New Houses I – building principles

Everyone needs a home, or at least a roof and bed. And though some people can assemble a home for 12$, most want some level of comfort. Also, many people would like owning a place to call home. But building a new house in the traditional way is a lot of work and includes many different materials, some of them expensive.
 
In the past, this has led to the usage of cheap but toxic materials. Today, many materials have been recognised as toxic and consequently mustn’t be used for building new houses. Apart from that, not much has changed in the way homes are built. This might change because new technologies are on the horizon.
 
 
Germany banned asbestos as an insulation material in 1996, and Europe followed in 2005. (the USA have never banned it completely) Still, there still are buildings out there which have been built before the ban. Therefore these might also contain other toxic building materials. Some often found are tar oil glue and diverse wood preservatives containing active ingredients like lindane, DDT, PCP or PAK. So if you move into a new house, try to check beforehand when it was built and compare to when and if your country banned these materials.
 
But possibly being toxic is not the only way a house can be dangerous for you. For most people, building their own house means they have to work for 20 to 30 years, just to pay back the credit they took for building it. So much for flexibility.
 
Spending money isn’t finished after building the new house, though. Common building styles have huge heat drains in many places.
Which leads us to the first innovation:
 
  • the heatcam shows how little energy leaks from the passive house compared to regular buildings. - source: localimpactdesign.ca
    the heatcam shows how little energy leaks from the passive house compared to regular buildings. - source: localimpactdesign.ca

the passive house

In a standard house, most energy is lost as warmth, of which most disappears through the walls (30%) and roof (21%). In the years 1988 to 1990, german and swedish architects developed passive houses. These only need small amounts of energy for heating or cooling due to good insulation and closing of gaps. As of August 2010, there were estimated 25,000 passive certified new houses in Europe, and 13 in the US. 

Passive houses are considered 5-10% more expensive in the building process. The amortisation rate depends mainly on future energy prices and the credit interest rate.
Calculations estimate an amortisation after 20 years.
 
The next step from the passive house are zero energy buildings, which use less energy than they produce. If the actually produce more than they use, they can be considered energy-plus houses.
 
These types of buildings lead to a higher degree of a self-sustainable lifestyle. It can be applied to residential buildings as well as to office buildings, supermarkets, schools and kindergartens, as shown above. Most passive houses are residential, though.
 
Now that we got this sorted out, let’s have a look at at the architectural trends pursued at the moment, and how they include housing energy concepts.

new sustainable and affordable buildings

For me as a non-architect many of the not-so-prestigious buildings look like their creators wanted to stand out more by the aesthetics than the values of their creations. For in the design area – and for all that it matters, Architecture is but an earlier form of design – Facts and Values are always connected. If your task is to design a building, and you’re an educated architect who knows what’s going on, you know about passive houses.
 
Therefore, if you design your building as a passive house or not is not a matter of possibilities, but of values – yours and your client’s.  So it seems like some architects don’t really want to  build sustainable buildings and therefore content with buildings that only look slightly alternative, or are a bit cheaper to build and inhabit.
 
  • MIR homes in New Orleans  - image: makeitright.org
    MIR homes in New Orleans - image: makeitright.org

Make It Right Homes

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the process of rebuilding new houses started very slowly. Therefore, Make It Right homes was founded in 2007 to build new houses for people in need. It was founded as a non-profit organisation by the actor Brad Pitt. The buildings are designed by 21 international architects following some sustainable design guidelines.

The single-family-houses cost 150.000$ on average.

The Houses are designed to be built from few, sustainable and non-toxic materials with little labour. They are well insulated and use solar power to produce energy. They also collect rain for watering plants.

They are LEED platinum certified and have a HERS rating of 15-20, signifying an 80% cut from the average house, rated 100.

These are some of many building standard ratings, which I will compare in one of the following articles of the new housing series. It will also and mainly feature current innovations in building processes.


Also published on Medium.

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