If someone were to ask you to describe a “green”, energy efficient home, what would come to mind? Solar panels adorning the roof? Certainly. Compact fluorescent light bulbs? Without a doubt. But what about–and stick with me here–what about concrete? No longer just the industrial, stony foundational material that lay exposed in our basements, concrete has been increasingly coming into its own as more and more home designers look at concrete in a different light. For example, by way of the New Jersey turnpike, eNJoy House, the collaborative submission into this year’s Solar Decathlon by The New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University is constructed entirely of prefabricated slabs of the stuff. But really, what makes concrete a lean, green, energy saving building material? Find out after the jump.
1.) Radiant Heating
One of Team New Jersey’s main selling points eNJoy House (aside from its Frank Lloyd Wright inspired angularity) is its energy and money saving radiant heating system. Unlike many other building materials, concrete had the benefit of capturing, holding, and evenly distributing massive amounts of heat both in the summer and winter times. Radiant heat, captured from the sun’s rays are absorbed into the dense concrete and effectively trapped by the material’s molecular structure. Over a period of time, concrete will naturally seep this trapped heat outwards, and within a home, said heat is pushed inward to warm the home. eNJoy House, which utilizes an indoor, water based cooling system woven throughout the structure of the concrete floor, is able to modulate its overall temperature to the desires of its residence, balancing the heat from the concrete with the cooling effect of the water system.
You’re familiar with concrete in its more viscous form, yeah? Homes build out of concrete aren’t exactly poured into a house mold, allowed to dry, and then sold to prospective homebuyers. Rather slabs of concrete are created to the specifications of either the architect or, in mass production, to the customized specs of the home purchaser. In addition to being a greener building material as opposed to wood–if only for the fact that lumber plays a minimal role in its usage here–it can be exponentially cheaper to produce in a mass production scenario.
The prefabricative nature of concrete houses lends itself not only to the conservation of trees during the initial building stages when demand for building material is at its highest, but throughout the lifetime of the home. A house that’s build out of slabs of concrete can easily be repaired, expanded upon, and upgraded with more slabs attached as the needs of the homeowner increases over the years. Additionally, these houses are pretty mobile as a result of their modularity. As per the rules of the Solar Decathlon, Team Jersey was tasked with building the eNJoy house i
n the NJIT parking loton its home turf and then transporting it to DC for the competition. A benefit to having a prefab house is the ability, with the help of an easily hirable crew, to disassemble the structure, pack it up, and ship it to wherever you need. So you know, if this whole climate change thing doesn’t work out too well, and your lovely shoreside property becomes a bit too much shore and not enough side, migrating to higher, drier land with your home investment is relatively simple.
Fun fact: concrete’s recyclable and there are some boss benefits to recycling it. At the top of the list? For every one ton of concrete that’s recycled? 1,360 gallons water and 900 kg of co2 are saved. Also, the recycled stuff has a bunch of useful uses.
At the end of the day, the one thing that would ever really drive us all to adopt something as out of the box as a house built out concrete, or a hut decked out in solar panels, is money. Warm fuzzy feelings for the environment aside, the biggest driving factor in any kind of innovative technology, or at least the factor that gets innovation adopted, is the prospect of saving money. By using radiant heating as the primary source of heating throughout the house and a solar panel array outfitting the roof, eNJoy House enjoys a net-zero building status meaning that it completely sets off its energy consumption rates (or rather consumed no energy from fossil fuels) and no consumption means no energy bills.
To learn more about the wonders of concrete as an energy saving material, be sure to check out the Concrete Network’s home page.