DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
Housing

Comfortable, sustainable and energy efficient: This is what the house of the future will look like

What will the house of the future look like and how will design adapt to a changing world and an altered climate?

Illustration of a house

​​What should the house of the future look like? Illustration: DOUG JOHN MILLER

If you’re picturing sci-fi bunker pods and towering skyscrapers, think again. While these buildings will almost certainly exist, most houses will likely look, at first glance, similar to the homes of today. But subtle alterations will be crucial if we are to adapt to a changing climate. From foundation to roof, here’s how new builds can be comfortable, sustainable and energy efficient.

Foundation

After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on the planet. A common choice for building foundations, it emits vast quantities of carbon-dioxide.

Sustainability-minded home builders are exploring alternatives like stone or metal screws, but these aren’t always viable for the mass market. Instead, some builders are looking at sustainable bricks made from reclaimed waste. Scientists are also trying to develop ‘eco-friendly concrete’, extracting cement substitutes from industrial by-products like fly ash and slag. These could reduce the material’s carbon emissions by up to 30%, producers estimate.

Insulation

Cracks in insulation allow cold air to flood into a house. Such breaches worsen the energy performance gap – the difference between the predicted performance of a building at design stage and the actual performance once built. This gap is currently “around 60% in non-Passivhaus homes”, says Sarah Lewis, research and policy director at the Passivhaus Trust.

By tightening energy efficiency regulations, we can close the chasm. The gold standard is passivhaus accreditation. ‘Passive houses’ form a “single thermal envelope”, Lewis explains, sealed with high quality insulation, reducing energy demand by up to 90%.

Some governments are already embracing these standards. From January 2025, all new build homes in Scotland will have to meet a version of the Passivhaus benchmark.

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

Walls

The house of the future should be both airtight and breathable. An ‘airtight’ layer on the inside wall means that warm, moist air from areas like the kitchen and bathroom can’t seep into the building fabric. But if moisture does get into the walls, it needs an avenue to escape before it turns into condensation and leads to mould, damp and structural damage.

“It’s about controlling air movement, which helps you save energy, but it’s also about controlling moisture,” Lewis says.

New builds can install breathable membranes made from synthetic polymers, but plaster also works well.

Ventilation, energy and heating

Most of us open a window when we need fresh air. But if it’s cold outside, temperatures in your house will quickly plummet, and pollution and allergens will flood in.

An effective ventilation system solves this problem. A Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery (MVHR) unit uses warmth from moist, stale air to heat cold air drawn from outside. Filters on the machine sift out pollution and pollen particulates.

Installing a MVHR system reduces heating demand and can save you 25%-50% on energy bills, the Renewable Energy Hub estimates. The systems are compatible with heat pumps, which pull warmth from the ground or the air around a building.

Water waste system

The amount of available water could be reduced by 10%-15% by 2050, the Environment Agency estimates.

Recycled greywater – wastewater from baths, showers, washing machines, dishwashers and sinks – can help us meet the shortfall. Treated greywater can irrigate gardens and flush toilets, saving approximately 70 litres of drinkable water per person per day in domestic households.  

New greywater systems don’t come cheap – a top-line model currently costs between £2,000-£3,000. But more cost-effective ones are currently being developed in Europe and America for household use. Low-tech options are also available, like the ‘laundry to landscape’ model. This greywater system doesn’t alter the household plumbing: a diverter valve directs greywater from the washing machine drain hose to an irrigation system.

Windows

Windows should be triple glazed to help with insulation. But as UK summers heat up, they also need to be positioned strategically.

Buildings with windows facing one way – a common occurrence in flats – are much harder to ventilate as they don’t allow for cross breeze. Windows should have a north and south aspect, rather than east and west, to prevent the sun beaming directly into homes. External shutters can help you beat the heat, as can painting outside walls and roofs a pale, heat-reflecting colour.

At least one operable window in every room is essential.

Solar panels

Photo-voltaic (PV) solar panels capture energy from the sun and convert it into electricity.

There were more than 120,000 solar panel installations in the first six months of this year, industry data suggests – a record high. The average PV system costs roughly £5,500, but you’ll eventually save money by reducing your reliance on expensive power from the national grid. 

The Energy Saving Trust estimates that a typical household with a 3.5 kilowatt-peak system – the average solar system installed by UK houses – can reduce its energy bills by anywhere between £190 and £465 per year. You can also make money from your PV systems. When a solar household generates energy that it doesn’t use, this energy is pumped back into the grid. Under a government scheme called the smart export guarantee (SEG), companies have to pay customers for this spare electricity.

These rates vary by supplier, but it’s more cost effective to store energy for later than to pump it back into the grid – so the house of the future should have solar battery power, too.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
'All my stuff is ruined now': Renter speaks out after home flooded with faeces and sewage
Privste renter Decoda Smith
RENTING

'All my stuff is ruined now': Renter speaks out after home flooded with faeces and sewage

Council charges Grenfell residents cleaning fee for memorial to victims: 'Who would think this was fair?'
Grenfell memorial
Grenfell

Council charges Grenfell residents cleaning fee for memorial to victims: 'Who would think this was fair?'

Labour manifesto's 'vague' plans on homelessness unpicked: 'Next to nothing for those on the margins'
Labour leader Keir Starmer
General election 2024

Labour manifesto's 'vague' plans on homelessness unpicked: 'Next to nothing for those on the margins'

Seven years after Grenfell Tower fire: Residents fear they'll die before seeing justice
Grenfell

Seven years after Grenfell Tower fire: Residents fear they'll die before seeing justice

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know