When we read about eco-friendly houses, or scroll though images of them online, they can strike us as several things: quirky, glamourous, and even futuristic. But rarely do they seem accessible and normal. Articles or blogs showcasing the leading concepts and technologies, with lavish designs, rare materials and ludicrous price-tags, can leave us wondering how any of it is eco-friendly at all. The term feels more like a hipster, millionaire tagline to throw onto eccentric toy projects.
The reality, however, is that these lavish versions of eco-housing are the exception, not the norm. As with all areas of construction and design, while these lofty projects might often lead the way and make the headlines, in their aftermath the next generation of standard housing follows in line; adapting the same technology and ideas, and using them to create a more standard, affordable and accessible definition of eco-friendly housing: namely that which is designed to be environmentally friendly and sustainable.
With these advancements, there has been a significant change over the last decade in the way we view energy use in buildings. We are much more aware now that reducing energy demand is the very first step in creating an energy efficient dwelling, and following the implementation of European directives and the introduction of new building regulations, the emphasis is now on quality, rather than quantity.
Having carried out extensive research in this field of study, The Crest Centre at South West College has recently played a part in the design of an Eco House in West Cork which won home of the year on RTE. This building was part of a CREST Project carried out with Passive Building Structures, a well-established construction firm based in Rosslea, County Fermanagh, who are a market leader in the construction of Insulated Concrete. Crest carried out thermal modelling on the roof elements which were eventually used on the house, using thermal imaging analysis to identify and highlight areas of heat loss in buildings, to correct or improve insulation.
Again, this can sound expensive and non-traditional. When arguments have been made to support it, it is often along the lines off, ‘pay more now to save more later’ – it is considered akin to buying expensive clothes that will last, or the dearer car with better mileage. What is considered good about eco-housing is that we save money in the long run.
This is still true, but the benefits are no longer limited to this. Like any technology, the more it advances, the more accessible what was done before becomes, and eco-housing is no longer more expensive to build. The house of the year winners highlighted how the eco-friendly nature of their creation didn’t limit other aspects of it. Owner, Andrew, said: “We’re really pleased that we can share it and that people can see that it’s possible to have a beautiful house that is ecologically friendly also.” One of the competitions judges agreed, saying, “This home is kind to the environment and sacrifices nothing in achieving that. It’s a beacon for clever and creative design.”
As for now, standard regulation figures for housing far exceed the recommended and sought after figures by housing designers such as passive building, so it may be a while before we see great changes in the culture of eco-housing; but as the house of the year shows, eco-housing is becoming less and less of an obstacle, and it will eventually be the case that when we scroll through pictures of them online, they’ll look just like any others.