Defining the Ecological House
Have you ever wondered what living in a house that is environmentally friendly means? Does it mean that you need to need install eco-friendly gadgets in your home or build it using recycled items? What about if you already have a home? Is it practical to kit it out with eco-friendly gadgets? If you try and make your home environmentally friendly will this be a good thing or something that makes things worse for you and the environment?
There is no agreed definition exists describing what an environmentally friendly house means. Instead, one option is to think about what it is you want to achieve. Whatever house you have, one idea is to consider what your goals are for an "ecological house".
An ecological house is different from a typical house as it looks to work with the environment and natural ecosystems. Rather than breaking down the environment it enhances it. The ecological house functions like an ecosystem as it both produces and conserves resources. It not only works with the environment; it gives back to it by supporting the wider ecosystem.
An ordinary house is the complete opposite of an ecosystem as it soaks up resources. Resources flow into the house which uses them up giving nothing useful back in return. Instead, resources end up back in the environment as waste. With any standard house, resources flow into it in one direction.
In both the ideal ecological house and the ecosystem there is no waste. The reason for this is resources are continuously moved around in a circle. A good example is energy. Both houses and ecosystems use energy. In ecosystems, this is mostly solar energy. In a conventional home, energy is used and consumed. The ecosystem is different as it stores the energy and then reuses it. It does this by first storing it as plant-based materials which are consumed by the ecosystems various inhabitants as food. Unlike the standard house, the stored energy continues to circulate as exchanged nutrients eventually make their way back to the plants. For example plants make animal food which animals eventually turn into plant food that is used to grow plants.
The behaviour of ecosystems to circulate resources has been defined by both ecologists and ecological designers like Baufritz as being the closing of nutrient loops. This differs from cities and houses where resources such as the use of energy flows only in one direction. Ecosystems have evolved over many years and now follow a practice of “reduce, reuse and recycle” without thinking. This is not yet the case with human systems which might not be around for much longer if it does not work in line with nature.
All of this raises the question about what can you do to follow nature's rules and close the loop in your home? One simple approach is to compost your food scraps. You can use the plant material created to grow things in your garden. By eliminating the waste and turning it into plant food, you are removing the need for the removal of the waste which requires energy. Instead by turning the nutrient-rich scraps into plant food and using the power of the sun to grow human food in the garden you have closed a loop. At the same time, you will also have been able to reduce your family’s demands on the wider environment.
Apart from using nutrients themselves, ecosystems can also contribute to their surroundings. It may have food, water and minerals that it has not been able to make use and at appropriate times it can release this back into the environment around it. It is possible to apply a similar principle in the ecosystem of the home. For example, it can redistribute used water such as that from a shower into a garden where it is stored in plant tissue such as fruit trees that may be growing.
When it comes to harvesting the fruit some of this water is circulated back to those living in the house as well as being expired into the atmosphere as the leaves dry up. The loop is closed since everything is being reused and nothing wasted.
The nutrients you find in your yard do not have to go to waste. They can contribute to the ecosystem by allowing you to grow products which you can use or perhaps sell. If you can generate your own electrical energy in your home, perhaps using solar panels, you might end up produce more energy than you use. You could use this excess in some other environmentally friendly way such as the heating of a greenhouse or by selling it back to the national grid.
When it comes to ecological design, managing the fundamental issues that exist is possible by applying the ecosystem model. An example of how the model works is by looking at the life cycle of a house. By seeing how ecosystems make use of local resources and recycle materials, it is possible to use nature as a guide to what might be the best way to plan and live in your ecological house.