Lifestyle

Alternative homes for a sustainable future

We live in times of change when people have become more aware of their environment, daily routines and lifestyle. Even before 2020, sustainability issues came closer to the surface but, during the past year, the need for a larger home with a green corner made many people think about their connection with the environment. 

Hence, people who were once thinking about an apartment are starting to reconsider it and look for healthier and more sustainable alternatives that fit their budget. 

Let’s explore a few alternatives to classic houses and apartments, ones that have a lower negative environmental impact, that offer better living conditions and even help you save on energy bills. 

Eco-villages 

Eco-villages are communities that design their living spaces, environment and life in a way that supports their well-being as well as having the lowest negative impact on nature. The houses are typically made with natural materials, unprocessed, which have zero or very low embodied energy. It’s good to know though that the natural insulation materials they use are less efficient than synthetic manufactured ones, thus the walls should be thickened. 

According to Gen Europe, the European network for ecovillages and sustainable communities, “an ecovillage is an intentional, traditional or urban community that is consciously designed through locally owned, participatory processes in all four areas of regeneration (social, culture, ecology and economy) to regenerate their social and natural environments”

These villages usually range from minimum 20 people to thousands and are suitable for people who are looking for an alternative lifestyle altogether, more than just another type of house. 

Gen Europe says that “ecovillages come in all shapes and sizes, and can be found across the world: from traditional villages using age-old techniques, to modern settlements built with the latest in ecological innovations”.

Although this is not a lifestyle suitable for everyone, there are more than 10.000 ecovillages in 114 countries. Some of them even welcome guests to stay with them for a while and experience how it is to live in an ecovillage, as long as you respect all the rules that they follow. 

After traveling and living in 14 eco-villages, Karen Litfin, the author of Ecovillages: Lessons for Sustainable Community, says “the point is not that we all should live in ecovillages; rather, we need to learn from them and scale up their lessons to existing social structures, from the household to our neighborhoods to our cities, nations and even to the level of global governance”.

If this is not for you, some of the ecovillages’ advantages can be found in the next options, without changing your whole lifestyle. 

Passive houses 

These houses are becoming more popular due to their energy efficiency, indoor air quality and quietness.  

Passive houses are not a certain type of house or a particular construction method as they are buildings with a quality standard – the Passive House Standard. 

There are certified passive houses in most countries in Europe, in the US, Canada and Japan and their number is growing. You can check the map here

For a house to become certified, it needs to meet criteria such as energy efficiency, space for heating and cooling has to be within certain parameters, air quality indicators and the temperature must be at all times around 25°C*. 

The passive houses’ design is focused on making best use of the natural resources, such as sunshine, shading and ventilation, compared to regular houses that require central heating and air conditioning. Which means that you will pay up to 90% less on your heating. 

Moreover, the building’s ecological footprint is significantly lower than the typical houses which doesn’t only bring benefits to you personally but to the planet as a whole.  

These houses look modern and make your living comfortable, environmentally friendly, healthier and affordable. 

Hemp houses 

It is believed that hemp has been cultivated for thousands of years for different uses but the one that most got our attention lately is in the construction area. 

Though way less houses are being built with hempcrete (a mix of hemp and limestone), there are numerous benefits of choosing this alternative: they are heat, fire, and water resistant, are environmentally friendly and can be used in different types of buildings. 

Hempcrete “can be used for walls, floors, and for roof insulation; it’s breathable, absorbing and emitting moisture to regulate internal humidity and avoid trapped moisture and mold growth”, says William Stanwix in The Hempcrete Book.  

Replacing the traditional version of cement and timber with hempcrete can have a positive impact on the environment even from the material choosing starge. Hemp needs way less time to grow (just a few months) compared to the trees we use for timber framing, thus preventing deforestation. Hemp also doesn’t need multiple agrochemical products and, according to European Industrial Hemp Association, “is carbon negative, which means it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere during its growth than is emitted by the equipment used to harvest, process and transport it”.

In addition, the cement industry contributes about 5% to global anthropogenic CO2 emissions, whereas in hempcrete, the lime used as a binder captures CO2 as it turns into limestone. Moreover, hemp replaces some of the usual chemicals used as fire retardants or to stain and seal outdoor wood decks and furniture.   

Tech villages  

For people who are interested in a nature-based environment but still want to benefit from all technology can offer, a new alternative might be available in the future. We are talking about houses that use eco-friendly materials and are self-sufficient by providing their own energy, clean water and even organic food. 

A neighborhood of this type is already being created in Sweden. ReGen Villages are based on the idea of a circular economy where a “regenerative, self-sufficient and resilient community” will be established. They use  permaculture and aquaponics and recycle the waste and water, among others, and developed an operating system software and a simulator that will enable the replication and global scaling of regenerative resiliency. 

I think this is a concept that will be of much interest for many people, as we are being called to work in alignment with the environment whilst wanting to take advantage of the benefits technology can bring to us. 

Regardless of the option, considering the impact we have over the environment and the quality of our homes cannot be ignored anymore. So what do you think? Are you ready to choose a home suitable for a sustainable future?

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