From reusing carrier bags, to recycling our rubbish, more of us are taking a step towards making our homes more environmentally friendly. However, some folk just aren’t happy to stop at solar panels on their roofs, or a hybrid car. Instead they’ve pulled out all the stops in the name of eco living and built some truly innovative homes, which are almost entirely made out of natural and eco-friendly materials. We've had a look at some of these houses where being environmentally friendly isn't just a nice thought, it's a way of life.
The Eco Arch, Kent
This rather unusual, yet stunning, building was featured on Channel 4's Grand Designs. From the beginning, traditional building methods were favoured over more energy intensive building ways. In fact, there's not a drop of concrete in sight. The dome-shaped roof is made up of lots of locally-sourced, old fashioned clay tiles and insulated with layers of soil that allows wild flowers to grow. The framework itself is based on a medieval design known as timber vaulting. There are huge windows which trap the sunlight inside and even the floor is made up of crushed glass bottles which all help to keep the heat in. Huge solar panels on the roof generate more power than the owners need, meaning they actually make money by selling the excess back to the grid. The Eco Arch is a property that has made headlines, not only for its unique architectural design, but because it's a true testament that old-fashioned building methods and new technologies can work seamlessly together to create something stupendous.
The ultimate answer to the shortage of green space in urban areas. This vegetation-clad house in Venice, California boasts a living wall on three sides, below a open roof garden with a thriving vegetable patch. The low maintenance grasses and shrubs that cover the walls are kept looking green thanks to a combination of captured rain water and recycled domestic water. Large glass doors surround the bottom of the building, offering a seamless transition between the outdoors and inside. The house also boasts other green elements such as solar panelling on the roof, cork-rubber flooring, LED lighting and low-flush toilets. Imagine if everyone had a green living wall, how amazing would the world look.
The Woodman's Cottage, Sussex
This house is a definite labour of love. Set amongst a wild and beautiful forest, the entire structure is made entirely out of locally sourced materials. It has a sweet chestnut frame filled with recycled newspaper and barley straw insulation, which itself it coated in clay and lime plaster. The trees were cut down in such a way that encourages rapid re-growth. The roof is formed from a number of handmade cedar shingles, while the outside of the house is finished with wavy edge oak logs that really camouflage the house into its forest background. Not only was The Woodman's Cottage built with the environment in mind, it's fully sustainable as well. Rainwater is collected by copper gutters which is then used for the hot water system. There's a wood fire to heat the water in the winter and a solar panel for the summer. Electricity comes from a number of small wind turbines. It's a house that relies on nobody but itself.
Five ways to make your home more sustainableNot everyone has the time or inclination to build a house from scratch, but that doesn't mean you still can't make your home a little more environmentally friendly.
1) Start a compost heapBegin by constructing a bin for your compost. This will contain your heap and make it look a bit nicer in your garden. Next fill your bin with layers of green and brown waste materials. Green stuff, for example grass cuttings, weeds, food scraps, coffee grounds and tea leaves, activates the heat process in your heap. Brown stuff, such as dead weeds, fallen leaves, old flowers and hay, acts as the fibre for your compost. Sprinkle each layer lightly with water when building. Make sure you turn it occasionally to add air and then eventually you will have beautiful compost that's perfect for enriching your soil.
2) Reduce, Reuse, RecycleEveryone talks about recycling but reducing and reusing products are better ways to help the environment. There's a lot of energy that goes into recycling a product, but if we can reuse these products or better yet, reduce the amount we use, then we'll be doing even more to help the planet. For example, avoid buying paper plates and cups. Don't throw away plastic bags, keep them in your car and reuse them the next time you're at the supermarket (or better yet, swap to canvas bags). Mason jars can be washed out to contain odds and ends. Old clothes can be made into cushion covers or rags for cleaning. Old electrical equipment can be donated to schools or community centres so they can still go on being useful. Egg cartons can be donated to nursery schools for arts and crafts materials. Try repairing broken tools, or mending clothes. By reducing the amount of stuff we use and reusing what we do have, we're reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
3) Grow your own
Starting a vegetable and fruit garden is a fantastic way to become a little bit more sustainable and save some pennies at the same time. You don't need a lot of room (even a window box would do), you don't have to worry about pesticides and anything you have left over can be frozen or turned into jam or chutney (stored in your reused mason jars). If you have the room, why not consider adopting some battery hens as well? You'll be giving a chicken a new lease of life as well as giving yourself a nice supply of eggs.
TV remotes, game consoles, cameras, smoke alarms... there are lots of things in our homes that use batteries, and when they run out, there's never any more to be found. Swapping to rechargeable ones will not only save the planet, it will save you a small fortune (and the time it takes for you to go out and buy new ones).
5) Use non-toxic cleaners
Bleach and other cleaning products may get things clean but you end up breathing in harmful fumes and going through tons of packaging. Fortunately you can make great, environmentally safe cleaners out of household items. Vinegar works wonders on getting rid of grease, scum and grime, while lemon juice is amazing for getting rid of mildew and mould. Whether you're looking to unblock a sink or give your furniture a polish, there are wonderfully natural recipes to do just about everything. Check out these great recipes over at The Greatist.