Six Eco-friendly Housing Options

What eco-friendly housing options are there and which might be the best for Europe.

Six Eco-friendly Housing Options
Photo by Jed Owen / Unsplash

If you want to live a lifestyle that is eco-friendly and benefits from a philosophy of getting closer to nature and keeping a small carbon footprint then the typical modern lifestyle may not be up your street. New trends are occurring around us that address exactly this, but, as normal, regulations are slow to catch up.

A 2010 study done in Scotland suggested that using their latest building regulations would mean that a brand new two-bed cottage, a so-called 2-up 2-down style house, would result in carbon emissions of 80 tonnes over a 100-year life. Presumably, they considered the initial building, and ongoing heating and lighting, but not including other activities such as cooking, unfortunately, the source study is not linked by the Guardian. The conclusion, however, was that renovating an existing house to bring it up to a more energy-efficient standard was far better for the environment in terms of carbon emissions than knocking a building down and starting from scratch, but is this going far enough.

I'm not going to consider the climate conspiracy here, that is a subject for another article. What is important to me is that we live more in harmony with nature, caring for it instead of harming it. So regardless of what the science says, I am somewhat aligned to the same goals.

The problem is government policy does not seem to be genuinely interested in pursuing eco-friendly policies. Baden-Württemberg, the heartland of the German Green Party, does not allow eco-friendly building methods. The Germans in particular are in love with concrete. Their houses are built primarily from concrete and steel, two materials with terrible carbon footprints. To their credit they build more apartment blocks than the UK which would bring the footprint per family down.

The industry as a whole is perpetuating a terrible waste of resources. Building regulations only allow for more of the same whilst precluding novel approaches to radically change society and improve our eco-responsibility.

When it comes to housing we want to apply the following, well-known principles:

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

Following these principles means reducing the size of the house to what is necessary. That way you avoid unnecessary building materials and unnecessary heating and lighting. You should also reduce the distance that materials travel and reduce the processing required for each of those materials.

Reuse an existing building and repurpose used materials in the building or renovation works.

Recycling would, in this context, mean using recycled materials or if you need to dispose of something, old roof tiles for example, then recycle them as a driveway, or rockery etc.

Build a new house

Finding a plot of landing and building a small house following the building regulations is an option. Thanks to the article linked above, we know that this approach would result in approximately 80 tonnes of CO2e over 100 years.

Provided you can get planning permission there is the option to use a non-traditional building method such as any of those mentioned below.

This option does not consider the overall impact of this lifestyle. Perpetuating a homeownership culture, individualism and consumerism.

Renovate an existing house

Renovating an existing house, one that is the necessary size would result in approximately 8 tonnes of CO2e over 100 years. This presumably only looked at improving the building in terms of energy efficiency. There may be additional repairs and interior improvements required.

As with the new build option, there will be an ongoing impact from this lifestyle choice.

Reuse a Shipping Container

This style of house has become a bit of a fad in recent years appearing in magazines and social media. Businesses have been created around the world solely aimed at turning shipping containers into houses. It may have started in Los Angeles as a solution to their housing crisis when an entrepreneurial business owner decided that the containers in the yard could make some money if rented out as living space. The cost of housing is exorbitant in some places. Used shipping containers are available all around the world and with a bit of brute force, they can be turned into a quite pleasant apartment.

Photo by Hithesh S / Unsplash

They are easily transportable and easily stackable. They also offer protection from earthquakes and bombs.

They have some downsides:

  • Heating/Cooling
  • Noise
  • Fixed dimensions

They require some additional thought to solve the problems above, but they may be a suitable starting point for a tiny house.

It has also been pointed out that other building techniques can deliver a similar property more cheaply. Perhaps a Portakabin for example. They do not have the same appeal, but I'm sure they could just as easily be made to look beautiful.

Local building regulations will need to be considered, they are portable and so could be considered temporary but they are not on wheels. Some architects have experience is working with shipping containers and may be able to advise.

Tiny House Trailers

Photo by Harry Pepelnar / Unsplash

A house on a trailer is always going to be small. Different countries have different regulations for trailers. In Europe, the regulations restrict the trailer to:

  • Length 7.28m
  • Width 2.55m
  • Height  3.98m
  • Weight 3.5 tonnes

There is a lot you can do with the look and feel. Many are made using natural wood and are intended to be static and lived in permanently.

Would you live off the grid?
Photo by Nachelle Nocom / Unsplash

Caravans

This seems obvious to me, but if you are going to live in a trailer, why not purchase a used caravan. It fits with the reduce and reuse philosophy. But in reading the forums and watching videos I sense some animosity toward caravan owners. They are usually interested in a different lifestyle, not simplifying and reducing, but having a luxury house and a caravan in addition.

Also caravans are full of plastic and cheap wood and so does not reflect the natural beauty of the surrounding where it will likely be parked.

It may be a suitable temporary accommodation whilst other accommodation is being prepared but I doubt it would bring satisfaction as a long term dwelling.

Earthships

This particular style of building was pioneered in the Arizona desert several decades ago. It is typically made from repurposed and locally sourced materials. This includes car tyres for three walls, glass bottles and tin cans. The south-facing facade is fully glazed and forms a greenhouse.

With the emphasis on reusing materials and sourcing locally, this is probably the most eco-friendly building. It has a certain artistry about it, but generally, they tend to all look the same.

They are not movable and require planning permission and building regulations in Europe. This can remove some of the advantages that it offer which is collection and use of rainwater. Recycling of greywater. Filtration and use of blackwater. Also the heating of the property is supposed to be done naturally through sunlight although additional heating may be required in Europe.

There are several examples in Europe both in the UK and in Germany.

The example in Germany is of particular interest because it is near Stuttgart and was approved as part of a study into eco-friendly building techniques. It is used by a community as their social centre rather than as their main dwelling.

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