Houses that don’t cost the Earth

Kiwi women are commencing menstruation earlier and developing larger breasts. Kiwi men sperm-counts have halved. We have to ask ourselves why?! And of course, nutrition is a huge part of the complex situation. So almost every day society in general is becoming just a little bit more aware of the positive ramifications of eating organic food – meaning the type of food human beings had always eaten until 50-60 years ago, now fashionably called bio-dynamic food.

It is good, we are now questioning how harmful it is to expose ourselves at a metabolic cellular level, to constant amounts of dioxin carcinogenic (cancer-causing) or teratogenic (fetal malformation-causing) pesticides, such as chemical insecticides, herbicides and fungicides; plus all the synthetic fertilizers; artificial colourings; flavour enhancers; chemical preservatives; antibiotic growth promotant feed enhancers; and other synthetic additives.

But what of our toxic homes ??

Partnering with bio-dynamic food ideals are the principles of bio-harmonic living – that is living in a healthy home that uses natural bio-building principles, such as an energy-efficient design, low-toxicity materials, and environmental sustainability of renewable natural resources. This is another area where Kiwis are becoming adept, at the use of clay, sand, straw, earth and recycled reused materials.
Eco-natural houses have been constructed for over 10,000 – and some of the first ones built are still standing. But the days have well gone of eco-houses only being built by ascetic frugally-minded incense-burning hippies. No, no. Some eco-natural housing is exceptionally trend-setting, winning environmental awards, and becoming a vision to aspire to. “Natural house building is the way of the future” says Alan Drayton, of the talented and renowned Alan Drayton BioBuilders, “I like to tell people to think of their house as their third skin – healthy homes and sustainable building is vital for the future of our planet.”

The level of bio-harmonic principles opted for by the home-owner is a totally indivualised part of eco-friendly house designs. It is very possible to have an eco-chic conventionally mainstream looking home in suburbia that is connected to the local utility grid infrastructure … Or you can have a very extraordinarily unique eco-natural home in the remote countryside that is self-sufficiently off-grid with zero waste. There are few rules, just the principles of: Planet-friendly reduced environmental impact; healthy aesthetically pleasing energy-efficient building design; and use of abundantly-available sustainable natural materials.

Some of the bio-harmonic jargon can sound mysteriously captivating … pressed-earth, rammed-earth, straw-bales, stone walls, adobe mud-brick with clay-cowdung slurry, recycled telegraph poles, recycled railway sleepers, or swamp kauri … it’s entrancing and enchanting! If you want it, there are even fiber-reinforced concrete slabs that don’t disturb the earth’s natural vibration; ways to minimize exposure to electro-magnetic field radiation; or the use of sacred geometric dimensional designs. Eco-natural homes are like taking Feng Shui to a whole new spiritually uplifting level!

But typically, a modern healthy eco-home uses concepts such as passive solar design; lawsons-cypress framing; macrocarpa beams; non-chemical kiln-dried timber treated with tung oil or waxes; double-glazing; solar-panel hot-water; copper plumbing; breathable wall systems (such as rammed-earth and Hebel® aerated autoclaved concrete and breathable plaster); CFLs (compact fluorescent lighting); energy-efficient appliances; on-demand power switches; rainwater reticulation; non-toxic wool insulation; polished concrete; bamboo, eucalyptus or linseed-oiled cork floors; eco-friendly polyurethane; natural wool carpet; reduced levels of underlay urea formaldehyde; and organic Bio-Paint® with ultra-low VOCS (volatile organic compounds).

Apart from the reduced toxic exposure and normal halving of power bills, many eco-friendly houses have other wonderful benefits, such as their superior ‘thermal mass’ which stabilizes temperature fluctuations inside the home (so the house is cool in summer and warm in winter); natural sound-proofing and fire-proofing; hypoallergenic qualities (reduced dust mites, mould, fungi and chemicals); and their undeniable ‘good vibe’ tactile feeling.

How much do eco-natural homes cost? That question is virtually impossible to answer accurately as too many options are involved – but somewhere roughly say 5-15% more for a fairly standard home (of course the sky’s the limit for luxury eco-homes). There are also ongoing estimated savings of halving the normal power and water bills, plus of course unquantifiable health benefits.
Permaculture (derived from permanent agriculture) is another buzz-word closely linked with eco-natural homes, which was first coined almost thirty years ago by authors Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Permaculture describes a human habitat practicing the ideologies of sustainable use of land’s natural resources, and self-renewing food production. Within eco-friendly house construction this often includes such features as ‘living’ planted roofs, using solar and wind energy for water-heating and power, capturing rain water, purifying waste-water, re-using grey-water, and of course composting toilets. Permaculture is about conserving wasted energy and materials, and taking responsibility for your own global ‘footprint’.

Another interesting development of modern bio-harmonic house-construction, are hundreds of ‘co-housing’ eco-villages around the world (urban, suburban and rural) particularly in Europe, America, Australia and now New Zealand (such as EarthSong Waitakere, Koanga Kohatu Toa Kaiwaka, and Awaawaroa Waiheke Island). Co-housing is a thirty-year-old term first used by architects Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, which in some ways now epitomizes the post-modern version of the intentional community commune. Co-housing eco-villages have individually-owned homes using eco-natural design and permaculture principles. Usually the village shares a large common-house for regular communal meals and other activities, plus shared gardens and grassed areas. EcoVillages are also often involved with ‘sustainable-plus’ living, that is the restoring, rejuvenating and improving of their local community environment.

An essential ingredient to any new eco-built home, or eco-wise retro-fitting renovation of a non-eco home; is that one uses an ecological architect designer and specialist building contractor who are experienced with the ‘healthy green home’ sustainable principles. NZ has a number of specialists such as building contractors Alan Drayton Bio-Building and Arhaus; and architects such as Richard Lambourne Architects, Graeme North’s Eco-Design, and Reinhard Kanuka-Fuchs and Johann Bernhardt of the BBE (Building Biology & Ecology Institute). The BBE have produced the Sustainable Home Guidelines for eco-friendly homes, and even provide building and design correspondence and workshop courses, plus they produce an Eco-Projects Services Directory.

Another useful organization are the EBANZ (Earth Building Association of NZ). West Auckland’s Waitakere Council have also been particularly active with their Eco-City philosophies, including the EcoMatters Environmental Trust, and the Council’s share-holding in the Beacon Pathway research consortium on environmentally sustainability.

One big reality though with eco-natural houses, is certainly don’t hold your hopes up of ever managing to buy a one-off existing eco-natural house – as owners of these abodes typically rarely sell, because they love their homes!

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