Above: Image © alexsl, iStockphoto.com

Motor vehicles and industry are often in the hot seat for their impact on the environment, but have you ever wondered how your home affects the environment? The impact is actually quite significant. Did you know that 17 percent of Canada’s total energy use comes from residential houses?

That’s why many people are starting to “build green.” In essence, green housing means that the building has a minimal environmental impact throughout its entire life cycle. Ultimately, the goal of green housing is to make homes sustainable and healthy for both the environment and the people living in them.

Did you know? Green or “living” roofs are designed to create an urban green space and can help reduce a building’s energy losses.

A major hurdle in designing a green home is reducing energy use. One simple method is to design the house so the amount of sunlight entering your home is reduced in the summer and maximized in the winter. This is called passive solar heating. Another option is geothermal energy where underground pipes filled with liquid capture energy produced naturally by the earth. The liquid in the pipes absorbs heat underground and when the liquid is brought to the surface, the heat is released into the home. This process can also be reversed to cool a house.

In designing green houses, people are also considering the use of sustainable building products. This means that all the old synthetic stuff is out and biodegradable, natural materials are in. Examples of green building products include bamboo, wool, and even straw. There are now many creative ways to design green buildings. Take for example shipping container buildings—large metal containers no longer used for shipping can be stacked together to create unique homes and buildings. Another example is rammed earth homes, where the walls are built with compacted soil.

Did you know? The Earth receives enough energy from the sun in 20 minutes to power the whole world for one year.

So now that you know what green housing is all about,you may be inspired to green up your own home. Even if you can’t convince your parents to do a complete home renovation, there are still lots of ways to make your living space greener! Replace your old light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. Put a rain barrel under your eaves and collect water to water your plants. Replace old appliances with energy-efficient models. Be creative—small changes to your home can make a big difference!

Did you know? Rammed earth, a technique used to build green buildings, was also used to build parts of the Great Wall of China!

Learn More!


(1) United Nations Environment Programme. 2011. Ways Canadians Use Energy. Accessed July 28, 2011.


2) USA Environmental Protection Agency. 2010. Green Building. Accessed July 28, 2011.

3) USA Department of Energy. 2011. Passive Solar Heating Design. Accessed August 4,2011.


4) The Pembina Institute. 2011. Earth Source: Earth Energy. Accessed August 6, 2011.

5) Brian Clark Howard. 2009. Twelve amazing shipping container houses. Accessed August 6, 2011.

6) The Pembina Institute. 2011. Energy Source: Solar Energy. Accessed August 6, 2011.

7) City of Toronto. 2011. What is a green roof. Accessed August 6, 2011.http://www.toronto.ca/greenroofs/what.htm

8) Heather Whipps. 2005. The great wall of MIT. LiveScience.com. Accessed August6, 2011. http://www.livescience.com/503-great-wall-mit.html

Article first published October 5, 2011

Candace Piper

I am a Masters student at the University of Saskatchewan. For my research, I am studying how an invasive species interacts with other plants in the community, the microbes that live in the soil, and how this might affect soil nitrogen cycling. I grew up in Saskatchewan, and so grassland ecosystems are close to my heart. In my spare time (if there is any), I like to knit, do crafts, and play sports, such as volleyball and ultimate frisbee. 

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Avatar  joevans1

There's a great example of solar lighting via this YouTube video:


This is a real world application of turning something discarded into a highly useful tool!