With climate change an ever-pressing issue around the world, no doubt there are many homeowners out there who are keen to ensure that their houses are as eco-friendly as possible… but it can be tricky to decide where to focus your efforts and which products to invest in.
You can certainly help to keep your energy bills to a minimum and reduce your carbon footprint by installing bi-folding doors throughout your home, since these will help to increase the amount of natural light that comes flooding in – so you can have the lights on less.
But what else is there that you could make excellent use of to help boost your green credentials at home? Interestingly, algae could be the new wonder product that really makes a big difference in this regard… and it’s proving increasingly trendy these days for homeowners and beyond.
As observed by Material District, seaweed is now a very popular material for construction since it’s so readily available, versatile and biodegradable, with designers using it for everything from fabric and insulation to board material, chairs, lampshades – and even roofing!
And even more excitingly than that, founder of Mexico-based company Blue Green Omar Vazquez Sanchez has succeeded in building a house in just 15 short days, using seaweed as the main construction material.
Apparently, the idea came to him six years ago when he noticed the sheer amount of seaweed washing up on shore. Mixing it with adobe (made from earth and other organic materials), he was able to make his two-bedroom house, a property that required 50 per cent fewer materials than typical social housing would… and thanks to the addition of the seaweed, it boasts excellent thermal insulation.
Along a similar vein, design graduates from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Jonas Edvard and Nikolaj Steenfatt recently succeeded in making a chair and a collection of pendant lamps using harvest fucus seaweed taken from the local coastline.
It was dried and then ground into a powder before being cooked into the glue and combined with paper to create a durable material much like a cork that could then be moulded into certain products.
And architecture office EcoLogicStudio, based in London, managed to create a living curtain last year that makes use of photosynthesis in algae to remove air pollution. According to Dezeen, this urban curtain – designed to rest over building facades – is a photobioreactor, so it incubates the algae, so it’s able to carry out the photosynthesis process.
The microalgae feeds on air and daylight, capturing CO2 molecules and storing them in the curtain, producing oxygen at the same time that can then be released back into the surrounding air.
Not only that but there’s also another great byproduct of the process in the form of biomass, which the algae grow from the carbon molecules and which can then be burned for energy or turned into materials – like the one used to make the curtain in the first place.
EcoLogicStudio had this to say: “Smart cities, smart homes, autonomous vehicles, robotic factories etc dominate the current panorama of popular futuristic scenarios, but they all desperately need spatial and architectural reframing to engender beneficial societal transitions.
“Photo.Synth.Etica suggests that, in the Anthropocene age, a non-anthropocentric mode of reasoning, and deploying cutting-edge technologies based on digital and biological intelligence, could be at the core of urban design and stimulate our collective sensibility to recognise patterns of reasoning across disciplines, materialities and technological regimes.”
Stats from the UKGBC show that in the UK the built environment makes up about 40 per cent of the country’s total carbon footprint. Nearly half of this comes from the energy used in buildings and infrastructure that has nothing to do with their functional operations.
It’s certainly worth noting that the urban environment’s carbon footprint has fallen since 1990, thanks in large part to insulation installation rates increasing and the decarbonisation of grid electricity.
And it’s great to hear that newly constructed buildings these days are a lot more energy efficient, but 80 per cent of the buildings in 2050 have already been built – so it’s essential that our existing stock is decarbonised now.
But unfortunately, government policies intended to improve the efficiency of the buildings already in existence have been scaled back and insulation installation rates have stalled.
Of course, the issue of climate change isn’t just a problem for the UK but the entire world, so it’s always interesting to hear what other countries are doing to address global warming concerns.
Over in France, they’re also turning to algae as a potential solution, with XTU Architects devising a concept for four twisting glass towers to be constructed in Hangzhou in China, with the facades covered in panels containing microalgae.
The French Dream Towers, as they’ve been dubbed, will see a layer of algae introduced to provide natural insulation, while offsetting the tower’s environmental impact by absorbing CO2 and producing oxygen. It’s also possible that the algae used in these buildings could be harvested to be utilised in the likes of medicine and cosmetics.
These aren’t the only green elements being proposed for the buildings and the architects suggest that panels could also be covered in vegetation and greenhouses, with trees to filter the air and provide leafy green spaces for occupants to spend time in.
If you’d like to do some further investigation into eco-friendly interior design and the interesting alternatives to more traditional methods and materials, read up about Lupin as well as algae.
A few years ago, Royal College of Art graduate YunTing Lin came up with a new material using plant fibres and naturally fermented cellulose to build a storage system and speakers. Nanucellulose fibreboard is 100 per cent recyclable, non-toxic and 100 per cent biodegradable, made using plant fibres like flax and bound together using a fibrous substance created by bacterial fermentation.
And then there’s transparent wood which was recently presented at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Spring 2019 National Meeting & Exposition. This energy-efficient material absorbs and releases heat to save energy and the fact that it’s transparent means it can transmit light to help keep homes both well lit and heated.
The material is also able to bear heavy loads and is biodegradable, so it’s possible that it could soon be used in eco-friendly homes and buildings around the world.
It was initially created by Lars Berglund and colleagues working out of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, made by removing a light-absorbing component from the cell walls of balsa wood.
Acrylic was incorporated into the porous wood scaffold to help reduce light scattering, with the end result transparent but hazy enough to afford a level of privacy if ever used as a major building material.
Researchers building on this work at the ACS note that transparent wood has the possibility to be even more environmentally friendly than other construction materials like plastic, glass and concrete. It has good thermal storage capabilities and would also be easier to dispose of once it’s served its purpose.
Are you planning on making any eco-friendly changes to your home this year? We’d love to hear what you’ve got planned so drop us a line to tell us what’s in store for your property over the next few months.