The sustainable construction technology of today has slowly started to emerge in the headlines. From California's new solar panel regulations to zero-waste homes, the public has been getting a glimpse of how building will work in the future. It's time to peer into this world to see what the developments are and which ones will likely make their way to a future home near you.
The efficiency with which a building can heat and cool itself has always been one of the more prominent concerns of any property owner. There are a few ways that sustainable technology has been trying to curb high utility bills and equally high energy usage:
- Solar panels: Solar panels use the sun to activate ions on the surface of the panels and then turn them into energy. This energy can then be used to power the home—and even the homes of existing neighbors. Homeowners can sell back their excess energy to the power grid so others can benefit from their investment.
- Geothermal energy: While the Earth's surface temperature may rise and fall, its core stays a solid 60° at all times. Sustainable builders use pipes placed deep in the Earth to draw these stable temperatures from the inside of the Earth to the inside of the home. This method does use some electricity, but it's still 500% more efficient than oil or gas.
- Cool roofs: A cool roof is one that absorbs the heat from the sun so the homeowner can cool their home from top to bottom. Roofs can easily hit up to 150° when the sun as at its worst, forcing the heat to radiate throughout the home. Cool roof technology may not only cut down on utility bills, but it can also help to lower the heat of the surrounding air in large cities. (This is because the smog layer will capture any remaining heat and spread it to surrounding areas.)
As homeowners might imagine, geothermal energy is typically more popular in cloudier states while solar panels get more exposure in sun-filled areas. Cool roofs will be most effective in the major cities.
Wi-Fi Within Windows
Sustainable developers are experimenting with how standard windows can use Wi-Fi to preemptively control the rays of the sun. The Wi-Fi can connect to the weather forecast and immediately adjust the tint of the windows based on the sun's power. It will even calibrate its controls based on how many people are inside a room at the time. (If there are more people, then the room will need less heat to remain comfortable.) This product has been dubbed smart-glass and is said to be even more effective than the low-e glass that made headlines a few years ago. It's estimated that smart glass can save around 25% of a homeowner's utility bills.
New Building Materials
As the world population continues to rise, more and more people are looking into how excess waste can be turned into building materials. From raw sewage to discarded bottles to old pairs of jeans, the creativity has been remarkable. Old wine corks are being turned into floorboards, a combination of lime and milk can be used to make paint, and yesterday's newspapers can be compressed into wooden boards. These products are not only safer than the lead-based paint and asbestos insulation of the past, but they can also serve to reduce the ever-growing landfills.
A New Kind of Home
Friends of the environment hope that zero-waste homes will soon become the norm and not the exception to the rule. Their dream may still be a few years away, but there's reason to believe that it's not a far-fetched fantasy. Zero-waste homes are not only easy on the environment and the homeowner's wallet, but they're also becoming more and more efficient every day. They're even become more aesthetically attractive, meaning homeowners don't have to choose between beauty and sustainability.
Some people are even reviving (and improving upon) construction methods that were used by our ancestors. A rammed Earth home, made from soil and clay, will always be susceptible to water damage. However, when combined with new run-off water systems, the technology becomes a viable option once again.
There are plenty of reasons why Belle Meade homeowners should keep up with the technology of the day. Whether they want to retrofit their own home or just want to be aware of how the industry is shifting, the developments tell us a lot about the priorities of the larger economy. The more sustainable options the public sees, the more likely it is that ordinary homeowners can do their part for the Earth while managing to save a little money.