Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Future of Housing

Image courtesy janinsanfran 
Is climate change real? I don't know for positive. I suspect there is something to it. The size of the world gives the individual an illusion of infinity; something that can take anything a puny human can do and ignore it or bounce back. But when there are 7 billion puny humans...well, that's different. We will, however, adapt if climate change occurs. How we shelter ourselves will reflect those changes and adaptations. Let's talk about what those trends might be.

If the scientists are correct, there will be drought. There will be intense and powerful storms--EF5 tornadoes and Class 5 hurricanes. These scales of measure may have to be tweaked to include more powerful expressions of nature's fury. The cost of heating and cooling will skyrocket as fossil fuel gets harder and harder to find. Your house will reflect these conditions. It will protect you from lack of water, high winds, and the high price of energy.

Your choice. Underground above or
above ground below
From 1950 to 1957 it refused to rain in Texas. There ensued a spate of reservoir building that would guarantee available water in case of another drought. It worked, but barely. The current drought is putting a strain on that infrastructure, and scientists tell us "you ain't seen nothin' yet." There is a technology thousands of years old that has been neglected and will be resurrected for the house of the future--the cistern. This "personal reservoir" will dictate the material of your roof, which will have to be a non-toxic, non-reactive material like enameled or stainless steel. The choice will be an underground or above-ground cistern that works in concert with your roof to collect your total or auxiliary water needs.



The cistern is not only for water storage. It is a means of flood control. There may come a time when it is mandated by legislation. Drought will be relieved by terrible storms that dump a lot of water in a short period of time. In large, relatively flat municipalities the cistern will be a major defense against urban flooding without straining already stretched budgets. Tax breaks, codes and incentives will have many urbanites installing, at the least, several rain barrel cisterns connected to their gutters to take the load off storm drains.

Because water has the ability to store a lot of heat, the cistern will also act as a thermal heat sink to control the temperature of your future house. It will be like a combination of a geothermal installation and what is called "mini-splits" air conditioners. A heat exchanger/fan built into the wall, ceiling, or floor will be connected to the cistern with a copper tube loop and a small pump. The difference from geothermal is that the cistern will have active elements enhancing the temperature of the water. It may even involve two insulated cisterns, one for hot water and one for cold. A smart thermostat will determine the required combination of hot and cold water to keep you comfy. The solar heating coils and evaporative cooling coils work off of small solar-powered pumps making it much more cost effective than today's central air and heat.

Radiolaria; D-Shape printer in background
The physical structure of your future home may not adhere to the typical wood-frame structure you're used to because the cost of wood and labor will have risen, making alternatives likely. The burgeoning technology of 3D printing has developed to the point it could now take on house-sized structures.

The D-Shape printer infuses layers of sand with a special inorganic binder to print out almost any design you can come up with. The resultant material is similar to marble; very strong, needing no steel reinforcement. Although not the maximum size D-Shape can print, the sculpture Radiolaria captures the freedom one would have in designing their own home. Radiolaria is 3 meters x 3 meters x 3 meters. The current version of D-Shape can prints things twice that size.

I visualize discrete pieces printed to maximum practical shipping dimensions that are joined together at the erection site to form incredible new architectural and sculptural expressions of any size. An integral water catchment tank can be printed into the roof. In the summer, thermostatically controlled weep-holes open to let it trickle down, spreading out through the maze-like textural wall pattern. The resulting evaporative effect will keep the whole house naturally cool. D-Shape will print heating/cooling coils integral to the walls. Your house would be very strong and resistant to storm damage. It's not a big step to imagine D-Shape being fed other material besides sand to create different R-values, densities, translucency, etc.

Container conversion. Courtesy Inhabitat
The future will be a time of recycling and re-use. Almost cliched now and, by some, denigrated is the use of shipping containers converted for habitation. Don't let snide remarks fool you. This is a trend that will continue to the point that shipping containers will become much more costly than they are now. The fact is they are very strong to the point of needing a minimal number of foundation piers, cutting construction costs. Properly secured, they can endure all but the strongest tornadoes. The well-equipped steel fabrication shop can quickly and repeatedly modify them for windows and doors and to fit them together for almost any size living area. Add bamboo flooring and insulation to the outside and they're as cozy as a giant styrofoam ice chest. Just four 40 footers stacked properly with the addition of a joist floor and ceiling and some glass walls can enclose 3,600 square feet with a 1,600 foot deck on top. That's 5,200 square feet of living area based on four $3000 shipping containers! Okay, I'm not implying your final construction cost will be $2.31 per square foot but what a great place to start for your major structural elements.

These are near-term trends (say, the next 50 years) for shelter. If scientists are correct, we could be in for some scary stuff long-term. If the climate has gone completely to hell, it may become cheaper to build on a grand scale to cut down on the costs of heating, cooling and transportation.


The X-Seed 4000 is over 13,000 feet tall and houses 1,000,000 people. Although this iteration appears to be located somewhere in the Middle East, it was originally designed to sit in Tokyo Bay. Parks and Recreation on floors 300, 600, 900 and 1000. You have to admit it does cut down on commuting costs and does away with grid losses on generated electricity. And it's very possible there could arise a new working-class hero--the window washer.


Comments are always welcome,
Glen Hendrix, author Transmat World








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