In an attempt to create a more sustainable domicile, some homeowners use energy-efficient light bulbs, swap out normal showerheads for low-flow ones, or put on a sweater so they can turn down the thermostat. However, others are taking sustainability—and their homes—to the next level. These ten innovative designs move the owner off the grid, into the trees, and toward a more environmentally-sound future.
Photo courtesy of greenhomebuilding.com
Sandbags protect houses from floods, but aren’t normally considered building material. However, Kelly Hart, a constructor who runs the Web site GreenHomebuilding.com, built this house out of misprinted rice bags filled natural material (earthbags). The outside layer is papercrete, recycled paper mixed with small amounts of cement. The earth bags provide insulation, weatherproofing, and are easy to construct. According to his Web site, the house requires minimal use of wood, concrete, and steel for construction, and many recycled materials were used. The heating is primarily solar—air tubes provide cooling and food is grown in a central greenhouse.
Build Local, Build Green
Photo courtesy of home owners
My friends Becky and Grant spent nearly two years building this house, located in Northern California. Their overall approach has been to build small, build natural, and use as much reclaimed and local materials as possible. To this end, they’ve succeeded.
Ninety percent of the exterior walls are made from straw bale; the downstairs exterior walls are covered with earth and lime plaster. The interior walls are plastered with clay gathered from their land, resulting in a beautiful, neutral-toned finish with a velvety texture. The cedar siding was milled onsite, using diseased trees from their property. The redwood deck, interior doors, and cabinetry in the kitchen use local reclaimed or restored wood. Insulation is from recycled denim and strategic placement of windows ensures natural cooling. They also have a solar hot water heater, a bountiful veggie garden, fruit trees, clucking chickens, and, as if the industriousness never ends, a baby on the way. Sustainability for generations to come!
Photo courtesy of www.earthship.net
I’m not sure if I’m ready for a hemp Earthship, but luckily I have options. They come in packaged, modular, hybrid, and custom; the above is an example of a modular Earthship. With water catchment from the roof, reuse of greywater, solar panels, and composting toilets, I could definitely tune in with nature, turn off the TV, and drop off the grid.
Photo courtesy of biohome.net
Edward Dilley, creator of Project Biodome, has a vision: pull drinking water from the air, gather heat and electricity from the sun, and live completely supplied for in his geodesic sustainable dome. Somewhere in the mountain near Elko, Nevada, he seems to be doing just that. According to his Web site, you can order a kit and construct one yourself. Might want to look into local building codes first.
Photo courtesy of www.o2sustainability.com
If you aren’t afraid of heights, the 02 Sustainability Tree House could serve as your next home away from home. It is made from small amounts of eco-friendly resources and is hung by cables rather than bolted into trees, as to not disturb your structural helpers.
Photo courtesy of www.nbm.org
The P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E., which stands for Prototype for Advanced Ready-Made Amphibious Small-Scale Individual Temporary Ecological Dwelling (phew!) is a verbosely named structure that attaches to pre-existing, abandoned structures. The sustainably-built prefabricated homes would turn blighted areas into usable ones and limit urban sprawl.
Lightweight Concrete House
Photo courtesy of greenhomebuilding.com
Concrete is usually associated with boring, grey buildings, but it is actually an earth-friendly building material that can be poured to make creative structures, as this house, built by sculptor/builder Steve Kornher, shows. Lightweight concrete needs less steel structural reinforcement than traditional building materials and is a good insulator, helping to cut back on heating costs. Concrete is often made from natural, local materials.
A Yurt to Call Home
Photo courtesy of www.coloradoyurt.com
If we really wanted to minimize our home’s impact on the earth, we’d all be living out of tents. As much fun as tents are for a camping trip, tents aren’t really made to house the masses (where would you put the flat screen TV?). A happy compromise is a yurt. Yurts are like big tents, but are much more durable, insulating, and can be pimped out with hardwood floors, fireplaces, TVs—you name it. Yurts are constructed with minimal materials, create little disruption to the surrounding ecosystem, and facilitate natural lighting and heating.
Green Roof Strawbale Home
Photo courtesy of www.roofmeadow.com
Roofs aren’t traditional places to grow a garden, but growing green on top of buildings has several advantages: it can prevent storm water runoff and pollution, conserve energy, extend the life of the roof, and it looks cool. This house, located in Wrightsville, PA, has a living roof and is constructed of strawbale and cob walls—renewable, biodegradable, construction materials that help insulate. It’s green inside and out.
Photo courtesy of www.thatroundhouse.info
That roundhouse, located in Wales, doesn’t just look earth-friendly, it really is. It was constructed using a wood frame, cobwood and recycled window walls, and a straw-insulated turf roof. Solar power and wind turbine are used for electricity; there is a compost toilet, and reed beds to clean greywater.