Sustainable Home Solutions

What technologies are available now that can make a home more sustainable (lower impact and more economical)?  Can these solutions not only fit in with design but even enhance it?  There are new solutions emerging every day that we can intergrate.

Lighting: Very efficient and emerging LED.  Development cycle follows Moore’s law so prices will drop in the near future.

  1. LED lamps: Read More, and note the first comment as it gives very useful specs for first time LED bulb buyers (hat tip Lance Cole).
  2. Low cost (under $5), no frills LED bulbs for those interested in trying.  Read more.
  3. Philips announces availability of 10 Watt L Prize LED bulb to replace 60 Watt incandescent bulbs (a 50 Watt savings).  Keep the Watt savings and lifespan of the bulb in mind when comparing bulbs.  This is good for household lighting.  Read more.


  • I put together a page on water systems and harvesting for world water day.  Some communities have laws defining regulation for water harvesting so be aware of these but a smart design can help in addressing issues.  Read more.


  • Solar Thermal has a 70% capture rate in commercial and residential uses today.  Although rapid advances are occurring in R&D, solar photo-voltaic only has about a 20% capture rate from the sun.  Solar thermal is a very simple, low tech and cost effective technology.  It is used in several New England houses during the winter which illustrates its effectiveness.  Integrating solar thermal for hot water, radiant floor and base board heating can significantly reduce your on-grid energy use and help you focus on incrementally replacing the remaining on-grid energy demands with emerging efficient energy supplies (e.g. wind, photo-voltiac…).  New England Solar Hotwater is an example of an active solar thermal system integrator.

Sustainable Architecture: IKEA

The IKEA house certainly fits into less is more category.  It will be interesting to see the demand for these houses and the manufacturers integration of sustainable design components.  Sustainable modular houses is of significant interest for several reasons: right sizing house to need, scalability, upgrading materials, and the potential impact reduction benefits possible through manufacturing control process.

Sustainable Housing – Less is more


If you are looking to make a positive change with your living dynamics consider that less is more, maybe a lot more.  Look at scalable, modular housing systems that leverage sustainable technology.  If you reducing your house size to fit like a glove (just right) now you can save money, reduce impact and maintenance efforts while being more efficient.  Also, by using a modular housing system design you can easily add another room as more space is needed, say for a nursery.  If you are willing to put off your dream McMansion, start right sized and scale as you grow, you may not have to take on a massive mortgage with the money you’ve saved, when the time to buy the mansion comes.  But be warned, you may enjoy living in a house that fits just right so much that you don’t want to change.  They can also be very beautiful in design.  See here

Finally, an Affordable Housing Solution

At about $1500 to build, this is a house I can afford without going into debt.  I can easily see the adaptability to scale as you grow.  Economical shelters meet the core needs of a person at any stage in life.  WorldHaus has all the elements of our principles: simple, efficient, economical and positive impact.

These structures are a smart design but also address one of the worlds most basic problems: a housing design and solution that can work for the poorest, those recovering from natural disaster, economic disaster, provide senior citizens affordable housing or for those just starting out on their own.

I’ve stayed in many places around the world and have the highest regard for a safe and well built shelter.  I’ve stayed in high priced structures that would fail in a bad storm.  This  building design is stable, the material quality can be easily controlled with out excessive price increase and the design is flexible.  If you have a good imagination you can comfortably start with the base house and then add on to provide greater ascetics or amenities.  Brilliant.


Shipping Containers as Emergency Shelter and Affordable Housing?

Courtesy of Inhabitat

More and more articles are showcasing the ingenuity of designers and architects who convert shipping containers to home and office structures.  In a former post (see here) I wrote about the practical application for using converted shipping containers to provide emergency shelter to those displaced by a disaster.

A company by the name of Meka has gone a step further by creating aesthetically pleasing and practical home designs that are currently available to the public as an affordable, eco-friendly housing alternative (see here).   The design recycles shipping containers, facilitates an efficient modular community design, and conserves space.  At last, a place in NYC I can afford!

In another example, Allied Container Systems has constructed an entire city of dwellings converted from shipping containers (see here) which illustrates the potential for community structure and planning possibilities.

A key potential I see and encourage discussion on below is: Can we use these structures combined with urban planning to provide a series of environmentally efficient prefabricated community designs that can be selected from and rapidly constructed in a disaster zone or to aid those in need?  Could these designs be used to build emergency shelters or affordable housing communities to aid those recovering from the many kinds of crisis conditions (natural, economic blight, war refugee…)?

Emergency shelter communities and tent cities share many common threads with public low income housing communities by reinforcing the crisis state and failing to provide a safe environment for people to rebuild and move on from.  The communities fail to provide an environment within which people with lost, low or no resources can realistically and with dignity recover and return to self-sufficiency.  Tent cities and low income housing communities (while being driven by good intentions) often become a prison for those impacted with no way out.

If we want to build structures and infrastructure where people can recover from hardship (natural or man-made disasters) we need to design with the end in mind:  create an environment that will serve as a building block for a person to successfully rebuild themselves and return to a self supporting lifestyle.  Displaced families need a safe community that facilitates building up, working together within the community, moving out of the community and giving back to these communities that helped them out.

These environments need to provide safe shelter, community security, fresh water, effective waste disposal, nutritional food access, good health clinics, education capabilities for children and simple infrastructure (power, communications and transportation) to enable a person to recover and return to the mainstream.

By creating modular community and shelter designs that can be rapidly deployed, we may be able to significantly reduce the human suffering of the ad hoc tent cities that are so often created, provide a genuine recovery path for a person or family affected by disaster and with a more cost effective sustainable methodology.  Can we do it?  I believe it is possible.