What is eco-housing?

More and more ecological houses are built each year in Quebec. But what exactly are they? What are the criteria for a house to be identified as « ecological »? Many parameters are involved but are not always clear to consumers. There is no simple definition for eco-housing. The two key features of an environmentally-friendly house are energy efficiency and sustainable materials. There is then a vast range of possibilities to optimize these two features, added to other options, such as the comfort, wastewater collection systems, rooftop solar panels, etc.…Here, we summarize the main possible characteristics of an eco-home.

maison écologique

Energy efficiency

Eco-friendly houses are above all energy-efficient houses. Indeed, they are built in order to reduce energy consumption and respect the environment, by limiting as much as possible the production of greenhouse gases. There are many possible choices for the consumer, depending on their preferences and their budget.

The main options are based on:

-The architecture of the house: the orientation of the house is an important factor to reduce energy consumption. For example, windows facing south rather than north provide more heat and reduce losses.
-The foundations: exterior walls built with suitable materials that allow airtightness and thus reduce losses and energy costs.
-Insulation: insulation of walls, attics and basements has a considerable impact on energy savings.
-Windows: double or triple-glazed windows are up to 20% and 50% more efficient than conventional windows.
-Lighting: lighting contributes to about 11% of home electricity consumption in Canada. it is possible save up to $130 per year, using high efficiency lamps and light bulbs.
-Household appliances: appliances such as a refrigerator, washing machine, dryer and dishwasher account for 12% of a Canadian household’s consumption. Thus, depending on the models and the needs of consumers, it is possible to reduce the electricity bill by equipping the house with efficient appliances.

Eco-homes generally save on average 20% in energy consumption compared to conventional houses, depending on the options chosen.

Ecological materials

The choice of materials for the construction of an ecological house is crucial. First, they can have an influence on energy consumption. For example, you need to find materials that are ideal for airtight foundations, insulated walls, energy-efficient windows, etc…

In addition, they are generally chosen so that their manufacture limits the production of greenhouse gases, the consumption of water and fuel. For this reason, wood and lime are the most commonly used. As trees are a renewable resource, also important for our ecosystem and absorbing CO2, wood is often the main material for eco-houses. Lime is also widely used, as paint or coating, but also to replace cement. It is nontoxic compared to certain paints and coatings using chemicals. Although its production generates a CO2 emission, its degradation leads to an absorption of carbon dioxide before gradually returning to limestone.

Recycled materials are also often chosen, as well as sustainable materials. High quality is preferred to avoid frequent repairs and replacements.

Healthy materials are also prioritized for the construction of ecological houses: natural products and free of harmful chemicals, such as natural paints.

In addition, the use of plastic, PVC in particular, is often avoided, due to their difficult recycling process and their effects on health.

There are many parameters involved in the manufacture of eco-housing to achieve energy efficiency and respect of the environment and health. In addition to the choice of optimal materials and energy factors, other options are available to consumers. Indeed, the consumption of water can be considered, for example by collecting rainwater or by recycling wastewater. The energy source may also be considered to obtain electricity and heating from a green or renewable source. But of course, the house must first and foremost be built so that the residents live in a comfortable environment, including bright spaces, hot in winter, cool summer, and any other criterium that makes these houses a pleasant home.

Par Caroline Foucher

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