The architect on passive houses, natural materials, and the advantages of eco-friendly construction
Climate change and the need to reduce the harmful impact of human activities on nature will undoubtedly transform our current lifestyle. This also relates to the spaces we inhabit. Sustainable materials, energy efficiency, and autonomy are no longer a matter of fashion, but of necessity. This is why green construction becomes increasingly popular worldwide, and passive houses – a preferred investment. We are talking about their advantages with architect Krasimir Georgiev JR (Georgievi Architecture Studio), who is the author of the first large-scale projects of this kind in Bulgaria.
Where did the idea of environment-friendly construction come from?
We were assigned the first project of this kind more than 10 years ago. We had to design an ecological residential area, whose future inhabitants would be able to assemble their houses themselves so that construction costs to be reduced. These houses had to be environmentally friendly, energy-efficient, and independent of energy sources.
Much later, the issue of buildings’ energy efficiency was raised in Bulgaria. Carbon emissions levels are now an important issue worldwide. To date, green building has to meet the criteria for energy efficiency and a low carbon footprint.
I am the author of the first large-scale project in Bulgaria for this type of construction – an eco-village in Pozharevo, with an area of 2,400 square metres with permaculture gardens, a water capturing system, natural ventilation, and a biological spa centre.
To date, 6-7 passive houses have been built in Bulgaria with natural materials such as straw panels and bales, and another ten have been designed in the last two years.
What natural materials do you use and what are their advantages?
We use straw panels, clay coatings in the interior spaces, pressed wood for exterior insulation, and hemp wool for the heating insulation of the roofs. We also use wool batts and cellulose, as well as natural clay concrete for the floors.
Many people are skeptical about the straw panels, believing them to be highly flammable. In fact, the panels have fire-resistant qualities because the straw is compressed and does not allow the penetration of air.
Despite being made of straw, these houses are practically eternal because no thermal bypasses are allowed. The presence of a thermal bypass generally leads to energy loss, condensation, and the formation of mould, fungus, rust, and rotting processes. This is a problem in absolutely all buildings of conventional construction that does not exist in this type of houses.
Natural materials are healthier and do not allow the formation of allergens. It's like putting on clothes of synthetic fiber or natural fabrics. The difference is enormous, and here we are talking about inhabiting an environment. The demand is already high – people all over the world want to build this way because the benefits of this type of housing are numerous.
Is the construction of the future eco-friendly?
On a smaller scale, yes, and it will happen faster because it is driven by people's desire to inhabit a better and healthier environment. In larger-scale construction, things will happen at a slower pace.
What other opportunities does this type of construction provide?
You can practically make a house in the most awesome places that are not urbanised. Today autonomous power plants – photovoltaic systems for single-family houses – have become much more affordable. I have already realised several sites where households are off the grid. On a property with no electricity and no water, we were able to build a house with its own photovoltaic system and its own water source.
The latest project you are working on is...
A project for a village with guest houses in Pamporovo. This is the second major investor to go into this type of construction. He has realised the importance of energy efficiency for such business ventures, as well as the added value of green materials and inhabiting an eco-friendly environment. The effect in the interior and in the surroundings is achieved here with fewer means of expression and provides an authentic spirit to the spaces.
What is the successful combination of innovation and tradition?
Ecological construction is a more modern and more precise interpretation of the old methods. Houses that were once built with natural materials have survived for a very long time. They simply no longer meet the criteria for habitation that we have today. With the help of advanced technology, we can now create eco-friendly homes that are both functional, modern, and healthy.