Eco-homes are nothing new. Sustainable living has been in evidence for centuries and man has long endeavored to create buildings that are energy efficient. So what defines an eco-friendly home and how has modern technology influenced the way we reduce the environmental impact of our houses?
The ethos behind an eco-home is that it has minimal effect on the environment. In most cases we have to use energy to heat and light our home, but if we can balance the input/output ratio, it becomes an energy efficient home.
Eco-friendly Romans and Greeks
Stone-Age man may have been forced to live in caves with little more than a fire and a few animal skins to keep himself warm, but the ancient Greeks and Romans were far more sophisticated. Sunlight provides a great deal of warmth and light, so the Ancient Greeks constructed cities with south-facing windows to maximize sunlight.
The Romans came up with a very clever heating and cooling service for their homes, which proved very useful as they fought their way into the chilly depths of northern Europe. Cool water was circulated via viaducts and internal pipes embedded in walls, which cooled homes down in the hotter months. In winter, hot air was circulated through underfloor ‘hypocaust’ heating systems, so bathrooms and living spaces were kept nice and warm.
Modern Solar Power
Today we have different eco-technologies at our disposal. Solar power is a good example of a renewable energy source that costs virtually nothing to run and maintain, yet provides a continual supply of free energy during daylight hours. Solar power first came to the fore as a renewable energy source in the 1930s, and although usage has waxed and waned over the decades, it has increased in popularity over the last ten years.
Wind power is another system favored by home owners and businesses alike, but like solar power, wind power also has its limitations. On the plus side, renewable energy is now a lot cheaper to produce, so eco-homes are less expensive than they were twenty or thirty years ago.
Eco-homes used to be mainly one-off projects, designed by innovative architects for wealthy clients. Today this is not the case at all. Millions of ordinary, middle class families have solar panels on their roof and there are a number of high-profile public housing eco-projects.
The Slateford Green Estate eco-project in Edinburgh, Scotland is one such example. 120 eco-homes were built, funded by a housing association and the Scottish government. Reed beds filter surface and storm water, the homes have recycled aluminum roofs, insulation is made from recycled newspapers, and the estate is a car-free zone.
The Way Forward
Unfortunately it’s hard to get too excited about eco-homes and sustainable living at the moment because energy prices are at rock bottom. Realistically, though, this situation isn’t going to last forever, and for the sake of the next generation we need eco-friendly to be a gold standard for modern construction.