About sheltersforall

This competition is seeking innovative solutions to the urban housing crisis in the developing world. We invite individuals or teams to develop and submit conceptual designs for homes that address the needs and constraints of over 1 billion that live in urban slums worldwide. Winning designs will be awarded over $15,000 in prizes and the opportunity to implement ideas into ongoing development projects through the University of Notre Dame. Contributions will also help in deciphering how the wisdom of crowds can be leveraged to solve societal grand challenges. To learn more and register for the competition, visit the website! www.sheltersforall.org

Technology and Sustainability – Keeping the Eye on the Prize

Photo by EBKauai

What good is a sustainable technology if it isn’t useful to the people in need? This article from Heifer International discusses the rise in technology in the developing world — the advances that have stuck, and those that have not.

The article outlines the great advancements in technology in recent history, in particular the transition from weak land lines to cell phones in Africa. The author goes on to discuss the importance of ingenuity and creativity by those with the skills to create in areas with few technological resources. Finally, he discusses the problems that Westerners may bring to such areas — in particular, the problem with creating solutions for problems that don’t exist.

The goal of the Shelters for All project is to build sustainable housing for those in need. Let’s be sure to attempt to ask ourselves what problems the potential users could have, not the problems we envision they have.

Building Pods – The Wave of the Future?

i09 reports a new design for housing that is efficient to build.

The Elkinoid Project looks for designs of housing for the future, such as for a time when unskilled individuals need to build housing quickly. They report that each pod can house three to four individuals and last around 100 years. Better yet, the housing is recyclable.

Are pods the future? What do you think will be the sustainable housing of the future. 6 more days to submit your ideas at www.sheltersforall.org!

Pallet Houses – Southern Methodist University

As a symbol of sustainability, Southern Methodist University‘s new Master’s of Arts in Sustainability and Development unveiled a new “pallet house.” The 250-square-foot house was constructed using 55 shipping pallets. Check out the images here.

Shipping pallets is an innovative idea for recycling materials into housing. What ideas do you have? Submit your proposals at http://sheltersforall.org/.

Are Sustainability and Resiliance Mutually Exclusive?

A recent article in the Bulletin for Earthquake Engineering outlines the ways in which sustainability and hazard-resilience can and must work together for safe housing in Haiti. “While many agree that sustainable redevelopment and self-reliance is essential for Haiti, few appreciate how it can be practically achieved, particularly in the domain of urban residential redevelopment” (p. 2).

The authors outline the types of materials have been used in Haiti: “Historically, due to the lack of wood, for use either as formwork or as a partitioning alternative, and the high cost of steel, cement and quality aggregate, Haitians employed construction with heavy masonry walls made of hand pressed concrete masonry units (CMUs) and lightly reinforced, undersized concrete columns, made with inferior raw materials and having inadequate strength and ductility. This combination, along with the lack of beams that would better engage the columns against earthquake loads, created systems that actually performed well under strong winds common to the Caribbean, but were conversely proven to be extremely vulnerable to earthquakes, failing through brittle collapse modes, as documented in the authors’ personal reconnaissance database through their field work in Haiti” (p. 2).

The authors explain that Haiti has a unique mix of requirements — it is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has suffered massive deforestation, and is in areas prone to both earthquakes and hurricanes. Moreover, Haiti’s government shows very little oversight in construction. They conclude, “The lack of locally-available construction materials, including the wood necessary for formwork to cast earthquake-resilient concrete frames, the steel necessary to provide strength and robust ductile behavior, or the quality masonry for confined or load bearing masonry construction makes the expense of this style of construction too great to serve the needs of the majority of displaced Haitians living in extreme poverty” (p. 4).

They conclude, “As Haiti has taught us, vulnerability stems from two potential sources: (1) lack of knowledge and (2) lack of resources to implement this knowledge properly… The only remedy is to flank these efforts with policies that encourage and support research to develop alternative, low-cost, sustainable housing that provides hazard resilience, while operating within the economic and cultural constraints of these regions so that all families will have a legitimate pathway to empowerment.” (p. 7).

Do you have ideas for how to make buildings both sustainable and resilient in Haiti? Submit your proposal to sheltersforall.org.

Top 10 Green Building Trends

Planetforward featured the top 10 green anticipated building trends (in two posts: one here and the other here). The top 10 are quoted below:

“1. The Smart Grid and Connected Home – Not only is this the fastest growing trend its also one that technology has made both affordable and achievable to the masses. Another selling point is that the dividends in energy and use are instant which always helps a new concept find an audience. Being able to view your energy use (even down to specific appliance) on a real time display and customise usage to work with your providers peak and off-peak costs is so logical that consumers are embracing the option rather readily. The budget conscious and the strategic are enjoying targeting reduction of energy use and the initial investment is reasonably nominal.

“2. Energy Labeling for Homes and Business – This concept is truly leveling the playing field if you are in the market for a new home or business location. It allows for house to house (or business to business) comparisons to be made when evaluating the energy efficiency of the property and educated buyers are taking not. It also allows those looking to sell a property to best ascertain the needed improvements to make their property more attractive for a buyer who is evaluating energy efficiencies. Some states have even added mandates to ensure any property receives an official energy score at the time of transaction as part of the official audit when selling or buying.

“3. Building Information Software –  Advances in CAD software have taken the design process from the theoretical to the real time evaluation level. The projected performance of a new construction can be reviewed and used to impact the actual nature of design. Via complex measurements the forecasted efficiency performance of a building can be measured pre-construct, whilst this benefit is currently aimed at larger buildings look for it to soon be an option for smaller and independent builders so that the housing market see the benefit in the years ahead.

“4. Financial Community supporting Green Building – This is really key and will prove instrumental as the market and mentality continue to evolve. The same way your driving habits impact your insurances, borrowers are now valuing your eco-sensibility for making reduced rate loans and providing insurance. The rule of thumb being that lenders see eco-buyers as a better investment and more likely to provide better maintenance of their homes or offices.

“5. ‘Rightsizing’ of Homes – Bigger is better was the predominant logic in home construction and appreciation until we finally stopped and smelled the roses. The rising costs of energy coupled with the need for better urban planning are resulting in the large end of the market proving to be a poor investment in relative terms. The housing market remains cautious at best and property as an investment is not the ‘safe money’ it was a decade ago means tying up your funds in a large home is no longer very attractive. Couple that with interest rates that will change and the move to smaller homes is in no doubt.

“6. Eco districts – Perhaps above all of the other concepts this is the most logical step when new communities are being built. Again it involves learning from the past and is very European, constructing homes so that the residents can walk or bike to the places they work, shop or dine. Planned construction can reduce the reliance on cars and urban living can be achieved even in suburban areas. The incorporation of green space and making districts very pedestrian focused can be further enhanced by green coding on the building where the residents work and play.

“7. Water Conservation – The EPA have announced ‘watersense’ specifications for all new homes which reduces water consumption by 20% versus a traditional home. When you consider that over half of all water use is residential the positive impact of the program can be monumental. Energy labeling and certification for homes is probably just around the corners as such programs are already in place in Europe.

“8. Carbon Calculation – This may surprise you but building contribute about 50% of all carbon emissions that are released into our environment. In the years ahead this will become a critical component of green construction, presently both methods to measure a building’s performance coupled with more efficient construction methods are being developed. The evolution in this process will create carbon credits and local or regional units equipped to make improved recommendations and set standards.

“9. Net Zero Buildings – The ultimate badge of honour in residential or commercial construction. This type of construction would (naturally) generate more energy than it uses. While this presents quite a challenge, the move toward smaller more energy efficient buildings coupled with renewable energy resources onsite such as wind, solar or geo-exchange systems make this possible. The developments in solar alone make the concept in sunnier regions fully viable in the near future.

“10. Sustainable Building Education –  This is a bit of a catch all but is a necessary step for an industry that is needing to reinvent itself in some circumstances. Ensuring developers make time to learn about green building and establish credentials, will enable the momentum for being buyers not to be lost. So much of the progress will be contingent on local municipal bodies but the change is definitely occurring in many cities. The crest of this progress is once again when people understand and more importantly can actually see the value of greener construction. Hence the education aspect is vital in all spheres from roofing manufacturers, to city planners and even estate agents.”