The Eco-Home Design Guide
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The Eco-Home Design Guide

Principles and practice for new-build and retrofit

Christopher Day

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eBook - ePub

The Eco-Home Design Guide

Principles and practice for new-build and retrofit

Christopher Day

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About This Book

Designing an eco home is as much about working with your natural surroundings as it is about planning to use the right materials for your building. In this book, Christopher Day draws on his extensive experience to explain the key principles of eco-home design, focussing on natural methods rather than expensive technology. Beautifully illustrated, it highlights how aesthetics, comfort, and economy arise from eco-responsible design: they're not add-ons, nor are ecology and art in conflict. This book will give you essential guidance in working with your surroundings; understanding what you can do yourselves; and ecobuilding without relying on technology.

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Information

Publisher
Green Books
Year
2015
ISBN
9780857843067

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What is an eco-home? What do you need to know to create one?

What is an eco-home? If you more or less know, and more or less know how to create one, you don’t need to read this book. Or perhaps you do. There may be things you haven’t thought about, or aspects of things that you haven’t considered in depth or didn’t know. Some might even be vital issues for how your house performs and lasts, and how it is to live in – and how long you live.
Everybody more or less knows what an eco-home is, but as there’s no official definition, nobody actually knows. Is it necessarily a house? Can it be a caravan, yurt or even a high-rise apartment? Is it a zero-carbon – or, better, a carbon-negative – house? (Glossary entries are indicated at their first occurrence.) Would that include a wholly uninsulated house connected to a photovoltaic farm? Or is it a house so nature-friendly that it’s full of wasps, rats and (suspiciously ominous) mushrooms? Or should it be so zero-impact that living in it means dressing for outdoor temperatures? Everybody knows it doesn’t mean those sorts of things.
It’s safer, therefore, to focus on what everybody more or less knows: that it’s something to do with supporting ecological stability.
What is ecological stability, though? Climate stability is an absolutely essential part of this, but only a part. Preserving or recycling key resources (e.g. water, nutrients, perhaps manufacturing feedstocks) is comparably important, although this hasn’t yet reached a tipping-point crisis. So is the maintenance of a self-regulating ecology. This is mostly about reducing pollution, preserving biodiversity and, indirectly but crucially, food security. Common to all these, however, is living in harmony with nature. But can we do this if we live in town? As most of us do, for life to survive on our planet, this is absolutely essential: living in harmony with nature doesn’t mean living in nature.
Historically, however, the eco-architecture movement didn’t start very harmoniously. There were those who focused on minimising energy use. Hermetically sealed buildings with tiny windows appealed to them. Others were principally concerned with occupant health. They liked air-permeable buildings, lots of fresh air and solely natural materials. Others again sought hi-tech solutions to everything. Some focused on autonomous houses and self-sufficient lifestyles; others, on social issues – even to the point of collectivism. And everybody thought ‘ecology’ meant they couldn’t use their favourite materials or do anything artistic. Nobody ever considered the risk of dying from heatstroke, at least not in Britain: at that time, heat retention (for resource preservation) seemed the issue, not cooling (for survival). Climate change wasn’t a concern; oil depletion (and related price rise) was. Also, although some thought meditation could transcend ecological disaster as this is ‘merely’ material, nobody discussed the spiritual dimension of sustainability.
Fortunately, those days are behind us – but their echoes still remain. Few seem to realise that harmony with nature means embracing and synthesising all of this. If we omit the material concerns, things don’t work. If we omit the aesthetic, we only serve the material side of nature and humanity. The climate crisis demonstrates this. If material solutions don’t work, human – and probably all – life won’t last. But if concentration on practical aspects ignores soul and spirit issues, life won’t be worth living – and (according to statistics) is likely to be shorter.1
Does this make what "everybody more or less knows" unduly complicated? It shouldn’t. It just means that there are many more issues than energy conservation to attend to. In this book, I therefore first address the ‘why’ behind eco-home design: the overarching ‘mother issue’. Then follow ‘where’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ issues: the specifics. Further, to actually build or convert your home I also discuss the ‘when’ and ‘who’ issues: achieving its delivery.

How to find what you need in this book

This book is divided into six parts. These cover the reasons – and their design implications – for wanting to live in an eco-home; how to decide where it should be and remedy the shortcomings of your chosen location; how, in performance and constructional terms, to design a new eco-home or eco-upgrade an existing building; the things it affects and the energy it needs; how to do it; and how to get started and avoid mistakes.
WHY ISSUES helps you to identify the particular benefits you’re aiming for. These are much more varied than most people, looking through their individualised lenses, suppose. They range from monetary to spiritual, personal to global. We may want them all, but different people have different priorities. This affects design.
WHERE ISSUES covers microclimatic, social, connective and space-use matters, and how these affect site planning. These also have much greater significance and scope for action than is generally supposed. ‘Where’ also applies to eco-renovation, but in a different way: you need to be able to evaluate problems that existing buildings have. All old buildings have some, but how easy are they to remedy? This is critical to your decision about what building to buy and eco-convert.
HOW ISSUES introduces you to how to get your home to do all those things you need it to: keep you warm, dry, cool, healthy and safe. Whether you’re building an entirely new eco-home or renovating a less-than-satisfactory old building, the basic physical and design principles are the same. Consequently, although chapters on old buildings deal with specific renovation issues and associated constraints, pitfalls and solutions, the bulk of every chapter is relevant for both. As there’s a huge variety of building types, construction and ages, and of climatic circumstances, this is the largest section of the book.
WHAT ISSUES covers hidden environmental impacts; recycling of water, waste and nutrients; and generating energy.
WHEN AND WHO ISSUES discusses how to proceed, to actually build or convert your home. Who will build it: you or a builder? What are the practical and sequence-related implications of your involvement? The final chapter helps you get going!
Before you start, I recommend you read the Case studies (Appendix 1). These give examples of eco-homes I have designed and what I’ve learnt from the mistakes I made. I suggest you read the descriptions and test yourself to see if you can anticipate the mistakes described in the What I should have done reviews.
Most chapters includes a list of resources (in alphabetical, not importance, order). These include further information on sustainable building issues, techniques and products. This, of course, can only be a partial list. For the products especially, there is a huge amount of information out there. For example, a complete list of all the (purportedly) ecological building products found at Ecobuild (the largest building trade exhibition in Britain) would fill several volumes. (Instead of this, just visit www.ecobuildproductsearch.co.uk) Moreover, new products, suppliers and publications are appearing all the time, so this list is unavoidably already incomplete and out of date. Consequently, I have limited the products and suppliers listed here to those less common ones that I have used or considered using. Many items are relevant across different chapters but, unless of particular importance to another chapter, aren’t repeated.
Unavoidably, this book contains some technical terms and concepts you may be unfamiliar with. I have included a glossary at the back of the book, so you can both understand these terms and have sufficient techno-speak to convince builders you understand enough about building so they can’t cheat you. (You don’t have to understand, and they may try to cheat – but it still helps.)

Speed-reading

The time for abstract theorising disappeared with the last century. Climate change is now an established fact and one that we have to find out how to live – indeed, to survive – with. We no longer have time to spare, so we need to know the practical ways of doing things. This book aims to help get you started. To speed understanding and highlight crucial practical issues, I include choice-tables, keypoint summaries and a large number of diagrams and illustrative examples. To further assist speed-reading, and to help navigate your way through the book, each part and each chapter starts with a diagram of the issues it covers.
To create an eco-home, it isn’t necessary to read the whole book. Just look at the sections you need to know more about. However, to create an eco-home that’s worth living in, I recommend you also look at the sections you think you don’t need. The topic, after all, is immense. Moreover, as every family is unique, every home (and every eco-home) will be unique. No one formula can ever fit all. Only you know your needs and preferences, and the unique location of your home gives unique opportunities. That’s why you need to start, not with fully formed answers, but by asking the right questions. This book, therefore, aims to give a brief and holistic overview, so that you can ask the questions right for your situation. The next step is what to do, then how to do it. I therefore include enough practical details and concrete examples so that you can find out most, perhaps all, of what you need to know, look in the right direction – and see through salesmen’s hype – if you want to know more.
 
1.   By 15 years on average: Jüngel, S. (2010) Culturally active people live longer, Anthroposophy Worldwide, No. 5/10.

I. WHY ISSUES

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Overarching reasons

Why build an eco-house or eco-convert an old house? Is it for your benefit? Your children’s and grandchildren’s? The world’s? Or all of these?
Most of us feel a measure of eco-responsibility to do something to mitigate climate change. The built environment accounts for about half of all climate and ecological damage, and housing accounts for 30% of all human-caused CO2 produced.1 The design and construction of our homes and how we live in them, therefore, give considerable scope for reducing this. Mostly, reducing climate damage is about reducing heat loss. In Europe, 75% of building energy heats homes,2 and in Britain 80%.3 Energy-efficient lights and appliances – and energy-minimising use of them – can significantly reduce energy consumption, and also bills! Furthermore, as summers become hotter, cooling will require increasing amounts of energy. Air-conditioning is electrically powered. Most electricity requires three times more fuel per kW than heating.
Embodied energy and pollution in the materials buildings are made of are also significant. Nowadays buildings embody about a third of the energy that they use over their lifetime. European buildings typically last a hundred years,4 American ones generally much less; but the longer any building’s lifetime, the longer period its embodied energy is amortised over. Longevity doesn’t only depend on durable materials; adaptability to changing needs (e.g. family size, homework, other uses) and easy reparabili...

Table of contents