;
- Installing devices such as low-consumption shower heads, toilets with two usage options or a rainwater collection system to control water use;
- Installing a highly energy-efficient water boiler.
- Adopt a more low-tech way of living.
Eco-friendly homes: at what price?
The price of an eco-friendly home tends to be the largest obstacle for individuals wishing to build one. The cost of building an eco-friendly home is higher than a traditional home, but the long-term energy savings make it worth the investment.
However, there is no fixed price for this type of home as it depends on numerous factors: initial cost of the land, architectural fees, etc.
Pre-assembled eco-friendly homes
It is also possible to buy an eco-friendly home in a kit format. Simple and easy to assemble (in only a few days!). These homes are also cheaper than eco-friendly homes which may be on sale, as there are no installation costs.
Are there grants for building eco-friendly homes?
If you wish to build your own eco-house, you can take advantage of grants from the Government to help you reduce some of the costs. Government grants of up to £2,500 are available for the installation of energy-efficient items such as solar panels, wind turbines, and ground source heat pumps.
Local authorities offer grants and other incentives for homeowners looking to install energy-efficient alternatives, so make you so ask them before undertaking any work. In addition, the UK's largest energy providers also need to meet targets under the Energy Efficiency Commmitment, so make sure you find out about any financial aid on offer.
How much does it cost to build an eco-friendly house in the UK?While it is difficult to put an exact figure on it because the costs depend on land and the type of eco-house, it is possible to build an eco-friendly house for around £200,000, well below the average cost of a house in the UK, which is around £327,982.
Examples of eco-friendly homes in the UK
As people become more aware of the impact that housing has on the environment, more and more are looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint. In this section, we’ll look at some of the most innovative and eco-friendly homes in the UK - something that could provide you with some inspiration for the future!
Zero carbon house, Birmingham
Designed by architect, John Christophers, considers all eco-friendly factors. The use of an Intello Plus airtight membrane ensures insulation and airtightness, providing warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer. Energy is generated by the sun and because of the large windows, there is little use for electric lights. Some of the materials used for the house include recycled glass and reclaimed wood.
Morn Hill, Winchester
This house was built to fit in with its natural environment in the Hampshire countryside. Praised by the Energy Saving Trust as an example of sustainable housing, the property includes a number of features such as rain-harvesting technology, triple-glazed windows, energy-efficient lighting and a vegetable planting area.
Retrofit home, London
Bere Architects took this already-built terraced property in the UK’s capital and turned it into one of the most eco-friendly homes in the country. Previously, it had issues such as poor insulation and dampness. Changes to the house include installing a heat recovery ventilation system, triple glazing, and external thermal insulation. It has won a number of awards for its design and energy efficiency.
Stoney Cross low-energy house, New Forest
The winner of the Best UK Residential Design award, this house, designed by PAD Studio, uses reused soil that was excavated for the basement and pool area as a berm at the front of the house - something that both cuts off noise from the road nearby and creates better insulation. Mainly built using timber, the property includes solar panels, a refurbished well for drinking water, and a ground-source heat pump.
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