What sort of house do you see yourself living in, in 20 years time?
Chances are, it’s not going to look like the one you grew up in. As technology advances, so does the shape of the structures we live in. As the population booms, so the sizes of the places we build shrink.
Environmentalism, too, forces changes in how we build, run and maintain our homes. Solar panels, draught-free buildings, taking control of your energy supply, growing your own food: all forward-thinking ideas to help us stride into a smarter future, where we take individual responsibility for caring for the planet.
Alan Budden is a chartered architect and the founding director of Eco Design Consultants, a Milton Keynes-based architecture practice that creates progressive houses with minimal environmental impact.
We asked for his thoughts on what the eco house of the future could look like. (Like Budden says, though – remember to factor this in to a holistically low carbon lifestyle, thinking about your travel, food and the stuff you buy.)
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Plants, plants everywhere, so let’s all clean the air. Or however it goes. While we’ve all already got seven types of cactus in our living rooms, Budden’s practice works on making this an even bigger part of the homes that they design – and sees this as a trend that will escalate over the next few years.
“Biophilic design is design that mimics nature, which we know is beneficial, psychologically,” he says. “Air-purifying plants, like peace lilies, can absorb pollution in the air.”
This, of course, makes your home more eco. “People spend a lot of money on expensive gym memberships,” Budden adds. “But I think that the future will see more people learning about keeping your home itself healthy.”
Harnessing solar power, storing it in batteries and using that to fuel your home is set to become very mainstream. For Budden, the future is houses built with entire roofs created from photovoltaic (PV) panels. These collect sunlight and convert it into DC electricity, which is then moved into an inverter to become AC electricity. AC electricity is better suited to and is more efficient when it comes to powering a whole home.
“We built Carrstone House, in Malden, which achieved Passivhaus Plus status,” Budden says.
“It creates enough solar energy to power the home and to run an electric car, making the house carbon neutral and energy positive.”
Keep It Airtight
The eco home of the future will have to prioritise keeping heat loss to a minimum. Budden says that a lot of UK homes lose serious heat through drafts, which is an inefficient way of doing things.
“Houses need to be built to be airtight – the house needs to be sealed with an airtight layer, which can be made from steel, plaster, glass or concrete, which is all joined up and continuous. It’s no different to wrapping a present, really,” he adds.
Surface area comes into play here, too. More compact spaces retain more heat – which is why flats and terraced houses in cities can be more eco friendly than a big eco house in the country.
Flat Pack Living Rooms
Your future house could well be more angular and box-like than a patched-up collection of bricks. Another way we’ll create airtight houses is by creating parts in factories, so that they slot neatly together. Think of it as IKEA flat packs, but for actual houses.
“This will reduce the draftiness of houses,” says Budden. “But it won’t necessarily be cheaper, which is what people often think.”
And we may be rid of hedges and fences that shield off one’s property from the neighbours. Don’t freak out – we’re not talking living in a commune. But Budden reckons that, over the course of the next 50 years, we’ll see a return to sharing resources between households as a way to live in a more environmentally conscious way, running through fewer resources, creating more and consuming less.
“In my utopia, you’d have collections of 28 or so households sharing the resources to create their own self-generated and self-sustaining energy, growing food in shared spaces and pooling time for tasks like cooking and cleaning. This would free more time up for a less hectic way of life, and give people more time to spend doing things they enjoy,” he says.
Robots Growing Food
It would be remiss to write a article about the future without mentioning robots. And this isn’t any robot. This is a food-growing robot.
“In the next 10 to 15 years, we could see technology used to help us grow what we eat,” Budden says.
“There’s an interesting development, called FarmBot, which is a machine to grow veg. It’s about six by four metres, and it’s this little robot propped up on two bars, which sows seeds, waters them, does your weeding and lets you know when things are ready.”
It’s also controllable via an app, which is pretty cool. And, because the robot is doing your weeding for you, no need to spray chemicals – making everything organic, too.