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  • Writer's pictureHin Fah

The Future of Housing Is Here, and It’s Green, Sustainable, and Affordable

Increased access to energy in developing countries, rising sales of home electronics, and the ever-growing number of new buildings are clear signs of progress. Yet, energy demand from buildings and the construction industry is increasing, and these two account for 36 per cent of global energy consumption as well as 40 per cent of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions. What’s more, even in developed markets like the EU, almost 75 per cent of buildings are energy inefficient, which is why authorities and citizens are starting to look favourably at initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the construction industry.

Eco-friendly buildings, for instance, are one such initiative that appears to be gaining traction among developers and consumers alike. And their environmental and financial benefits have already been demonstrated in a number of successful green projects.

The benefits of eco-homes can’t be ignored

Eco-buildings are designed to reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry. Ideally, they produce their own energy through solar panels, wind turbines, or geothermal sources, while strong insulation ensures consistent indoor temperature throughout the year. And instead of concrete, green buildings are constructed using more sustainable materials like wood, bamboo, earthbags, and even straw. Some dwellings also collect rain and reuse it for laundry purposes. And with the availability of a wide array of smart home heating and cooling devices, engineers can make buildings even more energy efficient, which can cut energy bills by an average of 30 per cent.

And constructing such buildings doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either. Many of the materials might be available locally, saving time and reducing shipping costs. Construction can be faster, too, which cuts labour costs. But more importantly, owners will benefit from better air quality and better health, consistent home temperature, and lower maintenance requirements, and they’ll play an important part in the global endeavour to protect the environment.

The market for eco-friendly homes is growing

With sustainability becoming a more popular trend, the size of the eco-building market is increasing as well. For instance, the global market for green building materials is set to reach $364.6 billion by 2022. Furthermore, analysts at the research firm Market Research Future argue that the demand for green buildings will be fuelled by consumers’ changing lifestyle, as well as the growing focus on high-quality products and renewable energy.

In fact, the results of a survey conducted by the market research company IRi show that 72 per cent of Europeans “prefer to buy products of those companies which respect the environment”. This attitude is also strong among European and American millennials, who are now the key homebuying cohort and are already changing market dynamics. The real estate expert Amanda Stinton, for instance, explains that millennials value sustainability and “want a healthier environment, lower maintenance, and smart technology; they don’t want wasteful or leaky,” adding that “They interact with their homes in a different way.” Additionally, 37 major European banks consider energy efficient buildings as valuable and provide their owners with more favourable mortgage rates.

The future we face – as seen by architects

The future we’re heading to is uncertain and filled with social and environmental challenges. This fact prompted the architecture and design magazine Dezeen to launch a competition called Dezeen x MINI Living Future Urban Home Competition, asking readers to design a home that would solve some of the challenges cities might face in the next 100 years. Architects came up with a number of creative solutions, and the concept of Cocoon BioFloss came third in the competition.

It was designed by the UK-based architect Maria Vergopoulou, who believes that humanity will face resource scarcity and dramatic economic and political uncertainty in the future. Instead of brick and concrete, she believes that homes of the future will be made using materials such as bioplastic fibres. The design is called Cocoon BioFloss, and the bioplastic would be made from agricultural bi-products from organic matter such as apples and sunflowers. This material would be layered over wire frames and would create a weather-proof shell. It would inspire a new DIY movement and would be easily accessible and affordable, according to the architect. Vergopoulou hopes that her idea will inspire the construction industry to become more creative, because, as she says, “for decades we have overproduced and over-consumed in terrifying amounts”.

The first prize in Dezeen’s competition, however, was claimed by the flood-resistant Georgian-style house designed by The D*Haus Company. Its proposal depicts a future in which rising sea levels cause massive flooding of coastal cities. Traditional homes would be replaced by timber houses that are made from prefabricated plywood elements and are elevated from the water with the help of 3D-printed concrete platforms. The use of wood would allow faster and more sustainable construction compared to using bricks. A large timber staircase would be placed in each home, while instead of a roof, the third floor would serve as a garden or terrace, allowing residents to spend some time outside. The architects’ vision was to create a house design that would merge the historical appeal of old Georgian houses with the necessities of modern and future living.

The pressing need to reimagine the way we live

While the future portrayed by the architects looks extremely grim, it could very well turn into reality unless we address challenges like climate change and resource scarcity. Changing the way we construct and manage buildings is an important step in that direction. Instead of concrete buildings with a high carbon footprint, a variety of eco-friendly houses and towers are already being designed and constructed. Timber is replacing cement, while solar panels are powering buildings. Green projects in countries like Australia, the Netherlands, and the US are creating blueprints for others to follow and implement. The way we live is reimagined and these initiatives need to be supported.

Of course, eco-friendly construction projects are still subject to the whims of the real estate market, which is influenced by public policies, the economy, tech breakthroughs, and various societal dynamics. An economic recession or unfavourable tax policy could cut the growth of the green building market. At the same time, millennials and new technologies could become the driving force behind much wider adoption of sustainable buildings. These factors notwithstanding, eco-buildings are more than just yet another profit-driven business sector or construction trend. They’re a way to save the planet and build a better future. As such, they should be able to survive short-term obstacles and transform the way we build and live.

(via Richard van Hooijdonk, trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker)

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