Got Milk? The Home of the Future

In a letter to a friend, Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “What is the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Though this philosophical query was written nearly 160 years ago, it is timely today. As the human population continues to expand, environmental pollution from fossil fuel and myriad other wastes threaten the quality of the planet we live on. A home of the future, even a future as close as 10 years hence, will live symbiotically with the earth, utilizing clean energy and natural materials while cultivating plant life and providing its residents with a peaceful, stress-free dwelling.
What are the characteristics of this home? A home of the future is extremely well planned. Every square foot, inside and out, will be used to its maximum potential to make the home work for its residents. Firstly, the home will be self-sustainable—have net zero energy use– in that it will use clean power sources in the form of solar, wind and/or geothermal energy. For example, the home may use design elements of passive solar heating and cooling as well as solar panels installed on its sloping rooftops for storing energy. Living in New England, I realize that snow and ice often obstruct solar panels. Slick, non-textured panels will allow snow to slide off for homes in snowy climates and prevent ice buildup by releasing heat. Because we can also take advantage of the fact that our planet releases energy from its core in the form of heat, the home of the future may harness geothermal energy using thermal pumps; it could also harness wind power. Additionally, for energy efficiency the surface area of the home will be reduced: the greater the surface area the greater the loss of heat. While spherical homes have the best ratio of surface area to volume, most people feel they lack comfort in layout, but an imaginative architect can engineer a compromise between energy efficiency and the utility of a cubic layout.
Secondly, to reduce harm to environment, homes of the future will be built with predominately natural, biodegradable or recyclable materials. Wood is biodegradable yet sustains abusive winds, rain, ice and snow. Natural materials will insulate the home’s walls; cellulose and mineral wool are natural and “green” forms of insulation; they do not release harmful gases like “spray foam” insulation does. Rooftops will be designed to harvest rainwater during the growing season for the irrigation of rooftop agricultural gardens. While urban farming may not be for everyone, easily grown plants sequestered in designated areas of the house will provide an oxygen-enriched atmosphere for residents, resulting in better cognitive function and sense of wellbeing.
Natural lighting in the home of the future will be maximized through skylights and windows with high insulating values. Houses may be designed in a modern minimalist style for the sake of cleaning and reducing germs. They will be furnished and decorated with natural elements, such as stone and wood, elements that are connected with lower stress levels and blood pressure in a home’s occupants. Our clean and simplified home will become our partner in living, like a symbiotic organism; and its creation will better enable us to maintain Thoreau’s “tolerable planet.” It may even take on its own personality through our addition of “Smart” features, like voice-recognition LED lights that turn on and off with just a word, and refrigerators that send us a text when we’re low on milk…

Aubrey Specht is a sophomore at Tufts University, studying biochemistry with a minor in architectural studies. She aspires to attend veterinary school and study public health through the lens of the animal kingdom.