As the effects of climate change are felt across the world and with the construction industry responsible for as much as 40 percent of man-made carbon emissions, both governments and individuals are beginning to take the task of building eco-friendly houses much more seriously.
Fuelled by increased demand, a new industry of eco-friendly home building has grown up and a whole host of technological innovations have created an arsenal of eco-friendly building materials and techniques. From wind turbines, to solar panels, to high efficiency lighting, ultra efficient insulation, glazing, water conservation, plumbing, recycling and much more.
With nearly 200 million people, Nigeria has a huge housing deficit of about 17 million units, and environmentally friendly building is a low priority. There is an even greater shortage of affordable housing for low-income earners.
Many experts in the industry believe that it will be a great opportunity for Nigeria to reduce its housing gap by looking into affordable and environmentally safe housing models. Its cost effectiveness and eco-friendliness should according to experts, be a motivation factor for Nigeria to start considering this viable option
What Eco-friendly Housing Means
The term “eco-friendly” literally means “not environmentally harmful” according to Merriam-Webster, and its first known use was in 1989; although the term “environmentally friendly” is older, dating back to 1971. Most commonly used when referring to products that contribute to green living and other sustainable practices, eco-friendly products also prevent pollution in the land, air and water.
An Eco-house (or eco-home) is an environmentally low-impact home designed and built using materials and technology that reduces its carbon footprint and lowers its energy needs.
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An eco-house could include some or all of the following: Higher than normal levels of thermal insulation, Better than normal airtightness, Good levels of daylight, Passive solar orientation — glazing oriented south for light and heat, Thermal mass to absorb that solar heat, Minimum north-facing glazing — to reduce heat loss, Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) system, Heating from renewable resources (such as solar, heat pump or biomass), Photovoltaic panels, small wind turbine or electricity from a ‘green’ supplier, Natural materials — avoidance of PVCu and other plastics, Rainwater harvesting, Greywater collection, Composting toilet, Glass that has two or three layers with a vacuum in between to prevent heat loss; (double or triple-glazed windows), Solar panels or wind turbines, Geothermal heating and growing plants on the roof to regulate temperature, quieten the house, and to produce oxygen, A vegetable patch outside the house for some food.
The concept of an eco-house means a dwelling that has a low impact on the environment.
Why Eco-friendly Houses are Important
The principle behind eco-friendly building is to create structures that are safe with little or no impact on the environment or the occupants’ health. As the Environmental Protection Agency notes, this involves:
Ensuring occupant health: A house is not just a structure that protects us from the elements, it is a space where people spend most of their lives at home or work. So it is necessary that houses do not harm the occupants in any way.
Efficient use of resources: Given the over-exploitation of resources and considering that many are non-renewable, it is necessary to use them efficiently. This is especially true for fossil fuels, mined metals and even for renewable materials like wood which take a long time to grow.
Preventing pollution and environmental degradation: Production of the building materials, the construction process, the energy used during occupancy, and disposal of construction waste at the end of a building’s life should not pollute or create hazardous waste.
Energy Efficiency and Alternative Energy: The ideal green home can be planned and designed to be energy efficient. Passive solar design ensures that all the aspects of the house work to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat or cool it. Furthermore, alternative energy sources can be used during occupancy to reduce carbon emissions. Other simple measures to help energy efficiency and save energy include fitting eco-friendly light bulbs, buying Energy Star electrical appliances and ensuring that heaters have thermostats attached. Use of light and heating can be limited only to rooms that are being used.
Water Conservation: Water is an important resource and one that often gets overlooked. Being more aware of water usage is an essential part in running a green home. Low flow toilets and front loading washing machines are both interesting alternatives. Low water landscapes instead of grass lawns can be attractive, fun and colorful, as Home Designed Inspired shows. They also require less maintenance making them more interesting. Rainwater harvesting systems can collect rain from roofs and concrete paths in the garden and help to reduce water demand.
These aims have to be kept in mind while planning, sourcing materials, designing house-plans, construction and during occupancy. The principles have application in renovating old houses and constructing new eco-friendly or green buildings as they are also called. However, it is new construction projects that have the opportunity to maximize benefit from all aspects of the process.
Nigeria and Eco-friendly Housing
Up until now, there hasn’t been a major government policy on building eco-friendly homes in Nigeria, safe for the limited private sector investments in that area.
According to the Co-founder of Ecobuild Nigeria, Olubayo John, the use of Ecobeam system enables them to deliver quality green houses at up to 40% less than it would cost using sandcrete blocks and cement mortar, the most predominant building system in Nigeria at the moment.
According to him, eco-friendly homes are very important because there are ideas for every kind of budget.
‘’Whether you’re building a new house or remodelling an old one, you have plenty of options for building that incorporate environmentally-friendly options. Advice from green builders can be a valuable asset to capitalize on benefits from eco-friendly houses,’’ he said.
This is clearly an area that stakeholders should intimate the government to look into, given that the cost of building eco-friendly houses are even cost effective compared to the traditional types. It will save cost and help the country adapt to climate change at the same time.
But hopes are not lost as it will dominate one of the discussions at the upcoming 13th Abuja International Housing Show from 23rd to 26th July this year. According to the event’s convener, Bar. Festus Adebayo, there will be panels on eco-friendly housing and related issues spearheaded by the World bank, GIZ and other interested stakeholders. The resolutions from these panels, especially because it will also be attended by government officials can begin a new era for housing access in Nigeria.
By Felix Ojonugbwa