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E-House

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Introduction

This is a rough plan for an EEEEEEE (Ecological, Energy—Efficient, Earthquake-resistant, Easy to maintain, Exercise, Experimental) house.

Goals

To create a model house with:
  1. minimal negative impact on the environment.
  2. energy-efficiency.
  3. disaster resistance, especially earthquake, for my part of the world.
  4. low maintenance. Easy to clean.
  5. kid and pet resistance.
  6. fun for guests of all ages and species.
  7. built to serve many generations, it avoids the trendy or showy.
  8. does not try to please everyone, but rather to deeply satisfy the people who actually use it.
  9. good value, suitable for mass production.
The house attempts to blend with its environment, integrating natural light, water, earth, plant and animal life into its basic design. It might look more like a conservatory than a conventional house, with its plants and vegetables growing everywhere.

Basic Design

Please feel free to change any of the design details to suit yourself. I have provided my own decorative details to give a concrete example of how such a house might look. I wondered if perhaps I should not be so specific, since many of my specific choices may not appeal to you. The pictures I show are only rough approximations to what I have in mind. They are the best I could come up with using images.google.com

The house is a 3-story plus basement, heptagonal (7-sided) cylinder placed on a sloping wooded lot in a rural setting in British Columbia, Canada. Each floor has a theme that unifies its activities:

  1. sensation: stereo, TV, home theatre for anyone who wants to drop by, bathing, lounging, games, play, roughhousing, community meetings.
  2. security: cooking, eating, pantry, emergency larder, showering, laundry, receiving guests.
  3. power: the home office, Internet connections, writing, computer controls. It is just a partial floor to give the security floor below a higher ceiling for part of it.
  4. love: the bedroom, meditation, massage room.
  5. universal connection: the roof is a garden, a place where you can bask and look at the stars. It would be a safe place for birds.

Energy Efficiency

This area I have not researched properly. I would be interested in your ideas at email feedback to Roedy Green or Canadian Mind Products.

The house is tall and skinny to make maximal use of natural light and natural convection to distribute heat. The additional natural light encourages occupants to arise with the sun and further reduce their dependence on artificial light.

Possible state-of-the-art technology to investigate includes:

  1. efficient wood-burning stoves
  2. solar hot water heating
  3. solar voltaics
  4. fuel cells
  5. light pipes, balanced spectrum lighting
  6. heat pumps
  7. double pane glass
  8. heat storage
  9. non-polluting toilets and washer/dryers.
  10. energy efficient refrigerator and freezer.
  11. grey-water recycling.
  12. greenhouse
  13. computer controlled blinds
  14. natural-looking fountains, ponds, plants, aquaria, waterfalls, mist fountains.
  15. Use of triangles, hexagons, heptagons… not just rectangles, in construction, for variety and greater strength to weight ratio.
  16. Tilapia (a fish of the cichlid family from Israel that can be farmed indoors). They taste a bit like trout with the texture of salmon. You can buy live fish for about $25.00 CAD each in a pet store or $2.50 CAD each in a supermarket. Fish breeders still need to work on shrinking the bones (as the breakfast trout breeders have done) and blunting the dorsal spines.
  17. Capture the mechanical energy of people exercising or moving about the house.
  18. Designs that make recycling of energy and materials a matter of course.

Earthquake Preparedness

Hurricane Preparedness

The building offers a relatively streamlined profile to the wind which should reduce damage. In a flood, you could move to the higher floors and use the top floor as an ultra secure area for refuge or storing valuables, safe from looters. I would imagine these buildings in hilly or mountainous areas so they would have a sound bedrock foundation. There are types of glass that are hurricane resistant. They will break when hurricanes throw debris at them, but they won’t shatter or allow debris into the house. In hurricane regions or regions of extreme temperature, you would go easy on big windows and make do with smaller porthole type windows.

Easy To Clean

This is a house to be lived in and to entertain guests casually. Each floor is a single room as much as is practical. In addition to making the house easier to clean, this gives it a feeling of spaciousness and allows natural light to penetrate.

There is a computer controlled irrigation system to ensure all the plants get the optimal amount of water and fertiliser.

The floors are mostly of seemless linoleum with rounded corners, hospital style, so there is no groove to catch dirt. They simulate natural smooth horizontal surfaces such as rock, moss, sea sand, leaf-covered forest floor, desert, lake, duckweed, stream bed… even lawn. The patterns mask stains. The closest I have yet found to such floor coverings are the Mannington Naturals.

The furniture is well padded with a leather-like surface that is durable and easy to clean.

couch

Materials used throughout the home should not give off fumes, should be fire resistant and should cause minimal impact on the environment to manufacture. Most internal finishes are natural woods, perhaps treated for durability and fire-resistance.

The plumbing is designed to be easy to clean, perhaps even on the industrial side. The durable taps have levers instead of knobs so people with weak grips can use them.

The plumbing and wiring run in easy-to-access ducts for ease of repair and upgrade.

Decor

The decor is based on natural woods, living plants and visual spaciousness. Beige is all but banished.

Exterior

The building is intended to roughly look like a giant tree stump. Perhaps the exterior could be covered in bark or something similar. Ivy or other climbing vines may complete the illusion.

ivy covered house

The landscaping is naturalistic and low maintenance, using native plants. Landscaping elements look as much as possible like plausible natural creations. The house wishes to disturb its environment as little as possible. It knows it is an intruder and tries to compensate.

First Floor

The south side is all glass. A greenhouse is attached to the south side of the house. You enter via the greenhouse where citrus trees grow. The greenhouse collects heat for the house, but is separate from it in case the house gets too hot.

The first floor is one big room, an extended kitchen. The laundry area has state-of-the-art washer and dryer that use minimal soap and water.

There is an area to store and maintain bicycles.

The foyer has a West Coast Native motif. The floor is slate which does not show the dirt. The foyer has a bear box lit with track lighting. This is part of the blend-with-your-environment theme. I had something darker and unpainted in mind, but this gives you an idea what a bear box is.

bear box

The waiting area has comfy tan chairs/couches. There is a statue of a Thai-style Gautama Buddha — spare, clean, something like this:

Gautama Buddha

Buddhagroove

Hanging stained-glass lamps make it welcoming and invite reading. Perhaps a citrus tree theme could be used, but almost any Tiffany-style lamp looks spectacular.

Tiffany lamp

There is a fireplace. The spiral staircase leads into the waiting area, allowing for residents to make a mildly dramatic entrance.

There is a composting toilet. There is a shower big enough for more than one person at a time.

The kitchen area psychologically centres around the woodstove. Ideally the woodstove would be have a Euro-style bread oven and a cooking surface mainly for boiling water.

wood stove

The furniture is light wood. It has an island to makes it easier for several people to work at once in the kitchen. It is taller than the other counter space to partly block the view of the other counter space from the living area.

There are sufficient outlets for all appliances to be plugged in at once. The cords are trimmed to the appropriate length and are colour-coded to keep people aware of how much power each appliance consumes.

A smiling sun is affixed to the wall.

smiling sun

There are ceramic tiles, some depicting nature themes, on the splashboard. I have already acquired my first such tile.

There is a herb window garden.

Basement

The basement theme is a womb with a view. It is done in light woods, with yellows and oranges. It has a platform suspended from the ceiling that you could sleep or swing on. The couches are long and comfortable enough to sleep on.

Bathing might be handled with a restored bright yellow clawfoot bathtub or a hot tub or whirlpool — whatever is the most energy efficient. If there is sufficient privacy, you can look out the tub into the surrounding woods. The bathroom toilet can be used in privacy even while others are bathing.

An alternative design would use a more formal room on the second floor. You might then elect to bypass the basement.

The basement has two sides all glass overlooking the downhill slope view.

The basement also acts as a guest room for overnight guests. Some of these guests might be tempted to steal, so the room is designed to lead them away from temptation. There is almost nothing to steal. The room would also act as an informal community mini-theatre where people, especially less-affluent people, would feel welcome to drop by almost any time and play DVDs (Digital Video Discs) on the home theatre system.

Third Floor

This home office floor looks like something out of an Ikea catalog (a Swedish furniture store), but more built-in. There is plenty of desk space, ergonomically designed. There is no clutter of cables or manuals. Flat panel displays further reduce the clutter. The colour scheme is light woods and dark greens. The computers are operated with voice control and ergonomic Dvorak keyboards. There are hand-held digital recorders so you can record thoughts that come to you away from the computer for later transcription.

There are a few hammocks so you can take a break or a nap, or just think.

There are windows on three sides on the north side to avoid glare. The windows are floor to ceiling to encourage taking a break from work to reconnect with the environment.

Fourth floor

The bedroom is done in dark woods.

The four east walls are done stain glass, mostly in blues and greens. The stain glass panels are backed by the usual glass thermal windows for protection and insulation. The lead calms (pronounced came) let the glass breathe giving it resistance to thermal stress and earthquake shock. Shatter resistant coloured glasses predominate.

In the meditation area is a lush carpet of mossy greens. There are some Tempur-Pedic beds and a stationary massage table. There are clear panes so that you can see:

  1. The rising sun in the morning.
  2. The setting sun in the evening.
  3. The stars at night.
There is a clear skylight so you can see the stars at night and a clear window so that you can see the rising sun in the morning.

Here are some sample stain glass work done in blues and greens to give you and idea of what I had in mind. The themes would be local wildlife and plants e.g. orca, dolphin, bear, moose, deer, beaver, frog, salmon, trout, bee, water lily, cattail, dogwood, salal, blackberry, salmonberry, blueberry, wild strawberry… done in a simple style with textured glasses providing most of the detail interest.

stain glass stain glass

stain glass

stain glass stain glass stain glass

stain glass

The central panel might depict earth from space using the traditional painterly style of stain glass fused in a kiln, or perhaps by stirring molten glasses.

earth from space

Mandelbrot’s blue green period.

There are wall-mounted candle holders, again reiterating the nature theme. Ideally they would be combined with a capsis wall-mounted fountain.

Capsis fountain

Roof

Planting with native plants and stocking the pond with native species helps minimise the net impact. If you look down on the house from above, it should look much like the original plot of ground. The house disturbs as little ground as possible. Alternatively, the roof could be a more conventional flower or vegetable garden supporting an abundance of plant species.

Inter floor communication

There are staircases connecting floors, conceptually a single spiral staircase. They need to be solid and quiet and non-slippery. The stairs are more gently sloping than is conventional to make it easier for wheelchair ramps and to make it easier to run up and down them safely. There is a boOracle’s chair beside the fireman’s pole to lift people who cannot handle stairs to the upper floors.

The fireman’s poles and the ladders, while ostensibly for emergency evacuations, may become the preferred means of getting around the house.

The Jphones make pleasing organic tones depending on whom they are for. They only ring on the phone nearest the recipient.

The intent of the building is to encourage you to naturally exercise climbing stairs.

Sound System

The sound system could be an essay in itself. It is easy to use, even in the dark, even by guests. It works much the way in-flight music works on commercial aircraft, but has a more sophisticated implementation.

All around the house are digital loud speakers and jacks for headphones. Eventually technology may permit cordless headphones. Beside each speaker or jack are four controls:

  1. channel thumbwheel
  2. volume dial
  3. forward button
  4. back button
The channel thumbwheel lets you select one of 99 music channels to listen to. There are also live audio feeds from AM/FM radio and TV. There are also spoken word (educational, hypnotic, talking books) channels.

The volume dial won’t let you accidentally turn the volume up so loud that you damage your hearing, even if you are currently listening to a quiet passage.

If you don’t like what is playing on a channel, you can fast forward it by holding down the forward button. If you want to hear something again, you can press the back button. If you want to pause the channel, press the forward and back buttons at once. If you press forward or back it won’t disturb anyone else listening to that channel.

A central computer on the third floor runs the entire sound system. It has digital versions of the CD (Compact Disc), tape, DVD (Digital Video Disc) and MP3 collections on a giant hard disk. You can compose what is to be played on the various channels by sitting at the central computer. You can add optional voice introductions to each segment. You can allow different meanings for the channels for each member or guest of the household. That way nursery rhymes won’t clutter your channels and your adult materials won’t clutter the channels of the children.

How does the computer know who is using which outlet so it knows which set of channels to apply? You might simply assign specific outlets to various housemembers and guests. More sophisticated technology would allow a guest to identify themselves.

A prototype implementation could use portable MP3 players and USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports to download a few hour’s worth of sound into them at a time. However, that would not give you live feeds. A memory card in the MP3 player with a wireless LAN (Local Area Network) port would give you live feeds.

Eventually you want video, telephone, voice dictation, voice messaging and intercom service distributed by the same integrated system.

Plumbing

The plumbing fixtures are: I scoured the Internet looking for bathroom faucets. I could find not a one that met these criteria. I thought perhaps I should be looking under industrial designs to find something suitable. I want to avoid the industrial gleam though.

Washroom floors are covered in non-slip tile, gently sloping to a drain. This automatically handles spills and makes it possible to rapidly clean the entire washroom with a pressure hose.

There is a unisex flush-type urinal on each floor. Males use them the traditional way; females back up and hover. These use less water to flush that a full toilet. A more traditional design would use wall-hung flush toilets that are easier to clean than floor-mounted ones.

corner urinal

There is a composting toilet on the ground floor and a flush toilet in the basement.

What’s Missing

What this particular version of the house does not have is: I deliberately left these out because we would only rarely use them.
  1. A simple plastic sheet could serve as a garage.
  2. The kitchen and basement could be transformed to act as dining room and living room for special occasions.
  3. Removing elevators encourages exercise.
  4. Lawns need to be big, flat and well maintained to be much use. A sloping property is not the place for them.

Outstanding Questions

  1. How small can you make the house? How small can you get it for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 people?
  2. How do you construct access to the roof without wasting heat or letting in water?
  3. What should it be constructed of?
  4. Where stained glass is used, how do you insulate?
  5. How do you ventilate?
  6. How do you stop the top floors from getting too hot?
  7. How do you recycle the heat from the computers on the home office floor?
  8. Where does the cistern belong?
  9. Where do you put the photovoltaic and solar hot water panels?
  10. How to make it more energy efficient? What is the best way to collect and store heat
  11. How do you stop burglars, vandals or other unpleasant people from doing damage?
  12. What have I neglected to consider?

Inspiration

Here are some sources for inspiration for designing your own e-house: Dream and share your dreams, even if you can’t yet afford an e-house of your own. Your designs can still inspire others.

Oprah’s Dream E-house Contest

I have been trying to talk the Oprah Winfrey people into doing a show on e-houses. The show would be based around a contest where people submit detailed designs for their dream houses, right down to the paint colours, furniture and fabrics. The best design gets the e-house custom built and the land to build it on. To reduce the work for Oprah’s staff in judging, the contest rules work like this:
  1. Every submission is in the form of an Internet webpage URL (Uniform Resource Locator) e.g. http://mindprod.com/evironment/ehouse.html. That’s it.
  2. The ranking process is 100% automated. A computer continually updates the rankings as the judges’ results come in and posts them on the Internet.
  3. Oprah makes the final decision. She can pick any entry she chooses. This will help discourage foul play.
  4. The judges are subscribers to Oprah Magazine and people who make submissions.
  5. Judges can grade any of the entries from 0 to 100%.
  6. People whose entries are judged good by others, get more weight in judging the other submissions.
  7. You can keep improving your submission even after you submit it.
  8. Judges can keep changing their minds about the grades they assign.
The entries are judged by the criteria mentioned earlier. In the process, people would learn a lot about e-house design. People would have fun dreaming and window shopping on the Internet. Many of the ideas would find their ways into real homes.

I this contest is held, I will have already won, in the sense that there will be many e-houses sprouting over the planet.

I have had second thoughts. I blew an entire day just looking at bathroom fixtures. Private residences consume huge amounts of time and energy. Perhaps the future is e-apartment complexes. Another challenge would be mobile ehouses, floating ehouses and eyachts.


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