We all know that ecological buildings use less energy and lose less energy than regular dwellings and workplaces. Why is it, then, that the UK lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to ecological building materials and techniques?
The answer is complex, as this seeming reluctance is caused by several factors, involving cultural and infrastructural inflexibility. There’s this, and also people’s lack of understanding of what an ecologically-built dwelling actually is. The main reasons for the UK not going as eco as its neighbours include:
- the lack of formal, objective assessments of materials and building techniques, as well as the lack of assessments of what people actually want from an eco-house;
- a certain amount of confusion in councils and among the public as to which type of eco-housing to promote and adopt. In the USA, eco-building is well-established and people know what they want; in the UK, we’re only just starting;
- ecological materials and building techniques are still seen as niche and untested, despite many people having the know-how and the will;
- there’s still the idea that building an eco-house is more costly than conventional, despite the figures showing that the extra upfront expense pays for itself within years;
- there’s also the lingering misconception that going eco means eschewing TV and warm floors and eating lentils while wearing scratchy woollen jumpers – this has to change;
- people also have very deep-rooted ideas about what they expect from their house – bricks, security, rooftiles, a chimney – it’s a hard archetype to break away from, and
- then there’s the cost – many builders want to start building eco houses, but the uptake has to justify the training and specialist materials involved.
How to make eco-building more attractive and affordable
People can learn to trust eco-building, as well as to adopt it, if it’s made more understandable and affordable.
A good way to start this off is by making eco houses smaller – many are huge architectural projects featured on TV and in magazines. This is intimidating, so smaller, simple homes with easy-to-understand tech would be a big help.
Making the homes affordable from the start is vital; one good idea is to make the homes modular. If the owners have another baby, they can easily and cheaply add another bedroom, for example.
Another way to make things more affordable is to use common land and facilities, as well as the costs. There should also be less emphasis on eco-purism, as this can be intimidating and expensive.
By easing in eco, we’ll have more time for trust to grow and for planning regulations to accommodate this essential shift in the way we build our homes.