7 Sustainability Features For The Homes of the Future

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For all of the technological faults we can lay at the feet of the latter half of the 20th Century, at least we have this; we’ve believed that we could ultimately improve the way we live for generations to come with the help of technology and innovation. And in the 21st Century, nothing is more relevant to that vision than sustainability and green building.

One of the things specified in annual competitions like the USGBC Natural Talent Design Competition is that the homes of the future should be about practical applications, and not concerned with way-out concepts for their own sake. We want homes that we can be proud of, visually speaking.  We want homes that will support our lifestyles and our senses of comfort.  But we want them to be inexpensive to maintain, too.  And we want to see our grandchildren, and their grandchildren enjoy them as much as we do.

With this in mind, I scoured the Internet for some visions of the future as expressed in green architectural design, green building, and innovative sustainability.  At this point in history, the lines between science fiction and implemented technology are beginning to blur, just as we suspected they would when we were growing up, although perhaps in ways we didn’t expect.   And here are 7 examples the kind of technological features that we may see in the homes of the future that help us to envision our future, a necessary thing when making decisions in the present.

1. Natural Fiber Insulation
Ways of retaining warmth, reducing heat and humidity in summer months, and of maximizing environmental control in general without drawing detrimentally on an overtaxed power grid is a growing concern.  As sources of new fuels and ways to heat our homes are (quite rightly) sought, they are only as good as the insulation technology that will contain the energy output.

Some up-and-coming to the mainstream insulation technology actually is turning to the technologies of the past by utilizing natural materials like cellulose, recycled fiber, post-industrial wood fibers, wool, and straw insulation. Ironic that we’re looking to the past to inform the future.  Yet, this seems to be how technology works best and is most beneficial; when it’s the ideas that drive the tools, and not the other way around.

(Thanks to Sustainabuild.co.uk who you are encouraged to like on Facebook)

2. Efficient Water Usage
The idea of preserving our resources when building homes and planning cities is best served when thinking about the most basic of needs we have and the most “plentiful” element we can think of; water.

Whether we’re talking residential rain harvesting technology, or low-flow toilets, the home of the future will maximize water use efficiency as a part of the design.  No longer will these technologies be curiosities or even selling features. They’ll be standard, especially in the light of inflated water usage that is a problem here in the present day.  In the future, perhaps finding ways of conserving water won’t be so theoretical.  It will be a necessity.

(Thanks to CircleofBlue.org who you should follow on Twitter at @CircleofBlue)

3. Residential Farming, Green Roofs, and Integrated Urban Gardens
With the sourcing of food locally becoming a key green benefit, along with air quality measures, and water conservation, the presence of greenery in suburban residential settings as well as those in urban centers  will be a key characteristic of the homes of the future.

Currently, residential vegetable and herb gardens and container gardening is a growing hobby among many apartment and condo dwellers.  Yet, in a future where poor air quality may be a reality, or even as an ongoing strategy to keep air quality from becoming poor, the integration of green space within a building itself is certainly a very real possibility, especially in the light of booming urban populations and shrinking farmlands as our century progresses.

(Thanks to The Daily Green who you should follow on Twitter @The_Daily_Green)

4. More Efficient Use of Space
The population of the world between 1900 and 2000 soared from under 2 billion people to over 6 billion.  It’s projected that by 2050, that figure will leap to a number between 9 and 10 Billion, mostly in developing countries.  That’s a lot of people who will need to be properly housed.

Given the above points about disappearing farmland, water shortages, and overall implications to the quality of life, suburban sprawl and giant-sized lots won’t be the answer to sustainable homes in the future. Yet, the future need not be bleak as long as we’ve got good design on our side.  Architectural innovation that optimizes space, including movable walls, and creative storage spaces can be good places to start.  More in a sci-fi vein maybe, is a vision for floating neighborhoods.

Thanks to the California Energy Commission .

5. Integrated Public Transportation
Related to land use, urban population increase, and to air quality too, the homes of the future will be more connected to transportation grids to cut down on single car use.  We’re going to have to be able to move people from their homes directly to their places of business, to shopping, to schools.  And the best way to manage the business of travel when it comes to increased urban and suburban populations, as well as optimize space, will be through integrated public transportation.

This means creating extensive coverage across city grids, with more and more access points by the public into central locations.  It might even mean more tracks and stations into the buildings of commercial centers, in much the same way that public transit systems service international airports like London’s Heathrow, Toronto, Vancouver, and Portland.  This will take a new approach to urban infrastructure, requiring both public and private interests to collaborate.

Thanks to EU Infrastructure who you should follow on Twitter.

6. Passive Design Equals Active Energy and Resource Efficiency
Passive design is anything but, in a certain sense.  It is defined as a means of factoring in immutable elements – like sun and wind exposure, and climate – into the planning of a structure at the architectural planning stage.  In the future, a great deal of thought will be put into home design as far as placement of structures goes, to the betterment of the homes themselves in terms of resistance to natural wear, but also in terms of a lower energy requirement due to using the sun and wind exposure to naturally maintain moderate temperatures.

Passive design allows for  the idea that native plants and animals will co-exist with the home’s inhabitants, with ponds, and river systems incorporated, or at very least allowed for, at the design stage.

Thanks to Urban RE:Vison who you should Follow on Twitter.

7. Autonomous Power and Water
There are a number of homes, commonly owned by the affluent and popularized by green celebrities, that exist off the grid.  But, in the home of the future, integrated power sources, and even autonomous residential sewage treatment systems may well be more the norm in gearing these systems to specific climates and ecosystems in order to gain net zero status.

The technologies driving these sorts of amenities are already in place today in the homes of the few, may become just another daily reality in the future.  Self-contained and eco-conscious residential projects which employ water harvesting, on-site sewage treatment, heating plants, solar and wind power, green roofs, and other features incorporated into the design of the buildings may well become the norm, not the subject of news.

Thanks to Dockside Green, who you should follow on Twitter @DocksideGreen.

Do you have any ideas about what the homes of the future will look like?  Tell me all about it in the comments section of this post.

Cheers!

Rob.

***

“Green roof” image courtesy of Mark Hunter.  “Brentwood SkyTrain Station” image courtesy of SqueakyMarmot.”Passive design floor plan” image courtesy of VizPix.


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Comments

  1. This is a pretty thorough list, Rob… and a great set of goals for future building and renovation…

  2. Cory says:

    Also worth noting that homes of the future will consider the health of the occupants in terms of indoor air quality, and quality of life. Spaces should be designed that enhance the lives of the occupants in addition to meeting the basic needs of shelter. Well designed spaces have the potential to make life richer. Its that intangible that many people can’t put their finger on when they are in a great space. Good post-thx.

  3. Rutland says:

    Green homes of the future may employ all kinds of state of the art or even futuristic green technology. Yet examining the use of green building materials from our past way back to the very earliest construction and incorporating these stalwarts into future green building construction has merit too. Our newest blog article for example highlights the use of ancient building materials like copper and natural stone in the green building design today with as much and more reason than ever before to utilize their many noteworthy green building attributes in modern and future green building. Many recent green building projects have employed liberal use of copper and natural stone to achieve LEED gold certification. As green buildings using copper and natural stone reach the end of their life cycle, it is great to know that virtually all the copper and most all of the stone can be reclaimed and recycled. We can advance our technology and retain the best from the past.

  4. Rob Jones says:

    @Jeff – cheers for comments! And yes, hopefully things aspects and perhaps new ones that I’ve not listed here, will be standards in the future.

    @Cory – thanks. I do think that the correlation between better health in people and a healthier environment is a pertinent issue. When it comes to the cost of health care, both physical and mental, maybe this is another positive advantage to be gained in investing in green practices.

    @Rutland – Yes, that irony that the past holds the key to a more sustainable future is a very intriguing concept to me. It certainly makes one think about how the word ‘progress’ should be defined.

    Thanks again for comments, guys!

  5. Elma POllard says:

    hi Ta for a lovely story – found you via facebook – i would love to publish it also in our online green publication, with your permission. ok?

  6. Rob Woods says:

    Hi Elma,

    Republishing the article would be fine as long as you include some “followed” links back to the original. If you have any other questions please feel free to contact us directly at robwoods@buillddirect.com or robjones@builddirect.com

  7. Laurie Simms says:

    Excellent post. I make my living in the “green” industry and it’s always a pleasure to read well thought out pieces on how you can really create a sustainable home. It takes some planning and special consideration, but the lessened impact on the environment is payoff enough. Rutland’s comment above is particularly striking – the building techniques of the past can be implemented today. With my livelihood – organic mattresses – it makes me wonder if we could learn a little something from how our ancestors used to bed down of the night!

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