Boris Johnson hosted the 26th Conference of Parties, better known as COP26, in Glasgow last week. And he was obviously keen to stress the UK’s sustainable credentials. Two years ago, the UK became the first major economy to set a legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050. Well done us. But there’s a lot to do if we’re actually going to achieve this goal.
Building more sustainable homes will be one of Boris’s biggest battles. Powering buildings currently accounts for 40% of the UK’s total energy use, with 14% of the country’s carbon emissions coming from heating our homes alone. We’ll therefore need to end our dependence on fossil fuels, modernise our ageing housing stock, and then insulate our homes like we’d insulate ourselves before venturing out into the cold on bonfire night in order to reach net zero.
So how, exactly, are we going to do this? And what, precisely, will sustainable homes look like in 2030? Updates will inevitably be made to the nation’s existing properties but we’re bound to see an increasing number of new ‘eco-homes’ in the coming years, too. These sustainable homes will be constructed from green materials, generate (at least partially) their own power, and then use this energy more efficiently than ever before.
Want to know more? Then read on …
The sustainable homes of tomorrow will need to generate more energy than they use. They’ll also need to meet rigorous energy efficiency standards without breaking developers’ budgets. Architects will therefore need to select construction materials very carefully indeed.
The most sustainable choices will be locally sourced materials that haven’t travelled miles to reach the site. But this doesn’t mean more old fashioned concrete. No siree. Although traditional concrete is mixed onsite, it’s actually one of the most carbon intensive materials on earth. The mere mention of it sends shivers down Greta Thunberg’s spine.
It’s a good thing, therefore, that greener forms of concrete such as geopolymer concrete, fiber cement, and graphene-infused concrete are starting to emerge. It’s also possible to reuse old concrete, or reinforce it with recycled plastic rather than steel, to reduce the material’s carbon footprint.
The sustainable homes of 2030 will also be built from products that sequester carbon as they grow: wood fibre, straw, or even hemp. Straw might sound like a strange choice, especially if you’re familiar with the tale of the three little pigs, but straw bales are fantastic in eco-homes because they’re superb insulators.
Recycled materials will be popular, too. The advantage of using recycled materials, of course, is that they use much less energy than creating something from scratch. Expect to see lots of stone, glass, or unfired earth bricks that are dried naturally rather than oven-heated.
There will also be a rise in “green roofs” (where grass and wild flowers grow untamed) over the next few years. These roofs provide excellent insulation and you don’t need planning permission to install them. They also promote biodiversity, which is sure to cause a buzz in our declining insect populations.
When it comes to the interior of sustainable homes, we’re likely to see smaller houses, with creative storage solutions that maximise the available space, more frequently as well. After all, smaller homes need less energy and produce lower emissions.
The most eco-friendly properties in 2030 will generate a large proportion of their energy themselves. It’s unlikely that we’ll see wind turbines in people’s backyards – the neighbours might have something to say about that – but an increase in solar panels and heat pumps is definitely on the cards.
Solar power could easily be used to heat hot water systems. Although solar panels are relatively expensive at the moment, their cost will fall and their efficiency will only increase. Homeowners should therefore make their money back faster than you can say, “slap on some sunscreen”.
Heat pumps are the perfect way to heat properties with good insulation. Indeed, the government has already announced a boiler replacement scheme to install 600,000 heat pumps by 2028. Most sustainable homes will be powered by heat pumps before the decade’s out.
The efficiency of sustainable homes
Self-sufficiency is the goal for any sustainable home. Consequently, the eco-houses of the future will not only generate their own power; they’ll also be adept at storing energy, too. They’ll also need to minimise their use of energy and other resources.
Excess energy captured by solar powers on long summer days will therefore be stored in batteries to be used during winter. Homeowners will also be able to buy energy from the national grid when it’s cheapest, store it in batteries, and then use it during peak hours. Clever, eh?
Insulation, meanwhile, will be key. So don’t expect many new sustainable homes to fit old-fashioned fibreglass. Instead, insulation could consist of materials like sheep’s wool, cotton, polystyrene, aerogel, or thermacork. These materials are either renewable, possess a negative carbon footprint, or save energy because they keep in the heat so well.
Eco-friendly properties could also follow the AECB or Passivhaus model. These modern houses are super-insulated, eliminate drafts, and regulate their own temperature. Expect sustainable homes in 2030 to hold onto their heat better, harvest rainwater, and utilise water-efficient taps and showerheads to minimise water waste.
Sustainable homes of the future will also be packed with energy saving gizmos. Smart meters will be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to saving the polar ice caps. Devices will measure how much shower water you use, smart plugs will record how much energy you use, and motion sensors will automatically switch your energy-efficient LED lighting on and off.
By showing people how much energy they use, smart technologies will eventually teach people to waste less. Sustainable homes will also include smart thermostats, which turn the heating off when you’re not at home, turn the heating down in rooms you use less, and adjust temperatures based on the weather forecast. Evidence shows this reduces bills by up to 31%.
Finally, it’s not inconceivable that green abodes will come with CO2 capturing equipment by 2030. Although some future gazers envisage industrial scale facilities sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere, it’s possible that we’ll see smaller machines for domestic use. We’ve all kept regular hoovers in the cupboard so why not carbon hoovers in the back garden?
Sustainable homes will help the environment in so many ways. They’ll also help us to become more aware of our own carbon footprint and slowly convince us to modify our behaviour. Consequently, the eco-friendly dwellings of the future will not only change what we live in; they’ll also change how we live.
Although it’s hard to see everyone living in a sustainable home by 2030 (especially considering the desirability of the UK’s beautiful period properties), an emphasis on domestic renewable energy generation, increased energy efficiency, and the move towards a sustainable mindset will certainly help.
And it’s a good thing, too. After all, fighting climate change needs solid contributions across the board. We need everyone in every sector to make a contribution, or the 26th Corporation of Parties won’t be much cop.