What about housing?

by Kathinka

There are plentiful of deep rooted development challenges to be solved globally. This blog post is primarily directed to the developed world, and presents concerns about sustainable living, hereby housing.

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Zero-Emission Housing

It has been estimated that emissions from buildings counts for forty percent of the total global environmental contamination. In Norway, exciting projects are being initiated by The Research Center on Zero Emission Buildings (ZEB). Their vision is to eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions caused by buildings. The government has passed the objective of having zero emission buildings as the standard within the next five years (though this might be a bit too ambitious, it is the direction in which the building industry is going). Energy efficiency must be taken into consideration at all stages in the building process, and advanced, environmentally friendly materials must be used. The buildings are built with energy supply systems and can even produce energy surplus. The first zero emission project in Norway is Zero Village Bergen which will lead to new standards when it comes to the building industry, also outside the country’s borders.

You can have a closer look at the project here http://zerovillage.no/, read about ZEB here http://zeb.no/ and read about another ZEB pilot house following this link http://www.wired.com/2014/12/zero-emissions-house-charges-electric-car/#slide-1.

(The zero emission house can be seen as an extension to passive houses. Here’s a 90 seconds video explaining what a passive house is https://vimeo.com/74294955).

The cost of producing for example solar panels has dropped dramatically the last ten years (http://understandsolar.com/cost-of-solar/). Do you believe zero-emission houses will be prominent in the future?

Collaborative living

Kruse Smith has initiated another interesting building project called Gaining by Sharing. It takes a more holistic view, rethinking what a home can be. While Airbnb is the sharing economy’s answer to holiday accommodation, this may be the building industry’s response to collaborative consumption. It is a kind of shared housing: people have their own private apartment with everything they need, but the private spaces are smaller, and there are larger, shared spaces where people meet and hang out. It is meant for all kind of people, of various ages. As the private apartments are smaller, the price will be lower, making it easier for people to actually buy a home. Maybe it can be a healthy solution for the problem of loneliness among the elderly and the hassle for younger people to find a babysitter by coupling them together from time to time? Have a look at their website for a better understanding of the project: http://gainingbysharing.no/

Their business model is quite different from how companies have been thinking and operating in this industry. More square meters per person has been the trend for decades. Do you think people will appreciate living in a closer, more connected way like this? Will the benefits from having a social network outside your doorstep and access to other facilities exceed the cost that may be attributed to less privacy?



23 thoughts on “What about housing?

  1. And if you are afraid of living in a home without a heater and it get really really cold in the winter you can just build yourself a cost efficient heater that is not completely emission free, but at least almost (4 candles are not that bad for the environment as an electrical heater, I think).


  2. Great poste Kathinka!

    As long as the population keep rising there will surly be a demand for more housing. If we could achieve Zero emission buildings this would take us a long way in handling our emission problem. But how fare are we willing to go? Zero emission buildings are one thing that I see us realising, but the initiative “Gaining by sharing” is a bit fare fetched in my mind. Take it from a students point of view: Its not that I haven’t enjoy living in a apartment with limited private space these last yeas, while I have been studying, but to live like this for the rest of my life? Forget it.


  3. Personally I am really fascinated by this “Zero emission buildings” topic. I have watched a lot of different tv-programs about house building were they use different kinds of sustainable materials. Most people won’t know the different materials exist until they one day might build their own home. In Britain I’ve seen that people buy “pre built” houses; steel frames are made to hold the whole house, and pre made plates of concrete or wood are mounted on it. This not only saves time and emissions, it also saves a lot of money.

    Producers that want to make sustainable building materials have a difficult task ahead of them, not only does the new product have to be sustainable (often all natural), it also have to be better than the product it’s competing with.

    As a result of this, the new products are not only made sustainable, they often also reduce the power consumption which is good for the environment and saves us money.


  4. I think the gaining by sharing housing concept actually is great! It really is an innovative solution of many current problems of society. Still for this to work out it requires proper socializing of the residents. When inappropriate behaviour cannot be tracked to the responsible person, there will always be free-riders that take advantage of situations where other can “do the work”. And who wants to be dependent on a dirty Fantoft-kitchen the rest of his/her life or watch other’s children when their parents only have a good time and never give something back? Maybe Nobel laureate (2009) Elinor Ostrom’s work about the management of common ressources without regulation can be applied to this case. The key solution to the problem would then be: Peer pressure!


  5. Really interesting topic, Kathinka! In Oslo I know of several people building geothermal heating systems, by drilling holes some hundred meters (!) down in the ground, pumping water down and having the ground heat heating the water. The fascinating thing is that a heat exchanger makes it possible to benefit from a temperature difference on only a few degrees celsius, and by this heating the house to e.g. 20 degrees. This system uses significantly less energy than other heating. In Norway is most houses heated by electricity made from clean hydropower but the geothermal heating systems can substitute oil heating and fuelwood Pretty awesome!

    The ZEB’s that you describe though, would have a much larger impact and we can only hope that all new buildings will be emission free, along with older buildings shifting from fossil fuel to green energy.


  6. Great post! I find environmental friendly housing is a really interesting and important topic. A while ago I read an article about a Swedish family living in a house inside a greenhouse. Even though everyone cannot live like this, and this demanded a whole different lifestyle, I think it is a great example of a creative idea showing it is possible to think different about housing.



    • I read the same case, really fascinating stuff. Sharing rooms like livingroom and kitchen isnt really all that new though, I mean, students do this all the time, however, spesificly designing an “enviromental-friendly” house with the sharing part is probably more innovative. However, I believe most people live in a shared home because they can’t afford to have one for themselves, and I can only imagine that the the environmental house in question will be substanially more expensive, hence reducing the insentive? Interesting topic anyhow.


      • I quite agree – the sharing thing is far from a new concept. I could only imagine people choosing to share such “new” homes if the same conditions apply; that they can’t afford regular housing.


      • Very cool post and interesting cases! I also agree with both Andreas and Annik that the cost aspect might be important for the incentive to share homes. While students living together is not a new phenomenon, there is an emerging trend in big cities like New York where housing is very expensive, of even married couples sharing flats with roommates. However, I guess you could see the cost aspect as an opportunity for further business development in this area, by working to reduce the cost of eco friendly housing.


  7. I think the “Gaining by Sharing” project looks really interesting! Especially in bigger cities where cohesion and the feel of smaller communities do not naturally occur by itself. I also like the thought of helping each other out and taking care of each other, but I am not sure how it would work out in real life. I believe you would have to be very tolerant with other people and not need that much private space. We would have to change our mindset from individualistic to collectivistic.


    • I think this is a very important point: the idea of collaborative living is very interesting; however, I must admit that I value private space. For society to become more open to such innovations in housing, I believe we need some time, despite the advantages being many.


  8. I find this really interesting – great case, Kathinka!

    I do agree, as several of you already have pointed out, the “Gaining by sharing” project may not work in countries like Norway, where we’re used to have our private living room, our own garden, etc. But I do think it may work out in other countries where the population have a more collectivistic mind set. Especially in large cities, where there’s lack of areas, and “normal” people don’t have the money to buy anything for themselves, due to the high house prices. Then this might be a good alternative.

    It’s important that we think about emissions when building houses. The houses we build today, will hopefully still be present 50-80 years from now, and energy efficiency and materials that are both environmental friendly and long lasting are crucial for reducing the emissions from our buildings.
    But, in most of the cases I’ve read about zero emission houses, the architect has needed to customize the design of the house to the surroundings, i.e. which side of the house is the most sunny one, where do they need to have more isolation for wind, etc. This makes it difficult to mass produce these kind of houses, and will put an upward pressure on the price of these kind of houses. There’s money saved on the energy saving, of course, but I’m not sure if the gains from the energy saving covers the extra cost of customizing your house.


  9. As you mentioned when introducing the ZEBs, Kathinka, they might originally be designed for the developed world, with the aim of addressing the emission problem. Many Plus Energy Buildings producing more energy than they use (I will call them PEBs from now on), are also intended for markets in the developed world. However, I think there is a great potential in building PEBs in developing countries as well, and I find this topic even more interesting. Keeping in mind how fast the cost of solar energy have decreased and technology improved, I am optimistic about this becoming a reality in the future.

    For those living without access to power today, gaining sustained access through PEBs could potentially have enormous impacts on their coping with life. Most intuitively, power can provide them with light at night. Lighting dark areas could indeed in many situations be an efficient safety measure. Moreover, light would enable people to safely continue with activities such as studying or cooking after sunset. In addition, the cooking itself could be simplified, made less dangerous (no need for open fires, no toxic gasses), and made less expensive (no need to buy coal/paraffin/wood). Also, the possibility of charging different types of electronics could expand both learning and business opportunities, making people more productive, as well as expand leisure opportunities. Even for those already having access to power, the PEBs could mean a large improvent, not only by making electricity free and thereby allowing finances to be used on other things, but in many cases also probably provide more stable power access (many developing countries faces power cuts regularly).

    Obviously, for many, just having a permanent shelter would be a large improvement of their current life situation. This leads to the unevitable question of how poor people can gain access to such “luxury”. I imagine that e.g. governmental subsidies, foreign aid and/or microfinance are initiatives that can make PEBs available also for people with very low purchasing power. In fact, I believe that directing development assistance (subsidies, aid, micro finance) towards such sustianable solutions might be part of the solution on how to eradicate poverty. The PEBs in developing countries will most likely not have the same design or be nearly as large as the houses here shown for markets in developed countries, but they can use the same principles to address another huge challenge in the world, namely poverty, while still keeping and even increasing the intentional environmental effect.


  10. I think the idea zero-emission-housing is good, and it will benefit both the planet and make it cheaper to heat the house. When I look at this pictures I miss one thing. If you manage to make a place which creates more energy than it consume, why not use some of it to grow your own vegetables?


  11. I think Norway is lagging behind when it comes to zero-emission-housing. Especially on developing support schemes for solar panels on buildings. Solar panels (PV) have proven to be an effective source of renewable energy, even in the cold environments of Northern Europe. Subsidy schemes, such as feed in tariffs have revolutionized the renewable energy production in countries such as Germany and the UK. In fact, Germany has become the world’s largest producer of solar power because of successful incentives to invest in renewable energy production. Private households, commercial buildings, parking lots, etc, can all receive feed-in-tariffs when investing in PV panels or other renewable energy generating equipment. Companies such as SolarCity in the US and Google’s Project Sunroof are making all these technologies more available by using innovative financing contracts (e.g. leasing PV panels) and estimations for rooftops’ power generation potential. Hopefully we will soon see more of these arrangements in Norway as well, making it easier and cheaper to invest in zero-emission-housing.


  12. This is an interesting topic that we must address. As someone mentioned above, the population is growing, and the fact that emissions from buildings counts for forty percent of the total global environmental contamination, means that we also have to prioritize this topic.

    Hurdal Økolandsby (Hurdal Ecovillage) is an example of how private initiativ can lead to a change in how we live. Hurdal is a municipality about one hour from Oslo. The Ecovillage is a housing development that will house around 400 to 500 people the next years. The house in the Ecovillage will all be zero emission buildings. That in it self is great, but the project takes sustainability a step further. The Ecovillage will also include a farm, so that families living in the Ecovillage can cultivate some of their food. Local produced food will promote more organic and sustainable farming practices and reduce value chain emissions. The village will also include a sustainable business district/commercial center.

    Is this the future living areas?



  13. This represents an interesting and probably very important aspect of the global emission issue. To me, it was surprising that as much as forty per cent of the total global environmental contamination can be traced back to emissions from houses. Clearly then, it is important that the whole value chain within this industry aims to find sustainable solutions. Furthermore, Kruse Smith’s approach might even solve another issue – namely space limitations in citys. Urbanization is a world wide phenomenon which only seems to increase. With population growth still increasing and more people are coming into the citys, we need to find smart solutions in how to make room for everyone, and preferably in environmentally friendly ways.

    The “Gaining by Sharing” project you present here seems like a great start for solving these issues, and let’s hope that projects like this will be well received among the public. As we have learned, it is not enough to have an environmentally sustainable idea – it also needs to be profitable in the long run to survive the fierce competition in the industry. Hopefully, the winners in developing the most environmentally friendly business models at the same time will be the winners of developing the most profitable business models!


    • One thing I know about such solutions is that they are expensive AF. So, probably, most people are looking for something affordable rather for something “green”. Price matters.


  14. I think the “Gaining by sharing” project sounds interesting. As many of you already have mentioned, living with other families is not without challenges.

    I think you have to look at the alternatives to really see the the “gains” of the “Gaining by sharing” project. I think that the concept can be a good alternative for those who otherwise can not afford to buy homes with that kind of space, standard and location. My opinion is that “Gaining by sharing” can be a great alternative as long as the price is competitive.


  15. I think this is a very interesting topic! First of all, meeting population growth and future energy needs with Zero Emission Building is a great step towards reducing energy consumption permanently per capita and in total. Such a project is very visible in the local community and brings a lot of attention to the topic nationwide, inspiring others to think and act more environmentally friendly.

    That being said, I do think Norwegians care too much about their privacy for the “Gaining by Sharing” concept to be successful on a great scale. I do, however, agree with you, Kathinka, about potential housing for the elderly. I think its a great idea for the elderly whom are still able to live by themselves, but lack company. Loneliness is a growing problem in Norway, and if a project like this one can bring people together, without taking away each individual’s independence, it is definitely worth trying.


  16. Yet another innovative and sustainable business model! The cool thing about this thinking is that it also might change the way many people live their everyday life at a completely different magnitude than other innovations, say a sustainable soap, will.


  17. I think peaple are not readu yet to share their place with other peaple. I think more about working adult and families. I think the population like to stay with their familie without have to see other peaple when they are home. But, this is true today, maybe the thought will evolute and peaple will rethink thier way to live in the future. Anyway I think this kind of living can be a solution for the young student or the retire peaple for avoiding solitude.


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