For decades, architectural philosophy was in a state of perpetual forward motion. The modern use of electricity, the invention of air conditioning, and the creation of new, more affordable construction materials and technologies propelled us skyward, as evidenced by the staggering number of skyscrapers that have been built in the 20th and 21st centuries.
What we did not know then (or, perhaps, what we chose to ignore) was the impact that these new buildings would have on our environment. They were not built in tandem with the climates in which they are located – instead, they stand in defiance of it. Impressive monuments to human achievement, no doubt, but also to our detriment.
Modern architecture focuses on integrating buildings with their environment, instead of building them to exist despite their environment. That means these builds are more energy efficient – and as a wonderful side effect, they’re also extremely interesting. They look amazing. So let’s highlight a few of the ways you can make your home more energy efficient:
Water your needs
One of the most interesting recent developments is the use of greywater for a variety of tasks. Greywater is any wastewater that may have come in contact with contaminants like soap, grease, or hair, but that has not come in contact with pollutants like feces.
Greywater may sound kind of gross at first, but it has uses that can’t be ignored. Plants love greywater, and as long as the water doesn’t come in contact with the edible part of the plant, you can use greywater for gardens, lawns, and other plants you need to irrigate.
One of the most practical uses of greywater is toilet flushing – why use potable water to flush your toilet when you can use greywater that would have wound up going down the drain anyway?
You can also use greywater to help heat potable water – a choice that can help reduce your gas and electrical bills. The heat from greywater is used to preheat cold water that enters into your hot water tank through the use of a heat exchanger.
Couple the strategy of reusing greywater with a rainwater collection system, and you’ll be able to grow all kinds of plants on your property, all without having to use drinking water to help them grow!
Harness the power of the sun
An astonishing number of modern home designs rely on passive solar energy to help with their heating. We love how often solar panels are used in modern homes, but what we’re talking about here is a little different.
If you love huge windows and lots of natural light flooding into your home, you’re going to love passive solar design. Most passive solar couples the use of large windows with stone floors (or other masonry surfaces). The sun floods into the home, and the heat penetrates into the masonry. The masonry then releases the heat at night, warming your home during the coolest period of the day.
This all-natural heating solution looks great and lowers your carbon footprint.
Keep things well-insulated
One of the most important recent innovations in home building and retrofitting is the method of over insulating. This is the practice of insulating a building beyond what regional codes require. The idea behind this strategy is to reduce the need for active climate control, like air conditioning and furnace or heat pump-based heating.
Over insulation is tricky, because insulation prevents airflow. That means that if you want to over insulate your home, you’ll need a ventilator to keep your air from going stale. Using energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) are a good way of going about this.
Let Mother Earth cradle your home
Here’s a radical, back-to-nature design idea: earth sheltered homes. It follows the notion that a well-insulated home is more resistant to temperature fluctuations and takes it to the extreme, encasing your home in soil from the surrounding areas.
Practically, earth sheltered homes are hard to come by, in part because so few architects and engineers have experience building them. They have a lot of advantages, though – they’re aesthetically stunning, and they can, in theory, keep your home perfectly comfortable year round. We expect to see more of these homes as time goes on.
Let life grow on your roof
Not ready to commit to encasing your entire home in soil? We understand. Why not start with your roof?
A green roof is a layer of vegetation on a waterproof roof. As you can imagine, green roofs are absolutely beautiful to look at. Better yet, they’re a massive boon to the environment. They offer all of the benefits of having more plant life and attracting friendly bugs – and don’t worry, the roofs are designed so that these insects won’t enter your home.
They also do a lot to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They combat the urban heat island effect, so less cooling is needed overall. They also reduce your home’s temperature with the use of evaporative cooling. Those of you who know how air conditioners work probably recognize the phrase evaporative cooling – it’s what makes air conditioners effective, it’s how humans cool off with sweat, and it’s also how green roofs will lower your carbon footprint.
Environmental design will continue to push architecture forward
Look at HVAC companies around the world. The companies that do AC repair in San Marcos are going to be largely focused on cooling technologies – winters in San Marcos just don’t get that cold. On the other hand, if you’re up in Alaska, you might not be selling a lot of AC units – but furnaces are a must.
This illustrates an important point – the biggest influence on home design should be the climate that the home is in. As we continue to innovate in home design and architecture, an integrative approach where homes are designed to exist in harmony with their environment will lead us to new ideas, and fascinating new designs.