05 May 2015

Greening your new design

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Paul Garlick, of green wall expert Mobilane, looks at the latest innovative techniques to green your new home and add additional levels of sustainability.

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Sustainability has been a dominant fashion in the self-build market for many years, and the self-build industry has embraced sustainability and energy efficiency to such a degree that it has been both a driver and a leader in green building techniques and technologies.

Should we assume that the self-build market has more concern about sustainability? Should we assume the market is more concerned about energy efficiency and saving money? It could be a mixture of both, but in all likelihood it could also be that sustainable technologies offer that ‘something different’ the market is always looking for. If you are going to design and build your own home, make it special.

Many sustainability and energy efficient technologies have become commonplace in the self-build market. Ground source heating and natural ventilation for example are the ‘unseen’ ways in which sustainability is incorporated. Micro-generation technologies are also increasingly commonplace and are more of a visible statement of energy efficiency. So with the self-build market already embracing these technologies and techniques, the question now needs to be asked; where next for sustainability in the self-build market?

Perhaps understandably, a key logical next step is to focus on improving the living experience for homeowners.

Bringing the outdoors in

Increased levels of carbon monoxide and airborne particulates are typically found indoors. But if the interior air quality can be made cleaner and more oxygen rich, the experience for the occupier will be better. This is being addressed with some vigour in the office workspace, where the link between air quality, wellbeing and productivity are well researched and understood. But aside from potted plants, what are the innovative, new, and highly attractive ways of incorporating plants into both interiors and exteriors?

Wall-hung picture frames that incorporate living plants are one way to bring the outdoors in. The effect is stunning and these systems feature internal irrigation system that only needs refilling every six weeks. This is a great way to include indoor plants with added ‘wow’ factor.

The same technology is applied on a larger scale with movable living plant screens. While these designs are already growing in popularity in the commercial office space, they are also gaining a foothold within the domestic environment. Designs such as these were once very popular in the home, but fell out of fashion in the 20th Century. However, with modern, open-plan designs they are experiencing resurgence.

Planting alternatives

Externally, there are living systems available that not only increase the performance of a building, but which also help improve the experience, add interest to a design and deliver additional sustainable benefits.

Living walls can be found on a range of commercial and public buildings and make a striking statement in the urban environment, but they are also available for use on smaller residential developments. As well as looking incredible, a living wall delivers both thermal and acoustic insulation benefits, as well as encouraging insect and bird life and helping to remove airborne particulates and carbon monoxide. Another lesser known benefit is their ability to address the ‘heat island’ effect in summer. All of this means a living wall is very effective in generally improving the atmosphere, as well as delivering considerable sustainability benefits.

Mobilane’s LivePanel living wall system is a modular system that uses a specially developed substrate designed to enable plants to establish and thrive with minimum maintenance. The system is so versatile that it can also be installed indoors for added statement.

Sprouting from the rooftops

As the green consciousness grows, green roofs are becoming increasingly common. A great many new school developments now feature green roofs as they not only provide the same performance and sustainability benefits as living walls, but are also low maintenance and make a strong statement about sustainability.

Green roofs are perfect for self-build projects because of the ease of application. For example, the Mobiroof system uses cassettes that are cultivated with up to six different kinds of sedum. Architectural adjustments are not required, so the system can be installed retrospectively.

Protecting the boundaries

Of course, one of the challenges of completing a self-build development will always be borders to the property. Fences can be somewhat bland and do not deliver sustainability benefits, while hedges can take a considerable time to grow and settle – as well as requiring ongoing maintenance.

A solution is pre-cultivated hedging that attaches to wire fencing. These designs are both easily installed and extremely robust. The wire fencing provides additional security as there are no weak points like in traditional hedges and the design also saves on space. Green screens are already widely used on larger residential developments where space and security are an issue. They look good as soon as they are installed and once they are fully grown require very little maintenance. Crucially, they always stay ‘neat’ and there is no need to heavily trim them regularly, as there is with a traditional hedge.

Looking ahead

Ultimately, sustainability in house design is more than merely energy efficiency. That particular nut has been successfully cracked to the degree that we have now entered the stage where the best new builds are actually carbon positive. The ongoing task is to look at the other issues of sustainability, such as encouraging natural ecosystems to thrive, as well as protecting personal health and wellbeing. The answer to these challenges will always be found in plants, and the big added advantage is that the latest systems for greening your home-building project delivers stunning aesthetic benefits that will turn your design into something truly outstanding.

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