How to Build an Eco-Home – Step by Step Guide

As awareness grows of the global environmental crisis facing us all, nations and individuals are increasingly investigating ways in which they can reverse the unsustainable lifestyles that have led to this potential climatic disaster.

One initiative that has gained in popularity over the last few years is that of the “eco-homes”. The concept has developed from looking simply at house designs, to embracing all aspects of domestic life.

What are Eco-Homes?

There are many different eco-home design types including:

  • Carbon neutral
  • Healthy homes
  • Biophilic (linking the house to nature)
  • Cradle-to-cradle (which looks at the lifecycle of materials)
  • Holistic design (which looks at the impact of the house on the people living in it and the local environment)
  • Earthship Biotecture (building entirely with natural and recycled materials).

The “Passive house” is a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, which reduces the building’s ecological footprint. It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling. A similar standard, MINERGIE-P, is used in Switzerland. A passive design is not an attachment or supplement to architectural design, but a design process that integrates with architectural design. Active House is similar, but goes two steps further, by generating at least as much energy as the house consumes and considers the health and comfort of the people living in it.

The nine sustainability criteria for eco-homes under the Code for Sustainable Homes in the UK are:

  • Energy and CO2 emissions
  • Water: internal and external water savings
  • Materials: sourcing and environmental impact of materials used for building
  • Surface: water run-off
  • Waste: reducing, reusing or recycling of construction materials
  • Pollution: using insulation materials and heating systems without adding to global warming
  • Health and well-being: good daylight quality, sound insulation, private space, adaptability, and accessibility
  • Management: home user guide
  • Ecology: protecting and enhancing ecology of the area

Choosing Eco Building Materials

A “fabric-first” approach means focussing on reducing the potential heat loss of a building. This requires thinking about what to build out of, how to insulate it, and how to ensure airtightness. It considers how the house can be used to heat itself — using the fabric of the house as part of the heating system.

Using sustainably sourced materials is a good way of creating an eco-home without impacting on the design or convenience of the house. When it comes to wood, the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified timber is now often stocked as standard in hardware stores and provides reassurance about the sustainability credentials of the source.

Timber cladding is a renewable resource so long as tree stocks are continually replenished. One of the biggest advantages of timber cladding is the fact that it is a natural insulator. Air pockets within the structure of timber provide barriers to both the heat and the cold to reduce the need for heating and cooling systems.

Timber also helps remove the carbon footprint of buildings. As tree’s grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and incorporates the carbon into their wood. When timber cladding is erected, it continues to store carbon dioxide (CO2) in the structure of its cells, which removes it from the atmosphere, contributing to the global effort to halt climate change. Unlike PVC and other housebuilding materials, timber cladding produces no waste at all, as offcuts can be used for firewood and sawdust that makes for great compost and animal bedding.

Even if timber does go to waste, its life cycle ensures that all of its vital nutrients are reabsorbed back into the earth. Waste going to land fill is a huge global problem.

In architectural designs today there is less PVC around and timber windows and doors are making a comeback. The availability of natural materials such as hemp, lime, sheep wool and cellulose has also increased as prices have fallen.

For the eco builder, reused and recycled are also watch words. Some builders have taken the idea of reducing material to the extreme, as in the case of one Passivhaus built in the middle of Cardiff which is entirely demountable. It is a timber frame house that uses no nails or glue, only screws and bolts. At the end of the home’s life everything can be taken apart and the salvaged materials reused.

How Can I Turn My House into an Eco-Home?

Beyond the building structure and plot there are a number of ways of turning a home into an eco-home. These include:

  • Higher than normal levels of insulation
  • Better than normal airtightness
  • Thermal mass to absorb the solar heat
  • Brise soleil, deep overhangs, air conditioning and other features to manage overheating
  • Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) system
  • Heating from a renewable source (such as solar, heat pump or biomass)
  • PV (photovoltaic) panels, small wind turbine or electricity from a ‘green’ supplier
  • Natural materials — avoidance of PVC and other plastics

You can also choose biomass boilers and return to sustainable wood fuel sources or take advantage of the latest tech which heats water as well as generates electricity termed MCHP boilers. For a completely renewable machination; solar power panels and collector panels can be used to generate electricity and heat water. All of which usually over generate electricity meaning you can profit from by selling electricity to the national grid.

What Are the Benefits of Eco-Homes?

The benefits of building a new Eco-Home, retrofitting an existing home or installing renewable energy in your own home is two-fold. You can lower your property’s carbon foot print by relying less on fossil fuels and also further reduce your energy bills through the use of solar power and other electricity generating appliances.

Sustainable eco-homes reduce their occupants’ carbon footprints and the effect on the environment while encouraging more and more home builders to focus on building eco-homes.

Get Started with NORclad

An eco-home can be anything we want it to be, as long as it offers some improvement on the norm. It can involve the fundamental architecture of the building, or the way that it has been redesigned. It can also be about a way of living, reducing energy use and wastage. The important point is that in creating any type of eco-home you are having a positive impact on the environment and reducing your carbon footprint.

If you’re interested to learn more about using timber cladding to achieve better eco-credentials for your home, get in touch with us here at NORclad today.

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