Real Sustainable Homes : Let’s recycle our houses not just our rubbish!

Our quality of life is highly influenced by the homes in which we live. At their best homes can be inspiring, efficient structures, which facilitate health and creativity and enable us to live in harmony with one another and the planet. Is this our experience of the current housing stock in Spain?

Remodel a country home in Spain
Remodel a country home in Spain

Sadly not. Examples of lazy design abound: unusable living rooms in the summer afternoon because of no protection from the Andalucian sun; swimming pools in the shade because “there was nowhere else to put it”; no damp proofing; no storage spaces; inadequate heating in the winter; the list is endless.

What we really need is a radical new attitude. We need thoughtful design choices using renewable energy sources in ways that create healthy comfortable homes with minimal damage to the environment. Architects should bear in mind that a home is not just a machine, or a lock up for our possessions, it is something we intimately live with, and care for, and love.

Happily sustainable design will become the new vernacular. By 2019 all new buildings have to carbon zero according to an EU directive. It’s quite likely that buildings that accord with the new code even before 2019 will have a higher value than those that don’t. Independently of improved comfort, an energy efficient building will be worth more than an energy inefficient building. So anyone interested in protecting the value of their home will be interested in remodeling their home to energy efficiency.

But we can’t just ignore the stock of housing we have inherited. Demolishing or abandoning them would also be an act of violence against the environment. More interestingly you can buy them now far cheaper than you can build them. So remodeling an existing home may present an opportunity to make money as well as create a home which is comfortable and enjoyable to live in.

All buildings have the potential to be energy producers rather than energy consumers. Natural ambient resources such as sunshine, light, wind, and rain can all be harnessed for energy heating cooling and water.

The key to energy efficiency is to reduce the load on the system. Super insulation, airtightness, mechanical ventilation, heat exchangers and high tech windows can almost eliminate heat losses and heat gains.

Then take out of the equation heating and cooling spaces which would typically account for over 70% of your energy requirement. Heat pumps and radiant under floor heating and cooling systems can provide comfortable environment using very little with electricity.

Solar hot water systems also require little electricity. The latest systems combine grey water recycling with recycling the heat from washing machine dishwasher and shower which is very efficient.

You can now install renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and photovoltaic electricity that easily deal with the modern household gadgets.

Rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling can give you a beautiful garden without using drinking water which, having been gathered, filtered, treated, and pumped hundreds of miles, has a very high embodied energy

So let’s not just recycle our rubbish lets remodel and recycle our homes too. It’s all possible.

Author: John Wolfendale
Bio: John is a founder of Eco Vida and is passionate about bringing modern design and construction practices to Spain. He believes a home which is warm in winter and cool in summer is largely a matter of design and selective use of materials. He is British and a Chartered Surveyor with 18 years experience living and working in Spain.

John Wolfendale
John Wolfendale