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Continued: 2037: Home Sweet Home

  • Article by: KAREN YOUSO , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 23, 2007 - 10:57 AM

The house will have no obvious computer area with monitors, drive units and keyboards. Everything will be tied to personal computing devices or embedded in the structure for at-command displays on desktops, walls and windows.

The bathroom will be self-sanitizing. Light-activated nanocoatings will clean better than bleach. A modern dry toilet several generations removed and improved from its predecessor, the composting toilet will handle waste without water or odor. Waste collects far below the unit in a sealed container where it s composted and managed by a service provider and eventually used as a soil amendment.

Re-use, recycle:

Indoors and out

Much of the home s furnishings electronic items, entertainment devices, appliances, even the carpet will be leased. Occupants will contract with companies for products and furnishings. When it s time to upgrade or replace them, the company will install new items and recycle the old, or at least reclaim resources before disposal. Old carpet can be recycled into new, said architect John Carmody, director of the University of Minnesota s Center for Sustainable Building Research. This closes the loop, reducing waste and conserving resources, he said.

The house of the future will have no basement, thus avoiding the inevitable problems with moisture, mold and radon. Controls for heating, ventilation and other mechanical functions will be housed behind a door, in a mechanical pod or nerve center for computer and household operations. In a storm or other catastrophic event, you would head for the house s safe room, built to withstand a Category 5 tornado.

In 2037, a two-bedroom home easily can be converted into a three-bedroom home. Equipped with solid but movable walls, the home will accommodate changes in living needs and conditions. Extended families or other groupings are more likely to live under the same roof in the future, said Carmody, because it s more economical.

The home s second floor will be dominated by a wall of sliding glass doors. The large overhang and changeable glass will protect the house from heat gain. Glass doors open onto a roof garden. The turf and gardens keep the house 15 percent cooler. In the middle will be a pool of harvested rainwater. It s the home s third cistern.

The system of cisterns and downspouts is for controlling runoff. Heavy rains in short periods of time inches an hour followed by dry periods, even drought, create damaging erosion and flash flooding. Water doesn t soak in to recharge aquifers. The runoff pollutes by discharging more contaminants to surface waters. But in the future house, porous pavement in the home s landscape assists in storm-water control. Tiny spaces in the pavement allow water to drain to the aquifer; the water is filtered by soil along the way.

Even water-rich Minnesota will need to manage its use. Enter the ancient idea of water cisterns. Homeowners cisterns will capture rainfall, providing nearly pure water for washing, cleaning and watering. This takes pressure off the supply of treated potable water, which comes into the home for drinking, cooking or as backup.

Missing from the outside of the Minnesota house of the future is a garage. Many will rely on vehicles stored and maintained by the community, and ride public transit. By 2037, train lines and busways are foreseen as connecting places such as Rogers, Hastings, Hinckley, Eden Prairie, St. Cloud, Lakeville and points in between.

Some people, especially those beyond this service, will drive their own electric or hydrogen vehicles, but they will be leased, not owned.

Defining the future

The house of the future isn t about living with less and doing without. Rather, it s about living well in a reordered world, one that doesn t revolve around oil and unbridled use of resources.

The movement is already underway. The Waldsee BioHaus at Concordia Language Villages in Bemidji, Minn., inspired by German building design, uses solar energy and superior insulation for energy efficiencies far exceeding the average house, and it s a nearly carbon-neutral operation.

These houses are already under construction on a grander scale in Dongtan, China. It s a whole new city designed around sustainability concepts meeting needs of the present without compromising needs of the future. A half-million people eventually will live and work there, driving nonpolluting cars. With completion dates starting in 2010, Dongtan is viewed as a blueprint for future Chinese cities, and perhaps the world.

By 2037, Minnesota s house of the future might not seem so revolutionary.

Karen Youso 612-673-4407

  • about this series

  • Home sweet home? Experts speculate how Minnesota homes will adapt to our changing world.
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