If you’ve ever dreamed of living inside an old Zepplin, then this pre-fab modular home, the Canühome, designed by George Brown College’s Institute Without Boundaries, is for you. Well actually, the designers thought it looked more like a canoe, hence the name. They also wanted the name to provoke a question: “Can ü make a difference?” Of course the appropriate answer is yes, and certainly so with this unique design. In their own words,
The design is intended for use by young couples, seniors, singles/small families, as a starter or finisher home.It has been designed to fit in rear gardens in the city, the suburbs, or rooftops of buildings or in the countryside.
At 850 sq/ft, it fits the bill, being the same size as a typical condo or apartment; a fully comprehensive unit including a kitchen, living room, dining room, bedroom and bathroom (with a shower that will hold 4 people for efficient water use!).
Made largely of FSC certified plywood and other wood materials, the modular home is assembled with the aid of steel brackets. Being modular you can hook up as many or as few units as you like should your need for space grow or diminish. The engineering behind the design is quite ingenious. Its shape allows for convective and radiant heating, and they proudly announce that “air is a building material”! The curvature of the structure also channels rain water for capture and use in various applications, and they have plans to incorporate solar collectors to help meet some of the energy needs of the home.
The project has 5 major goals; to engage the public, to raise public awareness of the impact of housing on the environment, to showcase sustainability, to aid in growing the market for sustainable homes and related products, and finally, to enable the housing industry to more easily move towards sustainable practices. It remains unclear what the future will hold for the faculty, student and expert designed home after it returns from its show tour, but if properly marketed, it has some real possibilities.
For those of you with spare plywood lying around, they’ve even made the technical drawings (PDF) available for you online.
We've got to do something about climate change now. Unfortunately, carbon capture technology is 20 years away, it takes more than a decade to build a nuclear plant, and renewables like solar and geothermal have a huge barrier to overcome before they can be cost competitive.
So what do we do? Well, Architecture 2030 has created their blueprint to the future (PDF), which outlines how to reduce emissions by massive amounts without changing our energy mix at all. By implementing existing technologies at low costs, Architecture 2030 has determined that we could save far more energy far cheaper than we could ever hope to manage in the near-term with even old, established technologies like nuclear power.
The results of their $21 B investment scenario are insane; they've calculated that it would:
- Replace 22.3 conventional coal-fired plants
- Reduce CO2 emissions by 86.7 MMT
- Save 204 billion cubic feet of natural gas
- Save 10.7 million barrels of oil
- Save consumers $8.46 billion in energy bills
- Create 216,000 new jobs.
Investing that same money in clean coal or nuclear infrastructure would, in the best case, only replace 8 coal plants.
It's obvious where the money needs to go, and Architecture 2030 is calling on the global architecture community to adopt standards that will make this a reality.
Aerogel has been around for decades. It's the lightest substance ever created, being 99% air. It's strong, light, translucent and is excellent for sound-proofing. But the really exciting thing about aerogel is that it insulates 37 times better than fiberglass. Using aerogel as insulation in walls, ceilings, and (as it's transparent) even between double-pained windows, could drastically reduce the amount of energy used in heating and cooling.
Unfortunately, aerogel isn't easy to make. In fact, it costs about $1,300 per pound to produce. But a Malaysian researcer at the Universiti Teknologi, Dr. Halimaton Hamdan, has led a team of researchers who have created a way to produce aerogel that will be 80% cheaper.
What's more, the new aerogel is produced from rice husks, a discarded agricultural product. As you might expect, Malaysia has plenty of rice husks, so they're pretty excited about the possibility of turning them into something valuable. As such, the government has given Hamdan a $65 M grant to help develop a technique for the large-scale production of the new aerogels.
Hamdan's breakthrough was at first accidental. She wanted to do research on silica, but was having a hard time finding the raw material. One night, she saw a television program on the difficulty of disposing of rice husks. And rice husks, it turns out, are 20% silica. After eight years of work, Hamdan finally found a cheap way to produce pure silica from rice husks. And once the silica is acquired, making the aerogel is a cinch.
If Dr. Hamdan and her colleagues are able to use that $65 M to scale up production of this material, we should soon be seeing it everywhere. If that happens, the energy savings would be incredible. As a bonus; the production of Maerogel (short for Malaysian Aerogel) would also make use of an abundant natural waste product.
It's no secret that the folks at Inhabitat are big fans of prefabricated homes, and not without reason. Prefab houses can be assembled on site in very little time and with highly reduced production waste compared to old-school building methods. Of course, this also leads to reduced production costs, something we really can't complain about.
But the features of zeroHouse are enough to make EcoGeek stand up with Inhabitat and salute. All the power for the house comes from that wing-like protrusion at the top. The solar panels up there provide more than enough sunlight on a regular day and on a full charge, you can go for an entire week with no sun at all. Additionally, the rainwater cistern can hold 2,700 gallons (10,220 liters) of water which is distributed by gravity to the various rooms of the house, nixing the need for any pumps. There's also a composting system in place that takes care of organic waste. I'd like to express some level of concern over the "house brain" they refer to as the system that controls how the whole house works, though. As a geek and fan of a certain science-fiction film, "house brains" make me uncomfortable.
Sadly, now I have to ruin it by complaining a little.
One of my favourite features of prefab homes is the chance of properly modular buildings. If I had my way, I'd sit on a computer and put a future house together in a lego-like fashion from parts available to me. An assembly crew would come next week and, over the next couple of days, they'd assemble all the pieces. Hey presto: New, fully customised house for me! If I wanted another room later on, I'd order an extra module and they'd come and slide it on to the rest of the construction.
So why don't Specht Harpman ever make these kinds of houses? They call the various levels of the house "modules," because that's obviously how it's assembled. Why not expand on that and make it properly modular? They obviously have the know-how to create both well-designed and sustainable houses. But to me, it looks more like the lego airplane my two-year-old nephew made this Christmas than a home built for nature lovers. Their design has the effect of making the house look like an intrusion on the otherwise serene landscapes. The house even looks like it wants to fly away from the scenes, perched with those solar panels sticking out like wings (Right above the patio, I might add!) ready for take-off.
Don't get me wrong, it has a lot of awesome ideas and features within it, they're just wrapped too tightly in "master architect" pretensions and impersonal design choices.