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Should We Change Our Housing Design?

By Elizabeth Leathbridge, Wodonga Albury Towards Climate Health (WATCH)

I was thinking the other day – what would we do if, let’s say, our electricity grid was permanently overloaded, and we no longer had a reliable electricity supply?  This is the norm for much of the world’s population.

How would we keep our food in good condition, cook, keep ourselves cool in summer and warm in winter? What about pumps for mains water pressure, and sewage disposal?

We are extravagant power users in Australia, and the frustrating thing is that much of it is due to thoughtless housing design, and therefore often out of our personal control. Try as we might to switch things off, it still takes a lot of power to run an ordinary Australian house.

Maybe it’s time to build some power savings into our building design.

Let’s start with wide eaves to shade us, decent insulation to shelter us, thermal mass inside to reduce energy use, proper orientation to maximize the sun when we want it.

Perhaps a solar hot water system and a rain water tank, followed by energy-efficient appliances and lights. How about fewer or slightly smaller rooms?

Now, why don’t we incorporate a proper underground cellar into each new house for fresh food storage, so we can all use a smaller refrigerator, just enough for meat, milk, and leftovers?  And, do you really, really need that huge freezer?  

Next we should consider increasing the size of our yards, so we can safely dispose of sewage via septic systems and reed-beds in appropriate areas, or grow food and deciduous trees to further control the temperature of the house.

Should we look at building proper chimneys in houses again, so we can revert to wood heaters? Yes, the smoke is a health hazard and increases carbon emissions, but at least timber is renewable.  We could also use our wood heaters to cook food and heat our hot water in winter – three uses in one.

Of course, land would need to be set aside close to cities for growing fresh plantations – perhaps the growing trees could re-capture some of the carbon.  Along with market gardens, it might be possible to design a carbon-neutral system of growing and burning timber for fires, so at least we could be warm in winter.

Is it worth thinking about how our houses will perform into the future, if the services we take for granted now are not reliable?

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