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Essay on sustainable housing

Q+A: Help with essay on sustainable housing

I’m 17 years old and from The Netherlands. I am writing my final essay about Sustainable Housing. I would like to become an architect one day and was hoping you could answer some questions.

Sure 🙂

What is the biggest difference in between designing and building a “normal” house as opposed to a sustainable house?

There’s very little difference between designing sustainable housing and “normal” housing – as architects, we still have to design to meet a client’s brief and budget, obtain the appropriate permits and approvals, and work with the builder to ensure the design becomes a built reality.

The key difference is that sustainable housing needs to respond to the climate and orientation for where it will be located – often, these don’t get given due consideration in the design process. It will influence where living areas and other rooms are situated, and what are the most appropriate building materials to use. 

The main question for the essay is “Is it possible to build a house that gives back to nature?” So a house that works like a tree / is CO2 negative. Do you think it’s possible? Because, with the information I’ve gathered, I don’t.

It is possible to create a home that is net zero, and even helps to offset carbon:

    • Design the house to have good orientation and so that it responds to the climate – this helps to significantly reduce the energy used for heating and cooling a home throughout the year, which is Australia is around 40% of total household energy use (it will be different in the Netherlands)
    • Select energy efficient appliances and lighting
    • Select energy efficient hot water and heating/cooling systems
    • Build the building to be reasonably airtight
    • Install solar PV on the roof and/or other renewable energy systems where appropriate
    • Possibly include a battery storage system
    • Design the home to last a long time ie. 50 years+

If designed and sized correctly, you should then have a home that produces at least as much electricity as it uses, which results in a net zero home. If it produces more energy than it uses, then it becomes carbon positive because the extra energy that has been produced goes back to the electricity grid. This extra energy is from a renewable source, so it effectively helps to decarbonise the electricity grid ie. reduces the amount of energy that needs to be generated using fossil fuels.

Do you have a goal for the future of sustainable housing?

I would like to see sustainable housing become mainstream ie. it shouldn’t be something special that only some people will do. While I am perceived as an expert in sustainability, really all architects, building designers, builders and engineers should be experts in sustainability, because it should just be part of their job description. 

Is there a big difference in price between “normal” and sustainable houses?

Not really; if you understand the climate and optimize for solar orientation, choose readily available building materials and use standard methods of construction, the cost is comparable. Things like better quality windows, solar PV and batteries cost extra, but these costs are rapidly coming down and becoming more affordable. Most of the houses I design are around AUD$2,500-$3,000/sqm, which is a middle range price for a custom designed home where I live in Australia. I can also design houses that still have good sustainability peformance from around $1500/sqm.

What is the most important part when designing and building a sustainable house? 

Understanding climate and orientation! If these aren’t right from the start, anything else you do will only make a bad design less bad, not genuinely sustainable.



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