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Ecological houses: keys to sustainable architecture

Jun 23, 2021 | Architecture Tips & Resources

Climate change, global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, and the overexploitation of the planet’s resources have caused architecture to bet on counteracting its consequences. As a result, the demand for greenhouses is on the rise, and green building has more and more followers deciding on sustainability and efficiency.

According to data from the European Commission, buildings represent 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions in the European Union. Therefore, in 2018 Directive 2010/31 / EU was approved, which seeks to promote improvement in the energy efficiency of buildings and homes. Within this framework, minimizing the environmental impact of homes through the construction of ecological, self-sufficient houses with recycled materials is the order of the day. 

Let’s see what an ecological house is, its main characteristics, the materials with which it is built, and the different types of environmental homes that exist. 

What is an ecological house?

An ecological house is a house that minimizes its environmental impact during all phases of its construction and in its subsequent use. In addition, ecological houses are built with natural, recycled, recyclable, or reusable materials and have maximum energy efficiency and use of the resources offered by the environment in which they are located. They are also committed to minimizing emissions and waste.

Achieving a 100% ecological house is practically impossible, but different degrees of sustainability obtain high-efficiency standards and a significantly reduced ecological footprint.

Ecological houses, self-sustaining houses, bioclimatic houses, and passive houses: differences

With the increasing demand for buildings that combat environmental problems, many concepts can be confusing. What is the difference between an ecological house and a passive house? What does it mean for a house to be bioclimatic? Can an ecological home not be a healthy home? We explain the main characteristics of each category and give some examples.

Self-sustaining houses

Since we have already defined what an ecological house is, we will start with the concept of sustainability. According to the RAE, the adjective has a broader meaning: “sustainable means it can be maintained for a long time without depleting resources or causing serious damage to the environment.” Furthermore, sustainable houses last over time without requiring large amounts of energy or that this, if possible, is renewable. 

A step further, and there are autonomous or self-sufficient houses. Self-sustaining houses can generate their energy to be self-sufficient without the need for external supply networks. They are autonomous in their internal and external consumption. 

Thus, we can say that an ecological house has to be a sustainable house, and even self-sustainable ecological houses can be built in terms of energy. Still, a sustainable home is not necessarily totally ecological. 

ecological-houses

Self Sustaining Houses

Bioclimatic houses

Bioclimatic houses are those that are designed to take full advantage of the environment. More specifically, it is urban planning that tries to take advantage of environmental conditions for the benefit of users. 

Thus, bioclimatic architecture considers all the natural resources available in the area where the house will be built, especially the sun, wind, and nature, and the construction is based on them. For example, a bioclimatic house will favor solar capture in the colder months and facilitate cross ventilation to keep the house naturally cooled. In addition, in this construction system, also used in ecological homes, the vegetation surrounding the house is taken into account to protect it and shade certain areas. 

Passive Houses

 Passive houses are characterized by not needing an active energy supply, especially in elements such as heating and cooling. A passive house is designed based on the principles of bioclimatic architecture and is highly energy efficient. This type of housing is built based on certain standards that propose, among other things, thermal insulation that guarantees a stable indoor climate and renewable energy sources. 

The difference between passive houses and greenhouses is that, as in sustainable houses, there may be passive greenhouses and sustainable passive houses, but that do not meet all the requirements (such as the use of materials) to be considered green.

Healthy houses

Is an ecological house always considered a healthy house? It doesn’t have to.  Healthy houses dispense with chemical compounds that can harm health and promote correct temperature, air renewal, and humidity levels. This so-called “healthy” housing is also demanding with environmental noise, electromagnetic pollution, and underground currents, among other things. Some green homes may use some material with chemical components, such as paint or varnish.

 

Characteristics that ecological houses must meet

At this point, what are the characteristics of ecological houses? Although not all residences of this type are built in the same way or have the same designs or peculiarities, there are some requirements that they should follow to be considered green homes. We summarize them in a few points:

  • Ecological houses must be designed based on bioclimatic architecture criteria, and, of course, they need to meet a minimum of habitability. In addition, they must have a studied orientation and strict use of the natural resources surrounding them. 
  • It is essential to use natural materials for their construction and recycled or recyclable materials such as wood, natural stones, cork, linen, cellulose, or no-fired bricks, among many others available on the market. Insulators, paints, or concrete, for example, can also be environmentally friendly. This way of building is also called bio-construction
  • Another characteristic that ecological houses must meet is to be efficient and low in emissions in all their phases, from designing and transporting materials to construction and their subsequent use as a home. 
  • Use ecological construction materials. Factors such as 0-kilometer products and services, the energy consumption involved in manufacturing the raw material, the generation of waste, plastic-free packaging, etc., have to be considered. Therefore, minimizing the ecological footprint is vital. 
  • It is recommended that these homes are self-sufficient in terms of the energy demand for their use. Greenhouses must also reduce or eliminate external energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and greenhouse gases. Wind turbines, storage systems, solar panels, geothermal energy, water mills, thermal energy, tanks to take advantage of rainwater, food production, waste treatment, composting, and ecological dry toilets are just some options to consider. 
ecological-house

Image of Atlántida Homes

Types of ecological houses

Since they are becoming more and more common, several types of ecological houses are classified based on the materials used for their construction. These, as we have already mentioned, are of low environmental impact, extracted easily and at low cost. For this reason, some of them are also of plant origin and respectful of people’s well-being. In addition, for the different types of ecological houses, it is also customary to use hygroscopic materials, which are substances capable of absorbing moisture, perfect for regulating environments and making them healthier. 

Although there are several variants and all of them include a greater variety of raw materials, we can classify ecological homes into four types:

  1. Ecological wooden houses
  2. Eco-friendly brick houses
  3. Ecological concrete houses
  4. Other eco-friendly materials

Ecological wooden houses

Wood is the material par excellence in ecological houses. In addition to its plant origin, it has many properties that make it perfect for this type of construction: it has natural thermal insulation properties, it has the hygroscopic capacity, it is easy to handle, it ages well … As if that were not enough, it works quickly and has great natural beauty, it is comfortable and cozy. Of course, it is essential to choose locally produced wood or from Km0, with ecological certification and from well-treated and environmentally-friendly forests. 

As an insulator between the wood, tree bark, wool, wood fiber, or other materials of plant origin can be added. 

The main drawback of ecological wooden houses is that this material makes construction more expensive since wood is more expensive than other materials. 

Eco-friendly brick houses

Brick houses can also be environmentally friendly as long as the bricks are uncooked since cooking uses a lot of energy. Brick is an increasingly used material in green constructions.

Among the ecological brick options, we highlight adobe bricks, compressed earth bricks, hemp, and straw, or peanut shell bricks. Likewise, the joining materials of these bricks have to be equally ecological and of sustainable production. Moreover, ecological brick houses have the advantage of a little cheaper than wooden ones; they offer more solidity and greater protection against fires.

Ecological concrete houses

Concrete is a material that is also used for the manufacture of houses. Still, for it to meet the requirements, it must be ecologically produced with recycled materials. However, of all the types of ecological houses, this is perhaps the least advisable prioritizing respect for the environment.

Other ecological construction materials

Apart from wood, bricks, and concrete, there are still other ecological construction materials with which to build your home. A very prominent alternative is the use of natural stone, which stands out for its enormous durability and robustness and its excellent thermal and acoustic insulating capacity.

 On the other hand, adobe and mud are great allies of these constructions since they have unbeatable environmental characteristics. Along with them, straw stands out, widely used in traditional structures since it is an abundant and cheap material, especially as an insulator. All these ecological materials also provide excellent warmth and can be part of the design of the house, achieving its aesthetic. 

ecological-houses

Image by 1984 Architectes

Identifying ecological materials is not always easy. For example, when building or decorating an ecological house, learning to recognize the different certifications, labels, or environmental seals is interesting.

What is the cost of an ecological house?

It is complicated to answer how much an ecological house costs since many factors can affect its price. On the one hand, one of the most significant amounts is the purchase of the land or plot, depending on where it is located, its surface, etc. Then, the meters that the ecological house will have, are decisive; and will influence the number of materials used. The project, the quality of the materials, the finishes, the construction system, the workmanship, the transport, the interior and exterior efficiency system, and a host of other factors will make the budget more or less high.

Often, green homes tend to be more expensive than common buildings, but it is true that in the medium and long term, the savings on bills are highly considerable. 

Sustainable prefab homes

Nowadays, sustainable prefabricated houses made with reused materials such as containers, boats, tires, caravans, among others, are on-trend… although not all meet the requirements to be considered ecological. 

There are, however, prefabricated ecological houses whose materials are respectful of the environment and have energy-efficient systems. These are an idea to consider if you want to reduce costs and live in it in record time. Typically, these accommodations have a straightforward construction method since they are modular and customizable based on the client’s needs. In addition, in a few days, they are ready since the final assembly is carried out on the spot. Its industrialized and controlled construction in a factory is another point that favors a lower environmental impact and a decrease in noise pollution. 

 

Examples of ecological houses in Spain

Ecological houses can be very different from each other since each adapts in a rational way to the environment and the requirements that each user needs. We offer some examples of ecological houses in Spain.

Ecological and geodesic house in Alcora (Castellón)

Designed by the sustainable architecture and urban planning studio Ecoproyecta, this house is created on the ground floor to be in contact with the land. It has three geodesic domes connected by corridors, and it will be a self-sufficient house that will integrate renewable energy and water purification systems. Certified wood and natural cellulose will be used for its construction.

ecological-houses

Ecological and geodesic house in Alcora

GG House (Santa María de Palautordera, Barcelona)

The GG house signed by Alventosa Morell Arquitectes and located in a town in Barcelona is an example of an ecological house with a modular design and wood as the main element. In addition, its materials are from nearby areas with minimal natural impact, and it is energy efficient. Therefore, this construction is perfectly integrated into the environment and reduces energy consumption by 76.77% compared to a conventional house with the same design characteristics.

ecological-houses

Photography: Adrià Goula

Bunyesc House (Lleida)

Another example of an ecological house is designed by the architect Josep Bunyesc and built with prefabricated wood, sheep wool insulation, and wood fiber. It is highly energy efficient with photovoltaic generation.

Thus, we see how ecological houses are part of a present in which efficiency and sustainability have more prominence than ever. 

At Plus Render, we assume all these values as our own, and we offer architectural visualization experiences at the height of the projects most committed to the environment. Still, we also manufacture physical models with a high degree of realism and are made with 100% ecological materials. Ask us for information, and we will tell you all the details.

 

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