It's a well-known fact that we are in the midst of a housing crisis. With environmental concerns evident, the pressure is on to not only to build quickly and efficiently, but to do so with energy efficiency and sustainability at the forefront of our minds.
But whilst we desperately need the ‘homes of the future’, we don’t have to wait for the solutions and technologies that can help ensure that these homes are much more sustainable than previously.
With advances in technology, research in sustainable materials and new building processes available, we have already come a long way …
Natural vegetation improves the quality of our environment
There are multiple benefits from the offsite construction process as several articles have already focused on here on The Hub, including this one focusing on a recent event with George Clarke, where he calls on the industry to “stop building in fields”.
Wastage is minimised as the required building materials can be more accurately calculated, therefore saving money – which has to be good news in a tough economic climate.
Working offsite in a factory also delivers a controlled environment which improves working conditions for those involved. Who knows, if we can increase the factory produced methods of construction in this way, we could also see an increase in the number of females entering the profession as few seem ready or willing to enter building sites as a career?
Transporting the finished product direct to site also minimises the use of heavy machinery on the site and speeds up the construction process, with houses being built in weeks instead of months.
Not forgetting of course the increased potential for overall site safety and a reduction in the impact of the construction process, in ground disturbance, noise issues, disruption to local residents and pollution from the use of less vehicles on site.
Quality in services
Another advantage from off-site construction is that all of the building services can be built into each modular element, awaiting connection when the individual modules arrive on site. This allows for more control of tolerances and quality.
Anyone who has installed heating, air conditioning or ventilation in a building knows that all of this work is weather dependent and they are generally working around other trades at the same time. which can sometimes mean a compromise in the final interpretation of the design. If this affects performance by even a small degree, then the equipment is unlikely to work to the optimum efficiency it was designed for.
Lighting is one of the most important things to consider in any home. The evidence suggests that the difference between good and bad lighting can impact your health, affecting your mood and concentration levels.
It’s worth remembering that lighting the home is not a luxury, it's a necessity and that it uses energy, so we need to make smart choices.
Maximising the natural light in the home with rooflights and strategically placed windows will help minimise the need for lighting. Natural lighting has health benefits too as lack of it is linked to depression and SAD.
Installing room sensors is a really neat way of saving energy, with lights automatically turned on/off as you enter or leave the room – all part of the smart home concept and saving energy.
Installing LED lighting technology also uses less energy than incandescent, halogen, and fluorescent alternatives as my fellow Hub blogger, Ellina Webb writes about here.
Research shows that natural vegetation improves the quality of our environment, reducing atmospheric pollutants, because plants filter out gaseous contaminants.
The bigger the plant, the more effective it is. Therefore, trees are the most effective tool in removing airborne contaminants. However, in high density urban areas, the opportunities to plant lots of trees are limited due to lack of space.
So why not make use of the rooftop space available in our neighbourhoods and install a living/green roof system and help reduce air pollution. These can also be built around solar panels, so needn’t compete for space, whilst helping reduce the overall carbon footprint of the building and help generate zero carbon electricity for both the home and the grid.
This is just a snapshot of what can already be achieved for modern houses and there are some examples out there that show the way that the rest need to go.
I’ve not even touched on living walls, renewable heating systems, or how important the noise of these systems is becoming as our urban centres become more densely populated.
It’s also important to look the wider impact of the building on the surrounding environment, taking into account rainwater drainage and possibly including rainwater harvesting so that this can be used within the home to reduce the need for piped in water.
I hope that’s given you food for thought though as to what types of solutions already exist? In a future post, I hope to be able to look at what can be achieved in a commercial environment, as well as talking about how we bring existing properties up to modern standards of sustainability.