Self-Sustaining Home: The Essentials

Written by Lillian Connors

Eco-construction and sustainable living are no longer an impossible dream. What seemed far-fetched four decades ago, today is a reality. And it’s not merely a passing trend, but a true shift in understanding of what it means to live in harmony with the planet.

There are plenty of reasons for self-sustainable living – environmental, ethical, financial and practical. This lifestyle doesn’t leave a negative impact on the environment and it starts with conscious eco-friendly choices that include using recycled and sustainable materials, clean energy and renewable resources, as well as affordable design and simple construction techniques.

Creating a fully self-sustaining home is a process that doesn’t happen overnight, but with a constant rise in the level of your home sustainability. Whether you’re building a new home or trying to incorporate these concepts into your existing one, here are several basic principles you should bear in mind.

Home building

Traditional building methods have a devastating impact on our environment. All the building materials and their production are sources of both indoor and outdoor air pollution. In order to minimize and possibly eliminate the environmental impact of construction, building materials should be locally sourced, renewable, recycled, salvaged and durable, such as aluminium cans, recycled car tyres, and glass bottles that are encased and used for non-flammable walls. These materials all have a negative carbon footprint, are very efficient as home insulators and are excellent in temperature regulation, which eliminates the need for a separate heating/cooling system and additional costs.

Besides salvaging materials, you have a few other available options if you decide to build a green home. There are cob homes made of soil and straw that are fireproof and earthquake-resistant, hemp houses that pull CO2 from the air, as well as green (or living) roofs that both purify the air and reduce stormwater runoff and heat loss.

Power and electricity

With technological innovations, lower costs of materials and larger accessibility of renewable energy sources, setting up a small, off-grid home has become very affordable and practical. Depending on your site orientation and home location, your choices can be wind power, solar power or even a hybrid of the two. Solar systems are particularly efficient in southern states but almost any part of the world can greatly benefit from direct sunlight. For instance, a 5KWp solar system can produce 20KW/h every day, which amounts to $1800 worth of savings per year. By setting it up, you get a reliable supply of clean and free energy for your home and lower utility bills in the long run.

Water and waste management

With the current global water demand, we will likely face water shortage and scarcity in the next 10 to 15 years. The answer lies in renewable water resources and recycling. Harvesting rainwater provides an independent solution to local and regional water shortages by collecting both rain and snow from rooftops. It is then gravity-fed into a tank and channelled into a pump system where it’s filtered and distributed around the house. Your hot water needs can be regulated by using a solar water heater or as a back-up option, a water heater run by natural gas or biodiesel fuel.

The biggest ecological benefit of this system is that all potable water can be collected and recycled three more times after it had been used for cleaning, showering or laundry. This “grey water” is filtered out before being routed to your greenhouse for irrigation. Even the “black water” from flushing toilets can be treated in a solar septic tank and funnelled afterwards into a drain field or used for watering your backyard.

Food and consumer choices

The final touch to an eco-friendly lifestyle is being able to grow your own organic food throughout the whole year. There are several resources you can utilize. Firstly, there’s a passive solar design, or south-facing windows, that will help absorb heat from the sun and make a perfect place for growing fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs, enough for a small family. Next, there is the household’s grey water, which is excellent and safe for watering those food-bearing plants, and can be automatically pumped to your indoors. It can also be used for irrigation of your backyard garden as well.

Another big impact on your home sustainability is made by your consumer choices. Replace your household items with more eco-friendly options, such as rechargeable batteries, biodegradable bags, cups and plates, reusable water bottles and recycled paper products. Make an effort to give up paper towels completely and go for washable cloth napkins. Finally, stop using home cleaning products that contain harmful chemicals and toxins and turn to baking soda and white vinegar.

Small steps in the right direction can make a big impact and lead to great results. By incorporating the practices outlined here, each homeowner can make positive changes towards a sustainable lifestyle that can have an enormous positive effect on our planet.