Self-Build

Changing dogmas – the future
of housing

Many of us never realise our dream of building our own sustainable energy efficient home. However George Zhordania asks us to reconsider the usual pitfalls of affordability and lack of professional building skills.

I would like to share my thoughts on sustainable living as a man, a father, a consumer. I am a married father of two. I work in an office and live in an apartment so one might say I live a normal life. In addition, even though I am quite content with the way things are, I still want more - fundamental flaw of human nature, if you ask me. The constant need to always have more.

When you think about the word “home”, how would you define it?
I, for one, would define it as a place of residence and refuge. In light of this I ask you: what kind of a residence or a place of refuge is a several hundred square feet house, that has several rooms and storeys, needs constant maintenance and is overall a financial burden?

In terms of human history, the concept of letting someone else build a house for you is relatively new.
If you think back a couple of hundred years, almost everyone built their own homes. So why is that approach in decline? Why are houses now built for us? I agree that the building techniques have changed, as have the materials, but it is not rocket science, is it. I believe, it has a lot to do with us getting too comfortable, maybe even lazy.

The energy prices are rising. Constantly. In addition, even though there have been several breakthroughs in the field of sustainable energy it is not nearly ready to be offered to the public.
The simple reason is we (the public) need more energy, than renewable energy sources can provide. Therefore, we are “stuck” on fossil fuels. One way to address the problem is to improve the renewable energy systems and that is being done. Meanwhile – what can we do?

...there are essentially three things stopping us from building our own homes: finding land, need for financing and sufficient skills

The solution requires nothing of you except consuming less. Turn off the lights when you are not in the room. Do not let your car engine run on neutral, while you wait for the air conditioning to cool down the inside. Stop taking ‘Hollywood showers’ (washing yourself, while the water is just running down the drain) etc.
I agree this might sound somewhat strange, but trust me: you will be doing a huge favour for the environment, for yourself and for your wallet.

What about your housing? What can you do about that? How to make it more energy efficient?
Truth be told, it is very hard. Usually your existing house is retro fitted with solar panels and windmills, but ‘if the bucket is leaking, it matters not how much water you pour in’, in other words: your house is not built to be energy efficient.

Nevertheless, energy efficiency is nothing more, than using existing resources rationally. That is it. I often say that if you want to know, where we are headed with technology, look at space engineering. Space is something we are still learning to understand and since the only resource to provide the astronauts with energy there is the sun, efficiency has been taken to the max. That’s a rather drastic approach and I do hope we will never get there, but it gives you some idea, what daily efficiency can be, but let’s come back down to earth.

My analysis shows that there are essentially three things stopping us from building our own homes: finding land, need for financing and sufficient skills. As the human population grows, land is becoming increasingly hard to come by so I agree it is a serious issue.
On the other hand, land is hard to come by in densely populated areas. My question: why not live in a place that is not so densely populated? The trip to the workplace will be longer, but it is not a problem that cannot be overcome. In addition, technology has evolved enough that if you were to have information based job (a job where you only need a computer) you would not have to leave the house at all. Think about it.

One aspect that is a bit more serious is financing, namely banks. In addition, granted they are a key element in the whole process, but even that can be overcome. As Europe is becoming more unified, the local banks have to compete with banks abroad – competition, as we know, bring down the prices, and loosen the terms a lot. Therefore, you cannot cut out the financial institutions per se, but you can increase your advantages as a client.

However, how to acquire skills? Take some lectures in the closest engineering school? This is a good idea, if you have the time and money.
However, what if you had building plans so detailed, you would not need additional education? This is exactly what we (at my company) do – we design timber-frame houses and then make manuals for the non-professionals so they could build on their own. Sounds incredible? A bit, I agree, but if the plans help me save a lot of money and time in the process, why should not I use them? For a father looking to build a house for his family this seems the perfect solution.

Words like ‘affordable’ and ‘energy efficient’ is often used as marketing tools and has usually nothing to do with true energy efficiency nor affordability and why should they? Energy efficiency means more investments, so in no way can it be affordable. It is a paradox. Nevertheless as I wrote, only to some extent.

The choices we make today shape the world of tomorrow. The choice to continue building as if we have all the resources at our disposal limitlessly is no longer an option. It is a shortsighted solution.
There are thousands of people working towards sustainable living all around the globe. Some thoughts are 'high-tech' some are less. However, what they all agree on is that the time for fossil fuels is over. The time of sustainable living is already here. It is only a question of when people will let go of their dogmas.

George Zhordania

This article has been kindly provided by George Zhordania of Glog LLC, Estonia. Glog LLC provides building plans and kits of pre-cut materials for energy efficient self-build homes.
Website: gloghome.com
Copyright © Glog LLC 2013

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