Meika Jensen, Guest Writer
In 2006, only about two percent of houses in the United States were being built with environmentally friendly features. In 2012, that number had exploded with 16% of houses adhering to new sustainable standards that climbed rapidly. As the standards of LEED and EcoBroker certificates have been applied, the market has been bolstered by an influx of students hoping to affect realistic environmental change through sustainable architectural programs in traditional universities as well as online masters degree programs, what was once a trend has become standard.
Increased federal and state regulation and the massive savings in energy costs increased the incentive for building green homes and updating new ones, but the really exciting part is where sustainable housing may be taking us in coming decades.
Recently Masdar made headlines as the first carbon-neutral city ever, built right beside the already-opulent Abu Dhabi. Rentier economies can better afford to finance such undertakings, especially if they are trying to attract the tourism market. The growing community of Finca Bellavista may be more your style if you prefer your house a lot closer to nature. Located in Costa Rica, this community is made of two dozen different homes – each one built up in Costa Rica’s thick treetops.
The Bellavista houses are situated on two acres of land and manage to include running water, electricity, HVAC elements, and full bathrooms. Why is this noteworthy? The residences rest dozens of feet up in the air. The community is fully off the grid and look like the Lost Boys should lease them. The inhabitants use zip-lines to move from house to house, a fossil fuel free way to travel. Hydro and solar systems provide most of the power, and everyone recycles, repurposes, and re-uses.
Of course, this ideal does not denote perfection. Costs, suitable trees, and of course pest problems are part of this community like any other. A tree house is also not a ubiquitous, global solution. A tree house community may not work among the red cliffs of Sedona, but even out in desert conditions you can purchase an off-grid or mostly-sustainable house, such as the Earthship.
Earthship is a self-advertised venture into biotecture with more down-to-earth homes that, rather uniquely, endeavours to maintain a completely green, sustainable and self-sufficient living space in every facet of its design. Through this program, Earthship hopes to show the world that eco-friendly houses can benefit your budget as well as the planet. Manufacturers are busy churning out modular houses room by room, building each piece in-factory to ensure they meet environmental standards with minimum of waste. The utilities may be old-fashioned, but the architectural approach is still new.
The Long Way Around
Even if the idea of living in a tree house neighborhood doesn’t ring any of your bells, you may still end up in the same place via the long route. As green rooftops and green walls grow ever more popular, new innovations are also gaining traction in the sustainable housing market. Architects are busy incorporating straw and wood in the most stable of modern building projects, and scientists like Edgar Stach of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville are busy dreaming of algae-filled glass walls in the city that can produce power through photosynthesis.
“Low-emissive glass screened by algae-filled glass tubes will reduce the building’s cooling loads and at the same time produce hydrogen as an energy resource,” writes Stach in a 2009 report. “Thin horizontal glass tubes placed on a steel framework in front of the glass will screen and shade the full height glass wall around the building and diffuse light through them from different angles. The hydrogen produced can be coupled with a fuel cell to generate heating or cooling energy for the building.”
With new innovations like these, the houses of the future are going to be spectacular feats of green engineering. Not to be crass, but when thinking of sustainable housing, it would seem the sky really is the limit.