Updated on 05-20-09
Green building -- designing homes and businesses to maximize energy and water efficiency and minimize harm to the environment -- has been gathering steam across much of the world. In New York City, architects are exploring the exciting potential of growing fresh food in the urban landscape through green roofs and vertical farms. In the heartland, more folks are taking advantage of home energy tax credits to tighten up their home's seal, invest in more efficient systems and install renewable energy. In Hawaii, new single family homes built in 2010 or beyond will be required to heat their water via the sun's rays. Shoot, folks are even taking green digs on the road with them!
There are many ways regular folks can green up their current residences, from swapping out those light bulbs to planting shade trees, sealing leaks and so on. This article isn't about those things. It's also not about the latest green dream homes, from modular designs to LEED-certified construction. This article is more along the lines of the famous "hobbit house," which combines elements of the old-fashioned prairie sod-house with a whimsical, aspirational attitude of "why not?"
We don't expect most people will be moving into reclaimed trains, planes and automobiles anytime soon. But we do think these home designs are a lot of fun. They show what's possible if we think outside the ticky tacky box, and dream of something different. You may not be reusing an airplane wing today, but maybe you can reuse some used lumber or furniture, or perhaps switch to paints that are better for your air quality.
Courtesy of Blue Forest Treehouses
What kid and kid-at-heart hasn't always wanted to live in a treehouse? Well now you can, thanks to a number of enterprising architects and builders.
Britain's Blue Forest Treehouses has been building fanciful structures high above the ground all across Europe. The company makes gorgeous treehouses for play, shelter and gardens, using fine woods, traditional water-reed thatch roofs and hand-split shingles. The work doesn't come cheap, but can customize your dreams, and inspire your friends and family for a lifetime.
If you are thinking about building your own treehouse, consider make it out of reclaimed wood, or at least wood harvested from a sustainably managed forest (such as FSC-certified). See more amazing treehouses from around the world.
Danica Kus/Buro II
The Belgian architectural and planning firm BURO II forged a unique farmhouse in Flanders in 2005, based on an existing barn. According to the firm, "The client was emphatic that tradition, innovation and respect for the landscape be combined in a single project. The structure of the landscape and research into rural building in Flanders stand in reciprocity to the design process and the final built environment."
The Barn House, as the structure is known, combines old materials with new design sensibilities, such as ample daylighting and sweeping views of the picturesque rural landscape.
One need not travel to Europe to see examples of old barns converted into comfortable, cozy living spaces. They're popping up all over the place.
Courtesy of Adrian Wright
Churches have also been reimagined in new ways, from thumping nightclubs to modern homes. Adrian Wright converted an 1870's Anglican church in East Cambridgeshire, England into a beautiful living space, which he sold in 2007. Wright recently purchased another Victorian Anglican church and is repeating his success.
Wright's finished work is a marvel, with underfloor gas central heating, a comfortable living/dining/kitchen area, master suite and ample parking. It includes a study and 2,275 square feet of open-plan space.
Speaking of religion Buddhist monks have long been known for their considerable patience and diligence. They are not typically known for beer drinking, although Buddhist monks in Thailand recently built up an entire temple out of used beer bottles. Holy men in Sisaket province collected a million green Heineken and brown Chang beer bottles for their Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple, which is complete with washrooms and a crematorium.
JoAnn Ussery/Airport Journals
A number of creative individuals around the country have taken to converting used airplanes into living spaces. Some relish the novelty and connection to aviation, while others trumpet the toughness of the frames themselves.
In 1994, a hairstylist in Benoit, Mississippi named JoAnn Ussery lost her 1,400-square-foot house to an ice storm. Ussery had a relative who worked in aviation, and the two came up with the idea to salvage a Continental Airlines 727. It cost her $2,000 to buy the plane, $4,000 to move it to her lakeside lot, and about $24,000 to outfit it comfortably. Ussery did much of the renovation herself, and took advantage of the ample windows and storage bins, as well as lavatory. Ussery told reporters that she was mainly attracted to the idea due to the plane's low cost and durability.
Mercedes-Benz dealer Francie Rehwald of Malibu, California has been working on a unique home built from an entire recycled Boeing 747, at an estimated cost of $2 million. Rehwald told reporters she is interested in green building, and that her project involves turning the wings into a roof, the nose into a meditation temple and the trademark "bulge" into a loft.
Courtesy of Silohome
In the fascinating Chris Smith documentary Home Movie, viewers meet an affable couple who made a comfortable home on the sweeping plains of the Midwest in a decommissioned missile silo. The self-proclaimed pacifists relished the challenge of turning an object of mass destruction into a welcoming abode. And they aren't the only ones. A number of relics from the Cold War have been converted into homes and other purposes, from storage to an astronomical observatory.
Own your own piece of history with the recently renovated Silohome in upstate New York. Located in scenic Adirondack State Park near Lake Placid, the former Atlas-F Series silo is a "pristine mountain property with panoramic views in combination with the ultimate level of security and privacy," according to restorers Bruce Francisco and Gregory Gibbons. Silohome features a small runway, hangar and spacious living areas on the surface. Below ground, the former launch control center has been converted into a two-level residence, with three bedrooms, 2-1/2 baths and an open living area and kitchen, adjoined by a spiral staircase. Star Wars-like doors open to the tunnel that accesses the silo.
Not everyone has a house like that!
Earthships are Mad Max-looking structures made of mud (a/k/a earth) and reused materials, such as old tires, bottles and tile. Earthships take advantage of the cheapness and availability of building materials, and are very well insulated. Many include solar panels or other renewable energy sources, as well as water recycling systems and green roofs. Quite a few are made surprisingly cozy and even beautiful inside, with ornate detailing and a high degree of customization and expandability.
Lots of resourceful people have converted boats into living quarters on dry land. One example that stands out can be found on South Bass Island in Lake Erie at Put-in-Bay, Ohio. After 50 years of service on the Great Lakes, the Henry Ford-built Benson Ford was sectioned by an enterprising Ohio couple, who turned the most elegant cabins into a private residence.
In the 1920s, a southern California architect and recycler by the name of Miles Minor Kellogg built two distinctive homes in the shape of boats, out of bits of material he found locally.
Courtesy of Ecopod
Architects and homeowners are gradually discovering the benefits of shipping container homes. It turns out that the strong, cheap freight boxes make pretty useful building blocks. They can be loaded with creature comforts and stacked to create modular, efficient spaces for a fraction of the cost, labor and resources of more conventional materials. Shipping containers can be easily insulated and climate controlled, and they are being deployed as disaster relief shelters and modest vacation homes. In stacking configurations they are appearing as student housing and even luxury condos.
Would you live in a recycled shipping container?
Courtesy of Free Spirit Spheres
Emerging from the rain forest of Vancouver Island in Canada are the futuristic designs known as Free Spirit Spheres. The "treehouses for adults" are handmade from local wood and suspended from the tree canopy. The spheres are recommended for meditation, photography, canopy research, leisure, game watching and other activities. Some are available for rental, and DIY kits are offered. There are separate bathroom spheres.
Oscar the Grouch is about as green as it gets at least when it comes to fur color. His hermit crab mentality and pack-rat ways also mean Oscar has a low carbon footprint.
We're not trying to poke fun at homelessness, a very real and serious problem, but rather point out that we can learn a little something from talking puppets. There are many ways we can repurpose materials that we can find or get for a song from our own neighborhoods. Salvage and "restore" places are popping up all over, plus don't forget about virtual and physical swap meets and exchanges. Plus, Oscar's trash can is made of metal, a valuable and highly recyclable resource (many builders are even starting to use metal roofs with high recycled content).
Courtesy of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage
A friend of ours at Yahoo Green suggested another great convert: homes made from existing grain bins. Mother Earth News has some how-to instructions, as well as photos of how surprisingly attractive such structures can be. Used grain bins are common in many rural areas, and can often be bought for a song. They aren't even that daunting to move, given the right gear of course.
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Rutledge, Missouri converted a grain bin into a two-bedroom apartment. According to the center for sustainable living, "We chose the grain bin because it already had walls, a roof, and a concrete floor. This made for a simpler project that we could complete in the 3 months before winter." The pleasant dwelling is insulated with locally sourced straw bales, is powered by solar panels and is heated with wood stoves.
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