Tag Archives: house

Bacterial cement.

What is the house of the future going to look like?

How will our homes morph in the future to meet the demands of today?

House.

Image via Pixabay.

Computers are rapidly becoming ubiquitous in many areas of our lives. We’re also becoming more environmentally-conscious, and more technologically-savvy. At the same time, we’re more and more pressed for time in today’s hectic world. Throughout history, our homes have changed to keep pace with our wants, needs, and possibilities, so it’s a pretty safe bet that the home will transform to both meet the requirements of modern life, as well as to take advantage of its advances. But what, exactly, will this transformation involve?

We don’t really know — but we do have some pretty good guesses. Today, let’s take a look at what future homes could be built from, how they’ll handle utilities, how we’ll get around inside them, and how to keep them at a comfortable temperature.

A brick-by-brick analysis

Fans of English architecture, sorry to break it to you, but the tried-and-tested brick’s prospects don’t look so good. Many traditional building materials, from bricks and mortar to steel and cement, release a lot of CO2 during their manufacturing processes. This doesn’t jive very well with our efforts at fighting climate change, however, so they will probably be increasingly phased out of use.

MycoTecture.

This structure was grown from the fungus Ganoderma lucidum.
Image credits Philip Ross.

Instead, why not lay down fungus bricks? Made from dried mycelia, the tangled root-like fibers that grow beneath mushrooms, these are definitely more eco-friendly than traditional bricks. And, they’re good for you too, not just for the environment. They are stronger than concrete, pound for pound, fire-proof, resistant to water and mold, and can be grown into virtually any shape. Philip Ross, an artist and lecturer at Stanford University who spearheaded the development of these mushroom bricks has co-founded MycoWorks, a company that aims to bring the product to markets.

Right now, MycoWorks’s flagship product is a type of fake leather “grown rapidly from mycelium and agricultural byproducts in a carbon-negative process” — so your couch will definitely match the walls. But what is the material like?

“It’s sort of like a plastic that can potentially be used for God knows what,” Ross told Glasstire in an interview.

Cementing eco-friendliness

Bacterial cement.

Image via Eco-Cement.

If bricks just don’t represent you that well, bacteria have got your back (and walls). As part of a European Union-backed project, a company in Madrid has developed a cheaper, sustainable, bacteria-based ‘eco-cement‘. The material starts out as a bacterial mix, which you have to supply with soil and nutrients, then simmer at around 30°C for around three hours. After this initial fermentation process, the bacteria have basically produced limestone (which is a central ingredient of cement). Throw in an armful of sand, industrial cement residue, and rice husk ash and voila — cement!

“Our raw materials are basically all waste. So we don’t have added costs,” said Laura Sánchez Alonso, a mining Engineer and Eco-Cement project coordinator. “For instance, we don’t need to extract and transport the limestone commonly used to produce cement. And we also save the energy costs”

This bacterial approach can shave some 11% off of greenhouse emissions, and 27% off of the production costs of cement. Researchers have yet to determine how many wall-related discussions this cement will spark at your housewarming party, but unofficial estimates say it is ‘a lot’.

Wooden’t you like to live here?

Brock wooden skyscraper.

The wooden Brock skyscraper was constructed ahead of target.
Image credits Acton Ostry Architects, the developeres of the project.

Wood is making a comeback as a building material. It has several very appealing properties: it’s a strong, sustainable material which stores carbon dioxide to boot. It’s also very versatile, and we’re learning to do more and more awesome things with it. If you need steel but want wood, it can do that — just make it superdense. Need windows but all you have are planks? Fret not; transparent wood is stronger than glass and easy to make. From timber skyscrapers to wind turbines, to taller skyscrapers, wood is definitely the most modern ancient building material.

“(As) a building like this becomes a reality, it really paves the way for additional projects across the country, probably throughout North America and throughout the world,” said Lynn Embury-Williams, executive director of the Canadian Wood Council’s Wood Works BC program, who worked on the Brock Commons, a wooden skyscraper student dorm for the University of British Columbia campus.

Insulation

Insulation has a big role to play in making your home energy-efficient. If you’re a sci-fi type of guy, aerogels are right down your alley (and, ideally, up your walls). For the fantasy fans among you, staw might be more palatable — but just as effective.

Heating is cool

Radiator.

Image via Pixabay.

Insulation is just half of the equation — we also want to heat the place up during winter and cool it down in the summer. In other words, we want temperature control. One of the sleekest upcoming systems in this area is a thermal battery developed by the EMPA (the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research). It mixes NaOH (sodium hydroxide, lye) with water to generate heat during cold months. When summer swings by, recharging the battery is as simple as leaving it out in the sun to dry.

Alternatively, if your goal is to stay cool on a budget, this air conditioning unit might spark your fancy. In broad lines, it pushes air through a paper-like membrane to dry it down. Then, this dry air is pumped over metallic plates inside the AC to force water to evaporate at room temperature. Since water needs to absorb energy to turn from a liquid to a gas, this cools down the plates, which in turn cool down the surrounding air. The system also generates about 12 to 15 liters (12.68 to 15.85 quarts) of potable water per day.

Getting around

Elevators.

Image credits Suppadeth Wongyee.

One of the best parts of technology is that it makes life easier and more enjoyable. Getting around the house might not seem like that much of a hassle, but for the elderly or those living with disabilities, it can become quite hard. Stairs are a time-proven feature but are hard to navigate for someone in a wheelchair, for example. Elevators seem like the ideal fix, but let’s be honest — how many of us can afford to install new-age residential elevators? We’re not all French kings, after all.

One British company is touting new-age residential elevators as the ideal solution. Their product is basically a home elevator that can “fit into the corner of a room and ascends through a hole in the ceiling with no lift shaft required,” according to the South China Morning Post.

“You could describe it as a high-end chair lift. People don’t want, in many cases, a chair-lift on their beautiful staircase and they don’t necessarily want a lift; it’s about looking at the lift for the long-term future proofing the property,” said John McSweeney, the company’s founder.

“And unlike a stairlift which is a permanent feature on your staircase, the lift can be sent away when you don’t need it — so it’s never the elephant in the room.”

Water, power, gas

Solar roof.

Image credits Ulrike Leone.

Perhaps the single best way your house can generate its own clean power is with a solar panel roof. When working in tandem with a battery bank, such a roof could, with a bit of luck and help from geography, even make your home energy-independent — or even a net energy contributor to the larger grid. Since it’s clean, relatively cheap and easy to maintain, and quite efficient, I think solar roofs will catch on in the houses of the future. And, if you need to make sure you’re generating as much energy as possible, you can turn your windows into a source of power as well.

Water has always been a little trickier to reliably generate at home. Wells aren’t a realistic option for those of us living in big cities. Even if you own a plot of land big enough to dig said well, groundwater tends to be very polluted underneath cities — so you shouldn’t drink it. But, we have ways to get a drink out of Mother Nature.

This simple, manganese-oxide-coated-sand approach can be used to purify stormwater. The sand particles physically block impurities, while the coating breaks down organic pollutants. The team intended for it to be used on a large scale, to supply displaced communities with clean water aquifers; it can thus easily be turned to the task of supplying ‘placed’ communities with clean water they can then pump out or tap with a well, for example. However, it can probably be adapted to provide clean rainwater for single homes at a time.

Trees are more sustainable than sand, capture CO2, and can also clean your water. By tapping into sapwood’s natural filtration properties, this team of researchers created a simple and elegant water filter. The only thing it can’t filter, the team explains, are viruses.

“Today’s filtration membranes have nanoscale pores that are not something you can manufacture in a garage very easily,” says Rohit Karnik, one of the researchers that developed the filter. “The idea here is that we don’t need to fabricate a membrane, because it’s easily available. You can just take a piece of wood and make a filter out of it.”

So far, so good for all of those who favor a more natural approach — but what if you want to call upon the full brunt of science and precision technology when turning the tap? Graphite may be the filter of choice for you, then. The team behind that filter reports it removes “99% of natural organic matter from water at low pressure,” which is nothing to scoff at.

For potable water, however, I’d recommend going the safe route and doing away with filters completely. Something like a scaled-up Solarball could provide a family with all the drinking water it requires, germ- and contaminants- free.

As far as gas usage goes — just don’t. Use electricity instead.

Green Home.

How to reduce your home’s ecological footprint

Between climate change, pollution, and overconsumption, we’re not treating the planet very well. But what can us little actors on the world stage do?

Image credits: Jack Bulmer / Unsplash.

We may not have much sway over global matters, but we’re all kings and queens of our own castles. So, here’s a list of some of the quickest and most effective changes we can do to greenify our own little slice of the Earth.

Insulation

Quality insulation is the most straight-forward approach to limiting your home’s energy use and environmental footprint. It’s also probably the single most effective energy-related measure on the list. Insulation is comprised of materials that can reflect heat or trap small pockets of air (a very poor thermal conductor) to slow down heat flow. The second type is more commonly seen (and, as a side-note, works pretty much like thick winter clothes).

One of the most traditional approaches is to insulate the walls. However, all parts of a building will benefit from insulation. Windows tend to be the prime drivers of heat exchange, according to a paper published by Jong-Jin Kim and Jin Woo Moon back in 2009. They reported that windows vent roughly 26% of the heat in a home in a cold climate (Detroit, Michigan). Walls only vented a bit over 25%. Keep in mind, however, that windows tend to have a tiny surface area compared to walls.

Wall insulation.

A building facade with outside insulator layers.
Image credits Alina Kuptsova.

Even something as simple as painting your roof white can help insulate your home in blistering environments.

It is estimated that improvements in the level of insulation of the existing buildings can reduce heating requirements by a factor of two to four. Houses built using the latest insulation technology and design in various cold-climate countries use only 10% of the energy for heating compared to their peers, the paper adds. If the house you live in is really old, perhaps selling your home fast to move into a more modern, energy-efficient one is worth considering.

Stop wasting water

Modern households use a huge amount of water — and we don’t even see it for the luxury that it is. Freshwater is in short supply. Our efforts to secure as much of this resource as possible is having nasty effects on ecosystems throughout the world — so don’t waste it! Lifestyle changes are a good place to start: turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth, for example. Take shorter showers. Fix any leaks you might find around the house, too. The biggest culprit, however, is your lawn.

Lawn Sprinkling.

“Aahhh, I can hear the planet dying already!”
Image credits Rudy Skitterians, Peter Skitterians.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that one-third of all U.S. residential water is used for irrigation. Over 50% of that water is wasted by inefficient use, however. You don’t need to give up your lawn, but there are tricks and tweaks you can apply to reduce water use. Some of the simplest changes you can make are to monitor natural precipitation and reduce irrigation accordingly, water your lawn between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m (reduces water loss to wind and evaporation), and switching to water systems that stay close to the ground.

Actually, stop wasting anything

While they can be quite a hefty up-front investment, smart meters can help keep heating expenditures in check. They come in handy especially during winter.

Energy-efficient appliances are also pretty good — but they tend to be expensive. Bulbs, however, are pretty cheap. So change your aging bulbs with some crisp energy-efficient ones, i.e. LEDs. Bills go down, you get quality light, and the penguins get to keep their home. Everybody wins.

Produce more on-site

Vegetable balcony.

Image credits Marcel Oosterwijk / Flickr.

The first points were more of a case of waste not, want not. But one of the easiest ways to reduce emissions from power plants, or plastic waste from packaging, is to not use them in the first place.

There are several commercially-available energy production options to choose from out there. Solar is probably the least hassle-intensive, while wind or geothermal have their own selling points. The first can work around the clock, the latter is pretty install-and-forget, and both produce ample power. However, they’re both hampered by relatively high up-front costs, making them better suited for communities (or y’all richer folk out there).

All that energy will keep your house going, but what will fuel you? Well, people have been growing food around the house for as long as people have known how to grow stuff. Probably.

We’re much more space-constrained these days, but any space around the house you can fit a planter in will net you some tasty tomatoes, a handful of carrots, or whatever else you fancy. Even a meager harvest will still be a big win for you — gardening, and interacting with nature in general, has been shown to bring ample mental health and life quality improvements. The plants will also help freshen and clean up the air in your home.

Plus, think of all the bragging rights you’ll win when your friends come over for lunch next time.

If you do have the room for it, a compost bin will provide lots of quality fertilizers for your crops, and help reduce the amount of trash you sent to the landfill. Of course, for those who don’t have any growing space at all, buying local whenever possible should significantly reduce the carbon footprint of your groceries, while helping your local community at the same time.

The Hjertefølgers’ cob house might just be the coziest place in the subarctic

In the frozen reaches of Norway, one family is warming up in a beautiful cob home. Under a dome!

Nature house.

Image via Inhabitat.

Norway — not exactly a tropical paradise. But the Hjertefølgers have been living what many of us would consider a dream here since 2013. Tucked away on the frigid Sandhornøya island, the family is living a sustainable lifestyle without sacrificing comfort or glam. Their three-story cob home (built with sand, water, clay, and other organic materials) is insulated from the ice in a solar geodesic dome by Solardome.

Despite boasting five bedrooms, two bathrooms, and six inhabitants, the house fits snugly inside the 25-foot-high dome. In fact, there’s even room for a garden — where the Hjertefølgers grow much of their food. Apple trees, cherries, plums, apricots, grapes, cucumbers, tomatoes, various herbs, squash, even kiwis languish in the greenhouse-like interior of the dome, safe from Norway’s cutting winds and crushing snow. And, despite the area’s complete lack of sunlight for over three months a year, they provide much of the produce the six-strong family needs.

House interior.

Image via Inhabitat.

In contrast to the land’s frigid trappings, the home’s interior is warm and welcoming — while sacrificing none of Norway’s breathtaking beauty. The family can even enjoy the Northern Lights (the real ones!) without ever passing the doorstep.

“We love the house; it has a soul of its own and it feels very personal. What surprises us is the fact that we built ourselves anew as we built the house,” Ingrid Hjertefølger told Inhabitat. “The process changed us, shaped us.”

The house — which was built from the ground up by the Hjertefølgers and friends — has been housing the family for three years now. They say that it has a unique atmosphere to it, something that they feel would never have been the case with “a house someone else has planned and built for [them], or a house with corners and straight lines.”

The family has a blog that you can follow, here. If anyone needs me for the next few hours, just know I’ll be there, pining over how awesomely cool (but warm) their home is and over their carrots. Their carrots look ridiculously plump.

There are probably hundreds of bugs living in your house

When most people see a bug in their house, they freak out. But according to a new study by researchers North Carolina State University, there’s no reason to fear – because there will be bugs in your house no matter what you do, and this may actually be a good thing.

This graphic shows the proportional diversity of arthropod types across all of the rooms surveyed. Image credit: Bertone, et al.

If you’re reading this at home, look around you. You may not see anything, but you’re probably surrounded by tiny arthropods – tens of or hundreds of them. Matt Bertone and his colleagues wanted to see just how humans and tiny insects co-exist, so they set out to investigate 50 homes within 30 miles of Raleigh, North Carolina. They found that every house had, on average, over 100 different types of insects.

“I saw a lot of things in homes that I had never seen in the wild before, things we’ve previously tried to trap,” Matthew Bertone, an entomologist and lead author of the paper said.

It was the first ever study to quantify the biodiversity of insects in US homes. In total, they searched over 500 rooms, and just 6 of them were insect-free. To be honest, they probably also missed some insects because they never checked underneath carpets and in drawers or cabinets.

“This was exploratory work to help us get an understanding of which arthropods are found in our homes,” says Matt Bertone. “Nobody had done an exhaustive inventory like this one, and we found that our homes host far more biodiversity than most people would expect.”

At this point, something should be pointed out: most of the insects found were completely benign. Ants, midge flies, cobweb spiders, and carpet beetles were the most common species, while cockroach and termites were only found in a handful of rooms.

“The vast majority of the arthropods we found in homes were not pest species,” Bertone says. “They were either peaceful cohabitants – like the cobweb spiders (Theridiidae) found in 65 percent of all rooms sampled – or accidental visitors, like midges and leafhoppers (Cicadellidae).”

 

A search party of little black ants (Monomorium minimum) finds food on a couch. Photo credit: Matt Bertone.

Furthermore, entomologists believe most of these insects are only short-term visitors.

“While we collected a remarkable diversity of these creatures, we don’t want people to get the impression that all of these species are actually living in everyone’s homes,” Bertone said in a press release. “Because they’re not equipped to live in our homes, they usually die pretty quickly.”

To make things even more interesting, some researchers speculate that not only do these insects not do anything bad – they might actually be useful in our homes. Much like the bacteria in our gut take up space and resources that we don’t need and prevent harmful bacteria from developing, these insects might also be providing environmental services. This is still a rather virgin area of study.

“This is only a first glimpse into the species that live in our homes, and more work needs to be done to flesh this picture out,” says Michelle Trautwein, the Schlinger Chair of Dipterology at CAS and co-author of the paper. “But these insights give us the opportunity delve down into some exciting scientific questions. Now that we have a better idea of which species are most common in homes, we can focus on studying them.

“Do they provide important services that we don’t know about in the ecosystems of our homes? Do any host microbial organisms that affect our health, for good or bad? And we can also begin to explore their traits to see if they share evolutionary characteristics that have made them better suited to live with humans,” Trautwein says.

The paper, “Arthropods of the great indoors: characterizing diversity inside urban and suburban homes,” is published in the journal PeerJ.