Get to Know Your House

flickr photo shared by neilalderney123 under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license


Most buildings constructed before the industrial revolution were more ecologically minded than those built today. Buildings were made using local materials and passive solar energy design was a must because energy was expensive and hard to harvest. So, what happened during and after the industrial revolution?

Energy from fossil fuels became quite cost effective, while making the movement of large quantities of materials cheaper and easier. This had an enormous impact on the architectural design and construction of buildings. Over the last century, cement, a highly energy-consumptive material, has became the third most-used material on the planet after water and sand. The cement industry put governments under pressure to change building regulations to cement standards, so that cement would become the only feasible building material. Architects and engineers were trained in universities to design buildings where the cost per meter square is the rule of success. The result is that buildings became cheaper to build but less comfortable, less connected to the surrounding environment and more expensive for inhabitants to maintain due to the higher energy bills.

Fortunately, in the last few decades, there has been a shift towards a more sustainable approach in architecture and construction to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts produced by the construction industry. Building regulations included more requirements to improve insulation, increase the use of renewable energies in homes to reduce energy consumption and improve comfort.

How well do you know your home, school, or workplace? Have you ever seen your attic, or observed the energy consumption in your home?

Do we know what is the energy efficiency and ecological impact of our home, school, or work place? The purpose of this activity is to start discovering this.

Activity Type

Group or Individual / Experiential


3 days

Learning Outcomes

  • To gain understanding of the design principles of your place of choice (home, school etc..)

  • To discover the materials used to build this structure and develop a critical perspective on them

  • To understand the energy consumption of your house and to try to improve it


Required Materials and Tools:

  • A compass

  • Paper and pencil

  • Monthly energy bill

  • Timer

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  • Make a list of most of the materials used to build various structures of the building such as walls, floors, windows, etc.

  • Explore other types of building materials that can be more energy-efficient.

  • Explore the amount of energy used in this building each month. Which energy provider is used? What type of energy is used to power this building? (amount of fossil and renewable used.)

Tips how to make the house more sustainable:


The easiest thing is to reduce your energy consumption and it is easier than we think:

  • turn off lights, heaters and air conditioners when they are not in use. You could even use motion sensors to turn off the lights when nobody is in the area;

  • turn off music and TV when not in use;

  • look for "energy thieves" – you can spot them by seeing little red lights on equipment; which mean that the equipment is not turned off but is on stand-by. It is common for high-tech devices such as DVD players. To turn them off, unplug them or switch off the power outlet they are connected to;

  • check that the refrigerator and freezer function efficiently which means there should be no ice inside, otherwise defrost it. Refrigerator should be clean on the back side, not overloaded inside and no things should be put on top: these things make it more difficult for the refrigerator to function and take more energy;

  • if it is a bad refrigerator there is not much to do, but be conscious when buying a new one. When buying new appliances buy ones with good energy efficiency rating (most of the appliances in Europe have signs with the energy efficiency rating);

  • use energy efficient light bulbs;

  • wear appropriate clothes smile It is fine to be in a sweater in the winter!


  • insulation slows heating and cooling losses. Add extra insulation to your attic, and other accessible places in your house. Be sure that insulation is not compressed, and is fully in contact with the area you are insulating (no air gaps), or it won’t function;

  • check windows and doors, put energy stripping around them to prevent cold and warm air from entering/escaping, simple spray foam could do the trick! - search for cracks around the doors and windows, under sinks, walls, holes drilled for wiring and plumbing, especially leading into the attic and basement. Moisture can build up if houses are completely tight, but this should be prevented using controlled ventilation, not through unintentional leaks into other parts of the building;

  • put an extra pane of glass or plastic on the windows from the inside of the room;

  • heavy curtain on the door and windows help reduce loss of warm/cold air;

  • painting the house in a dark colour absorbs more heat (better for cold areas), painting in white color reflects the heat (good for hot areas).


  • If there is a fireplace being used, ensure that the wood is kept dry;

  • If we think of energy efficiency more seriously, it is time to discover and install solar-thermal panels to heat the house. It will save energy and in the long run money.


  • put water saving devices into the shower and sinks – they can lessen water flow while maintaining pressure;

  • fix leaking taps, turn off water when not used directly.



  • Do you think that the right materials were used to build this place? What would you change and why?

  • Which materials were used to build traditional homes in your area? Does your building use those materials? If not why? Can you propose a better material to be used and why?

  • Is this building energy efficient? Is this building dependent on fossil fuels? Could you propose a more sustainable energy source to power this building? Explain your choices.

Instructions for Submission

Submit the list of materials used to build this place. Instructions on how to upload photos and how to submit things in Moodle can be found here: Instructions on Submission&Uploading

Instructions for Assessment

Provide feedback to at least one participant that has done this activity. Instructions on providing feedback can be found here: Instructions on Feedback

Related Topics

  • Renewable Energy

  • Green Architecture

  • Ethical Energy providers

  • Passive solar energy

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