Green living: Top 10 sustainable houses

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Gizmag picks the ten most innovative sustainable houses we've come across so far

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The cost of a house can be counted in dollars, but the construction and running of a house takes a toll on the environment that's harder to measure. Increasing numbers of people are looking to minimize both environmental impact and financial outlay by outfitting their homes with sustainable technology, and the resulting boom in sustainable building is driving new levels of architectural innovation. With this in mind, Gizmag highlights ten remarkable sustainable houses.

The term sustainable is thrown about quite a bit these days, but there's more to it than adding some solar panels to the roof of an inefficient building and calling it a day. True sustainability is made up of many facets, from building materials to the use of renewable energy sources to design that strives for efficiency and harmony with the surrounding environment. We think the following selections meet many of these criteria.

Waste House

The Waste House is a sustainable construction project installed at the UK's University of Brighton. As its name suggests, the prototype home is built almost exclusively from discarded waste.

Around 90 percent of the materials that went into making the Waste House derive from household and construction waste, including 20,000 toothbrushes, 4,000 DVD cases, 2,000 floppy discs, and 2,000 used carpet tiles, used to clad the home's facade. While nobody actually lives in it at present, the building is a remarkable achievement and proves the organizer's mantra that "there is no such thing as waste, just stuff in the wrong place."

S House

Vietnam's Vo Trong Nghia Architects has been tinkering away at the issue of providing practical, sustainable, and most importantly, cheap, homes. The result is the S House, a US$4,000 dwelling part-built using local, easily-obtained materials, including Palm leaf thatching and bamboo.

The interior of the S House is very basic and measures just 30 sq m (322 sq ft), with one large interior space. The building is prefabricated and can be disassembled into multiple small pieces for easy transport by local builders. Vo Trong Nghia Architects is still working on the design of the S House but the eventual plan is to mass market it.

Fall House

San Francisco's Fougeron Architecture recently designed and built a particularly beautiful luxury house that's guaranteed to make the neighbors see green. Located on California's Big Sur coastline, the Fall House sports a copper facade that will weather and patina over time, as it comes into contact with the sea air. The copper is also designed to offer a degree of fire-protection.

In addition to its enviable looks and views, the two-story Fall House features energy-efficient windows and its open design naturally encourages stack ventilation, automatically opening windows help reduce the need for air-conditioning. A graywater recycling system is also installed.

ZEB Pilot House

The ZEB Pilot House, by international architecture outfit Snøhetta is a remarkable experimental home that makes an even more remarkable claim: thanks to incredible efficiency and ample solar panels, it's said to generate almost three times the amount of electricity it requires – leaving plenty of surplus juice for charging an EV, for example.

In order to achieve this performance, the ZEB Pilot House features the proverbial kitchen sink of sustainable technology, including a large photovoltaic array, rainwater collection system, solar thermal panels, and an efficient heat exchanger. It doesn't hurt that the home is easy on the eyes, too. The ZEB Pilot House's performance is currently being monitored to make sure the claims of energy-efficiency are justified.

Pop-Up House

Whatever kind of home you live in, the chances are it took longer to build than the Pop-Up House, by French architecture firm Multipod, which was erected by a team of builders in just four days with no more tools than a screwdriver. The firm likens the construction process to building with Lego.

The Pop-Up House is a prototype prefabricated home that Multipod aims to bring to market for around €30,000 (roughly US$41,000). Thanks to its excellent insulation and near-airtight thermal envelope, no heating is required for the home in its location in Southern France, and it meets the very exacting Passivhaus energy standard.

Tighthouse

Said to be the first certified Passive House in New York City, Tighthouse represents an impressive energy-efficient renovation of an existing row house that's over a hundred years old.

Architectural design firm Fabrica718 added a new rear facade, an additional story, a roof terrace, and an art studio to the house. Sustainable technology installed includes two solar thermal panels for hot water needs, and solar PV panels, which reduce grid-based electricity requirements. As the home is almost air-tight, a highly-efficient heat recovery ventilation system (HRV) is always running to provide plenty of fresh air.

Blooming Bamboo

Like Vo Trong Nghia Architects, Vietnamese firm H&P Architects has also produced a prototype home that will eventually be mass-sold to Vietnamese people on a low income. However, this particular home is also flood-proof. The Blooming Bamboo house is placed on stilts and designed to withstand floods of up to 1.5 m (5 ft) in depth, though H&P Architects hopes to increase this to 3 m (10 ft).

The 44 sq m (473 sq ft) home is built around a central frame constructed from bamboo that is clad using locally-sourced materials including bamboo, fiberboard, and coconut leaves. The homes are expected to be produced at a cost of just US$2,500.

Slip House

The Slip House, by Carl Turner Architects, offers a potential template for affordable, sustainable family homes in the UK. Slotted between a row of terraced houses in London, the residence also rests on a brownfield site, formerly used for industrial or commercial purposes. Its unusual form consists of three slipped orthogonal box shapes.

The Slip House features a rainwater harvesting tank, solar panels, mechanical ventilation, triple glazing, and a high level of insulation – all of which saves up to 1092.73 kg (1.2 ton) of CO2 per year, according to the designers. Carl Turner Architects is using the home as a prototype for in-house research, hoping to refine its ideas for producing affordable and sustainable family homes.

Illawarra Flame

Students from Australia's University of Wollongong took a typical Australian "fibro house," and retrofitted it with enough sustainable technology to make the notoriously energy-hungry style of home into a net-zero house. The Illawarra Flame house project involved a lengthy renovation process, including transforming a bedroom into a living space, and the installation of prefabricated pods which contain amenities including laundry room and bathroom.

Sustainable additions include a roof-based 9.4-KW solar panel system, rainwater harvesting and gray-water recycling systems, energy-efficient LED lighting, and a building management system that offers fine control over, and information concerning, all electrical appliances and stored energy.

P.A.T.H.

Renowned French designer and architect Philippe Starck recently teamed-up with Slovenian prefab firm Riko to bring out a new line of high-end prefab houses called Prefabricated Accessible Technological Homes (or P.A.T.H.).

In addition to multiple shapes and sizes P.A.T.H homes can sport an all glass outer shell, a combination of wood and glass shell, or fully-wooden shell. Optional sustainable tech includes a roof-based solar array, roof-based wind turbine, and a rainwater collection and filtration system.

That completes our pick of innovative sustainable houses, You can check out each one in the gallery. If you think we've missed any particularly noteworthy picks, or if you have any thoughts on the sustainable building movement in general, please do let us know in the comments below.

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