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EarthTalk – How will homes of the future look and feel?

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Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss

Dear EarthTalk:

How will the homes of the future look and feel different as a result of global warming?

A.G., Silver Spring, MD

No doubt, homes are changing dramatically as the planet warms. Recent data from the United Nations Environment Programme shows that construction and use of residential buildings accounts for 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. As architects and engineers look to reduce their environmental footprint, homes are starting to change in several key ways.

In general, new construction homes are the most likely to be the most resilient to climate change. New forms of concrete that are made from recycled or waste-based material save a large share of carbon emissions associated with the production of virgin concrete. Painting the roof white or another light color can reduce air conditioning use extensively by reflecting the sun’s rays and their heat back toward the sky instead of absorbing them into the building structure. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that painting your roof white or another light color enables it to reflect solar radiation and keep up to 50 degrees colder than a typical roof on a hot day. 

As for winter, making sure a house’s shell is tight and free of drafts is one key to efficiency, as well as the use of eco-friendly insulation in walls and roofs. Strategically placed windows can help reduce winter heating bills through so-called “passive solar” heating.

The use of integrated systems and smart home technology to link up appliances and lights and run them only when needed is another hallmark of the home of the future. Likewise, design and materials considerations will play a large role in making these new homes as energy and water efficient as possible.

The geographic distribution of housing is also changing due to global warming. Cities across the U.S. are debating proposals to build high-density housing along bus and rail lines, with the hope that easier access to public transportation will reduce vehicle emissions. Inside, the homes of the future are likely to be chock full of eco-friendly innovations to reduce energy usage, from space age insulation materials to hyper-efficient electric appliances and lights that turn on and off as needed.

Finally, some places are taking an entirely new approach to housing. The Netherlands, a nation at extremely high risk of flooding, is pioneering floating homes, which are anchored tightly to the shore but can rise and fall with the tide. Unlike houseboats, the Dutch floating homes are connected to their local electricity and sewage systems and are stabilized in the water with a concrete hull, according to YaleEnvironment360. Though they function essentially the same as any other house, their ability to ride out a flood will protect them from damage long into the future. As seas rise and coastal communities around the world lose their land to the water, the Netherlands’ floating houses could be harbingers of what the homes of the future will look like.


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